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 …
Blue Harbour Cheese, Halifax, Nova Scotia
Lyndell Findlay, the founder of Blue Harbour Cheese and the maker of Urban Blue, makes her cheese in a small facility in the North End of the city of Halifax. Small-scale cheese making is something one associates with rural properties with a handful of goats (such as is indeed the case with Oldfields Dairy here on the Island), but a wonderful licensed facility can be made in the basement of an old building well within city limits. I visited Blue Harbour Cheese last week and discovered both a wonderful, creamy blue and learned all sorts of things about making cheese in an urban location—such as the difficulties with getting a tanker in to deliver milk, and how Ms. Findlay has teamed up with a local farmer so that her whey (left over from the cheesemaking process) goes to enrich the land rather than into the municipal sewer system.
There’s a small card with some further information about Urban Blue, so I will let the cheesemaker tell us about her cheese herself. I find it a delicious mild blue (note that it is in the style of Gorgonzola dolce [‘sweet’], not the fierce kind!), and accordingly very flexible for cooking. A Halifax restaurant is even using it for a blue cheesecake! Urban Blue has an edible rind which adds a definite dryer texture to a bite containing it. Ms. Findlay suggests pairing it with late harvest wines; you could try it with a minerally white or perhaps with the port left over from trying the Drunken Sailor, or indeed with a craft cider.
Like Lincolnshire Poacher, Cashel Blue is a pioneering cheese of sorts—not for its area in this case, but for its type: it was the first Irish blue cheese made! The Grubbs of Beechmount Farm, County Tipperary, began making Cashel Blue in 1983, and have developed the recipe and a following to make it a notable cheese of the world. It is named after the Rock of Cashel, a castle once seat of the Kings of Munster and where St Patrick is said to have begun his mission to the Irish with the famous shamrock.
The cheese is rich, creamy, and full-flavoured without being strong. The cheeses sold in North America are usually in the 14-22 weeks of age, at which point the creamy, salty, and mineral-blue flavours are commingling. The rind is untreated and is not usually eaten.
Try pairing with a Merlot or Rioja; it’s better to have a slightly sharper Old World wine compared to New World reds. For a white, try a Gewürtztraminer or a Sauternes. The cheesemakers suggest beer—particularly an IPA or stout (for two totally different complements, one amplifying the hops, the other the cream)—might be the best pairing
Lauben, Bavaria, Germany
Invented around 1900, Cambozola came into prominence in the 1970s when the German company Champignon (who still make it) started marketing it. It was developed as a combination of a triple-cream Camembert-style cheese with Gorgozola—the name is a portmanteau of the two—and is a rich, smooth, creamy cheese with pockets of blue in it. The combination makes it a good way to edge into eating blue cheeses, as the “blue flavour” stays fairly isolated from the rest of the paste (not something that happens with a blue such as Stilton!), but, of course, it is a delicious cheese for those who already like blues.
It is a soft-ripened cheese, meaning that as it ages it grows softer—letting it come to room temperature (as I recommend) and ripen a bit will cause it to ooze deliciously. The rind has a grey-white bloom (grown, as is usual for Camembert and Brie cheeses, from a culture of Penicillum candidum); the blue is Penicillum roqueforti, the same bacteria used for Gorgozola, Stilton, and, of course, Roquefort.
Try it with a white wine such as Chardonnay. It’s a good cheese to try with something sweet, such as fruit or even a drizzle of honey (which you might try on the Tomme le Champ Doré as well). I really like blue cheeses with dates or dried figs, too.
Blue Fourme d’Ambert
An even more ancient cheese dating back at least to Roman times, Bleu Fourme d’Ambert is very similar to Fourme de Montbrison, even being protected under the same designation from the 1970s until 2002, when the two were recognized as distinct cheeses. It’s shown in a carving above the door of a chapel in La Chaulme, Auvergne. The word ‘Fourme’, from the Latin forma or ‘mould’, refers to the cylindrical shape of the cheese.
Bleu Fourme d’Ambert is a very mild and creamy blue, firmer in texture than last month’s Blue Cashel but milder in flavour. Try it with a red Côte-du-Rhone wine or a sweeter white such as a Riesling or a Sauternes.
St Benoit-du-Lac, Quebec
The monks in St Benoit-du-Lac have been producing excellent cheese for decades. Bleu Ermite was their first blue, with production beginning in 1943. It is a semi-firm cheese, quite mild as far as blues go, with typically grassy and mushroomy aroma and slightly tangy flavour. In terms of texture it is slightly gritty and crumbly, which makes it excellent for salad uses—try it with early beets and arugula—or, of course, for eating on a cheese platter. It is aged around 60 days before the bloom is wiped off and the cheese is readied for sale.
Try with: port, ice wine, Riesling, or a medium-bodied red such as Shiraz. Dried fruits such as figs and dates are often paired with blue cheeses, and with good reason.
Abbaye St-Benoît-du-Lac, Quebec
The Benedictine monks of St-Benoît-du-Lac was founded in 1912 by the exiled monks of St-Wandrille (originally from France, exiled in 1901 to Belgium, whence they emigrated to Canada). Part of the rule of St Benedict is an understanding that productive work is good for the soul as well as for practical bodily concerns, which is one of the reasons why so many monasteries have such splendid traditions of making cheese, bread, wine, cider, and beer.
The Abbey has made Bleu Bénédictin since 2000. It is a semi-soft blue-veined cheese, made from pasteurized whole milk. It is both surface and interior-ripened with Penicillum roqueforti cultures, which give blue cheese its blue (and which traditionally was cultured on a piece of bread), though the colour of its slightly sticky rind is a pleasing soft greyish colour, with a faint mushroomy fragrance. (The rind is edible, though that is of course up to you. Any leftover rinds of blue cheese are splendid grated/melted into an onion soup.) It has a soft, nearly melting centre, and a long smooth finish on the palate. It’s no surprise that the cheese has placed numerous times in both national and international cheese competitions.
Try it with a fortified wine (such as a ruby port), a Riesling, or an ice wine. You might also try a not-too-dry cider; sweeter flavours complement blue cheeses very nicely.