Fromagerie des Basques, Quebec
From along the lower St Lawrence comes this four-year-old cheddar. It never ceases to amaze me how much variety there is in the world of cheddars—the three in this month’s box, made from three different milks according to several different processes, are a small sampling of those available. There are reasons why it is the world’s most popular cheese—relative ease of creation and manifold ways to enjoy it being but two, one on each side of the cheesemaker/cheese-eater divide.
This particular cheddar has a tendency to crumble and a slightly sweet hint to its paste. My assistant described it as being almost Swiss-like; it does have a hint of that nutty-sweet-tang of the Alpine cheeses. Try it with a beer (I think it might go well with an IPA or American Pale Ale) or with the Rioja left over from the previous entry.
Seaside Sheep Cheddar
Oldfields Dairy, Oyster Bed, PEI
We’ve had a number of Oldfields Dairy’s offerings over the last year. This month I have a limited-edition sheep’s milk cheddar for you—limited edition because the shepherd is Gabriel Mercier of Isle St Jean Farm, and he is now using his sheep milk for his delectable yoghurt and Alexis Doiron cheese. Oldfields Dairy usually use their own goats’ milk for their cheeses (and soap!), so this is a special cheese indeed.
The Seaside Sheep Cheddar is a mild cheddar (aged under a year), with a clean taste with hints of lanolin. Try it with a local beer—I reckon Upstreet’s Rhuby Social would go nicely—or with a white wine or lighter red, such as a Rioja or a Sauvignon Blanc.
Lindsay Bandaged Goat Cheddar
Mariposa Dairy, Lindsay, Ontario
The Mariposa Dairy in Lindsay, Ontario, makes a variety of goat and sheep milk cheeses. They make the Plain Goat that I have regularly, as well as Tania Sheep Cheese, which I will have at the stall later this month. All their cheeses are pasteurized and made using vegetarian-friendly rennet. I was in Toronto recently and acquired the Bandaged Goat Cheddar there, so it is a special treat—though I will do my best to find a regular supplier of it, as I am certain it will be a favourite of many.
The Bandaged Goat Cheddar is made in small batches to keep the quality high—that they succeed in doing so is shown in the large number of awards the cheese has won since it was first launched in 2011. (In 2011 it won Champion at the British Empire Cheese Festival, first in Goat Cheddar/tied for second as Best of Show at the American Cheese Society, and Grand Champion at the [Toronto] Royal Agricultural Winter Fair; it’s won First Place at various Canadian and international competitions in every year since except for 2012, which must have been a particularly intense year.)
After the cheese has been pressed into shape, the wheels are wrapped in cheesecloth and placed on a pine board in the aging room. They are turned each week for at least a year to ensure their even aging. This results in a nutty, earthy, and slightly crumbly cheese. (You might compare to Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar or Wookey Hold Cave-Aged Cheddar, which are made similarly.) Lindsay Bandaged Goat Cheddar has lactic acid crystals in the paste—a much sought-after element in a well-aged cheddar.
Poplar Grove Cheese, Penticton, British Colombia
Poplar Grove Cheese, located at the same site as Lock & Worth Winery, was created in 2002 to be a partner to the wines of the Okanagan—for what better pairing could there be than the local wine with the local cheese? They use pasteurized cow milk sourced from a dairy in Sicamous to create their small-batch cheeses. They currently make four types of cheese, of which Tiger Blue is their blue.
Tiger Blue is a veined blue (like Stilton or Shropshire Blue), with a strong bite and a slightly salty taste. Rich and intense are two words the maker uses to describe it.
Try it, obviously, with an Okanagan wine. As a strong blue I would go for a full-bodied red like a Shiraz or a Baco Noir. You could also try a dessert wine or a sweeter rosé; dryer wines will bring out a more metallic flavour. Most blues pair very well with fruit. We don’t get the Okanagan peaches here, but the Ontario ones should be coming soon …
Fromagerie le Mouton Blanc, Bas-St-Laurent, Quebec
As befits a cheesemaker called ‘the White Sheep’, le Vlimeux is a sheep milk cheese. It’s made from raw (unpasteurized) milk produced on the farm—the makers describe their operation as the “marriage of the Shepherd and the Cheesemaker”—hard to go wrong there! They began as a sheep farm, which in the late 1990s was one of the biggest in Quebec. Increasing costs of shipping the milk to sell led them to develop the cheese-making side of the business, to our great benefit.
Le Vlimeux is a semi-firm pressed raw cheese. It is aged for four months, then smoked in the on-site smoker with maple wood. This gives an unusual maple-sweetness element to the flavour, which as the makers say makes it reminiscent of smoked trout. They suggest pairing it with Scotch or artisanal beer, or with Australian Chardonnay, Rioja, or Sancerre wines.
Vlahotiri is a sheep’s milk cheese from Greece. It is related to Kefalograviera and Kefalotiri, though slightly less salty than either of those (which I also regularly carry, if you fall in love with the Vlahotiri). It is a new cheese to Canada (and possibly in general—there’s not a great deal of information about it), and I am pleased to share it with you. Cheesemaking is a very ancient art in Greece, mentioned in the Odyssey (if I recall correctly, it’s one of the arts of the Phaiacians, the people to whom Odysseus tells most of his adventures), and said to be the gift of Aristaios, one of the sons of Apollo. Some people say that there is more cheese consumed per capita in Greece than anywhere else in the world.
Vlahotiri would go nicely with a sparkling white or some of the brandy you use to flambé it, if you should choose that route.
Wookey Hole Cave Aged Cheddar
Cheddar is one of the most popular cheeses in the world—and, as you know, has a wide range of textures and flavours. Unlike cheeses such as Stilton or Taleggio, it is not a protected name; cheddar refers to a method (by which curds are cut into blocks and stacked in inverted piles, which changes the acidity of the curds and thus the flavour) more than an origin, but even then, there are many cheeses that are called cheddars that do not use that process. Some are bound in cloth and waxed (sometimes with lard)—PEI’s own Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar follows that method; others are extruded mechanically into blocks and tend to have a creamier texture (and just to show the difference, Cows’ Extra-Old Cheddar, made by the same company and cheesemaker as Avonlea Clothbound, is one such). There is a British 1966 Codex of Trading Standards that states that cheddars must be under 39% moisture, and that’s it for official standards.
However, Cheddar does have an origin—the Cheddar Gorge and the town of Cheddar in Somerset, in fact—and people are still making traditional cheddars there. There is a ‘West Country’ PDO (“Protected Designation of Origin”), ensuring protection for cheddars made in the counties of Somerset, Dorset, Devon, and Cornwall … but there are a number of artisanal cheddar producers who do not feel that the PDO has an appropriate standard, and have formed their own.
Wookey Hole is a well-known cave in Somerset, currently owned by a former ringmaster and circus owner, which was and has once more become a traditional aging and storage place for cheese some four hundred (and likely many more) years ago. The caves are the ideal temperature for maturing cheese (about 11 degrees C, with high humidity). The cheeses are made in Dorset by Ford Farm on the Ashley Chase estate (and do have the PDO), and matured in the caves for about a year. They are wrapped in cloth and brushed with lard to protect the wheels as they mature (the cloths are removed prior to transport).
The flavours are nutty and round with a slight edge characteristic of a medium-aged cheddar. Try it with a cider or an English ale. Cheddars are a great cooking cheese, of course, delicious with everything from pickled onions to apple pie.