Whether it’s Balderson cheddar from the supermarket or Dragon Breath blue cheese from a cheese boutique, one thing is for certain – Canadians love cheese. Our cheesemakers produced over 3500 tonnes of the good stuff last year, and they battled it out this week at the Grand Prix of Cheese, held every two years by the Dairy Farmers of Canada. A blue-ribbon jury of cheese experts from across the country selected winners in 16 categories, evaluating cheeses on texture, colour, appearance and, of course, flavour.
(Listed in order from mild to full-bodied cheese)
Feta is a young cheese, often made from sheep’s or cow’s milk and pickled in brine. Parmalat’s feta has a mild, salty flavour and a very soft, creamy texture. I like this one because it melts in your mouth, leaving a pleasant salty tang.
Triple cream cheeses are made by adding a big dollop of cream to fresh curd during production. Triple Créme du Village has a buttery, smooth texture and rich, lush sweet flavour. Even the rind melts like butter in your mouth. This is a must for your next cheese board.
Loaf-shaped Tilsit has a brownish-orange rind with a mild nutty flavour and soft texture – it tastes like a really young cheddar, but smoother. This is my new favourite sandwich and snacking cheese.
Washed-rind cheeses have been washed or rubbed during ripening, often with a brine, liqueur or wine. La Sauvagine has an aromatic nutty aroma and flavour. The super-creamy texture reminds me more of a triple cream than a washed rind. Probably bad news for my thighs, but the incredible flavour makes every decadent mouthful worth it.
Gouda is a mild cow’s milk cheese, so what surprised me about this winner was the flavour – there actually is some. Its aroma reminds me a little of milky Parmesan and the round, sweet flavour lingers. Some Gouda can have a tough, plastic texture, but this one is tender, yet firm. Eating this cheese challenged my inner snob and made me appreciate the pure goodness of a simple cheese.
This producer is a former Grand Prix champion and their Miranda is top-notch. Styled after a Swiss Gruyere, Miranda has a roasted, nutty flavour with a hint of fruit. It’s not as strong as traditional Gruyere, but packs a subtle punch.
There was only one entry in this category, so picking the winner wasn’t too hard. Similar to its Italian predecessor, this Provalone has a firm, slightly oily texture with a yellow/beige colour and tangy flavour. Sandwich a thick slice between sliver-thin pieces of prosciutto on a ciabatta bun.
There was only one entry here too, so not much to say. To be honest, I’m not a fan of the mozz – I like it melted on pizza, but as an eating cheese it’s not my first choice (guess my inner snob has returned).
Still made by the monks in the abbey, this is one heavenly cheese. The soft creamy texture reminds me of Roquefort, but slightly firmer. With blue veins running throughout, it’s both crumbly and moist at the same time and has a spicy undertone that complements the mushroom aroma. I’m a big fan of blue cheese in general, but Bleu Benedictin is the one I’d choose if I was stranded on a desert island.
This category featured cheeses flavoured without visible seeds or herbs. Sylvan Star’s smoked Gouda is delicious – the smoky flavour doesn’t overpower the gouda flavour and it would be wonderful in pasta dishes or breakfast omelets.
Cheeses in this category had visible flavouring agents. Sylvan Star’s spiced Gouda was piquant and lovely with a touch of fire from green peppercorns and cayenne pepper. It would be a winner in salads or melted into onion soup.
The name alone tells you what’s going on. Mild cheddars tend to leave me wanting more flavour, but this one was pretty solid. It had a pleasant milky aroma and characteristic rubbery texture. Definitely a contendor for my next grilled cheese.
Again in this category there was only one entry. What can I say? It’s cheddar. It’s good – no surprises here.
This Cheddar has classic flavour with a delicious sharp bite and a slightly crumbly texture. It’s a staple for any good Canadian cheese board.
This one truly blew me away. Plus, it gave me the opportunity to be cheesy and say “gouda is gooda!” Lame, but true. Anyway. This cheese has a rich flavour, undercut with a subtle sweetness. The firm cheese was embedded with tiny granules, like a top-quality, well-aged Parmesan. I can’t wait to try this in place of Parmesan for some of my recipes. Actually, I’d love to eat it on its own any day.
Packaging can be as important to keeping cheese fresh as it is to marketing. Camembert de Portneuf has a stylish, eye-catching design and was a worthy winner, but I was impressed by another noteworthy entry: Niagara Gold (Upper Canada Cheese). This cheese is smartly packaged in two-layered paper that allows the cheese to breathe. They recommend re-wrapping it in the same paper after opening for safe and long-lasting storage.
For information on these award winning cheeses, log onto www.dairygoodness.ca.
Not all cheeses are available across Canada. Check with your local cheesemonger for buying information.