Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The weird and wonderful world of Canadian cheese

One of the things that made the greatest impression on me on my visit to Toronto last week was how fantastic Canadian cheese is - both the quality and the way chefs use it. This despite the fact that Canada, like the US, bans the production of young raw milk or unpasteurized cheeses. However many of the most interesting cheeses come from Quebec whose government has recently reversed that position to allow the sale of raw milk cheeses under the age of 60 days.

Cheesemakers in Ontario also labour under the additional handicap of not being free to choose the style of cheese they make. If they want to use cows' milk (the restriction doesn't apply to sheep and goats') they must be able to prove to the province's Dairy Farmers' Association that no similar cheese is being made. Popular styles are on allocation so you can’t for example make a cheddar if the cheddar quota is already taken up. Mad - or so it seems to me at least

Despite this discouraging commercial climate some excellent cheeses are being made, particularly in Quebec. Ones I tasted and liked included Grey Owl goats cheese, Le Riopelle (a white-rinded triple-cream cheese), 1608 a slightly floral semi-hard cows' cheese from Laiterie Charlevoix and Tiger Blue (above as served at Annona) which is made by Poplar Grove in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. And I'm sure I barely scratched the surface of what Canada has to offer.

I was also really impressed by the way chefs were presenting them with accompanying flatbreads, dried fruits and highly original jams and fruit compotes and by the sort of dishes they were making with artisanal cheeses such as the goats' cheese and beet salad that chef Dylan McLay of The Epicurean in Niagara-on-the-Lake makes with the local Ontario Chevre (below)

For more about Canadian cheese visit Cheese of Canada, the website of Canadian cheese expert Gurth Pretty, the website of the Ontario Cheese Society, and that of Quebec Cheese

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