The inaugural Canadian Cheese Awards were held recently at the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto, and it's the first competition in Canada for all natural cheeses made with any milk: cow, goat, sheep and water buffalo. Whether you like mild mascarpone or a stinky-socks blue, keep your eyes out for homegrown cheesy wonders next time you are at the grocery store or farmers market! Here's some of the top picks to try.
Cheese of the year: Le Baluchon
Go figure that a French cheese would take home the grand title, not to mention also winning the top prize in both the semi-soft and organic cheese categories. It is not the first time Le Baluchon, crafted by Fromagerie FX Pichet, has won big either; it was the champion at the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix in 2009. This semi-firm cheese is aged for two months and has notes of hazelnut and clover. In true French fashion, grab a crusty baguette, some local honey and call it a day.
Best fresh cheese: Bella Casara Mascarpone
Mascarpone is an Italian cheese, most comparable to cream cheese, but smoother and milder. This mascarpone is made by Quality Cheese in Vaughan, Ontario, a family operation whose president hails from Italy. Mascarpone can serve double duty in both sweet and savoury applications, whether it's in a cheesecake, or pasta sauce for extra creaminess.
Best firm cheese: Eweda Cru
In addition to winning best firm cheese, Eweda Cru, made by Best Baa Dairy, also deserves an award for most creative name. If you haven’t already guessed, it is a sheep’s milk cheese, similar to gouda, and aged a minimum of nine months. Its nutty, grassy flavour doesn’t sound too baaaad to me at all!
Best old cheddar (aged nine months to one year): Cows Creamery Extra Old Cheddar
Cows Creamy in PEI is not just known for its ice cream, it also makes some wickedly delicious cheese. There must be something in that red soil – or that salty sea air – that makes the cow’s milk extra special. Or, perhaps it is the traditional Scottish Orkney cheddar method that makes this cheese a winner. Either way, it sure breaks the stereotype that only potatoes and mussels come out of Prince Edward Island.
Best sheep's milk cheese: Lenberg Farms Reserve by Celebrity Tania Sheep Cheese
I bet that when you think of sheep’s milk cheese, one of the first varieties that comes to mind is feta. However, in many countries, cheese is more often made from sheep’s milk than cow’s milk, so there are plenty of different types to choose from. The Lenberg Farms Classic Reserve is like an Italian pecorino: nutty and earthy. It’s a little taste of Tuscany, right in the heart of Ontario.
Best blue cheese: Dragon’s Breath Blue
Maritimers are sure a humourous bunch, and nowhere is that more apparent than in That Dutchman’s Farm’s description of its Dragon’s Breath blue cheese: “Quite unlike some Bluenoses." If you don’t get the reference, look at one of the dimes in your wallet.
It is more on the delicate side, similar to gprgonzola, despite the intimidating name. Love it or hate it, you will have to give this blue a chance before you make up your mind.
Best new cheese: Fontina Fumé
Dating back to 12th century Italy, Fontina is definitely not a new cheese, but it is also not a mainstay on the Canadian cheese-making scene. Hopefully, Fromagerie de l’Abbaye Saint-Benoit-du-Lac is changing that with its version. The cheese is nutty (are we noticing a common theme here?) and lightly floral. Aged two to three months, it is perfect for melting into an upscale mac n’ cheese sauce, or simply eating as is.