As a child I really wasn’t a cheese lover, nor was I exposed to very many different varieties of cheese. Sliced orange stuff in a sandwich was the norm until my first trip to Europe as a teen changed everything. I loved wandering into little shops or through open-air markets, smelling the pungent, earthy aromas of strong cheeses and admiring the shiny waxed surfaces of Goudas and Edams. While European products ruled North American cheese counters for decades, that is changing rapidly and it is truly exciting to see the incredible range of cheeses now being produced in Canada. I recently had an opportunity to sample some of our country’s best cheese – winners of the biennial Dairy Farmers of Canada Cheese Grand Prix, a competition held to celebrate the high quality, versatility and great taste of cheese made from 100% Canadian milk.
This year’s competition received a record number of entries as cheese makers from British Columbia to PEI submitted 225 cheeses in 19 different categories; these were whittled down to 58 finalists that exemplify the world-class cheese being produced in Canada.
The 2013 grand champion is a delightful Ricotta made by Quality Cheese, Inc.; it was also crowned the category winner for fresh cheese. I love ricotta and this one’s creamy texture and milkiness, balanced with an ever so subtle tang are really appealing. I’m looking forward to visiting their Vaughan, Ontario fromagerie.
The Gouda winner is the lovely Grizzly Gouda from Sylvan Star Cheese Ltd. in Alberta. While firm in texture, tasting revealed a creaminess and a nice salty flavour with hints of caramel and nut.
Among my favourites is the 5 Year Aged Cheddar from Prince Edward’s County The Black River Cheese Company Ltd., which has been making cheese since 1901. Winner in the aged cheddar (more than 3 years) category, it is made from fresh thermalized cow’s milk, is naturally aged and offers all the hallmarks of a great cheddar – a pleasing sharpness and crumbly texture.
I’ve made a checklist of all the winning cheeses and am excited to start working my way through it. I’ll probably begin with the dual winner in the Blue and Organic Cheese categories – the Bleu d’Élizabeth from the Fromagerie du Presbytère in Quebec – as I’ve heard such good things about it.
One of the best opportunities to sample the finest in Canadian cheese is coming up soon, courtesy of the Great Canadian Cheese Festival, taking place May 31 – June 2 in Picton, Ontario. It will be a cheese lover’s paradise! Find out more about the festival here.