Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Blessed Are the Cheesemakers

Charles de Gaulle, in a moment of frustration, once said “How can anyone govern a nation that has 246 different kinds of cheese?” We in Canada don’t have this particular problem, and maybe we are the more governable because of it. However, while we may not have 246 different kinds of cheese being produced here, we certainly enjoy cheese from around the world, and do produce a fair amount of our own… mostly in Québec, but with significant and increasing production in Ontario, Alberta, and elsewhere.

Here in Niagara, we are fortunate to have Upper Canada Cheese in Jordan Station, where cheese is produced from one specific herd of Guernsey cattle, rendering cheese that is distinctive in flavour, colour, and fat content. Their Niagara Gold is a delicious semi-soft cheese with buttery, nutty flavours that develop more pungency as the cheese ages. Comfort Cream (named for the Guernsey herd at Comfort Farm) is a soft, camembert style cheese with a creamy interior. Recently added Guernsey Girl is a Scandinavian bread-style cheese that doesn’t melt when heated, so it can be fried or grilled with delicious results. Upper Canada Cheese is also now making fresh cheese curd every Friday, so those who love the mild flavours of this product can enjoy it as a squeaky snack or melt it onto their poutine.

Another local treasure for cheese-lovers is Chez Fromage Etc. in downtown Fenwick, right beside the hardware store and across from Da Vinci’s Italian eatery (worth a visit in itself). Natalie Kita brings in a mind-boggling assortment of cheeses, mostly from Québec artisanal producers, but with a fair sampling of cheese from other Canadian producers as well as a fine international selection. The word is out, and some days you may have to wait awhile to make your selection as customers are driving in to Fenwick from as far away as Hamilton to buy cheese from Natalie, but one of the charms of the place is that she never hurries anyone, and takes great delight in suggesting (and providing a taste of) her current favorite or something she thinks the customer will enjoy.

Smaller selections of special cheeses can be found in other stores around Pelham and further afield in Niagara. For example, I was delighted to see that Lorenzo’s Fine Foods on Haist Street is carrying a few carefully chosen varieties, including Sir Laurier and the absolutely decadent Sauvagine from Québec… a creamy cheese that Natalie introduced me to awhile ago, and I find irresistible.

Making cheese is an art in the same order as making beer or wine, and requires the same dedication to ingredients, preparation, cleanliness, and process. If you would like to learn to make your own cheese, or just see what is involved in cheese making, Niagara Falls is home to a small enterprise that is dedicated to revealing the secrets of home cheese production. Doreen and Peter Sullivan lead day-long classes limited to eight participants through the steps in making two cheeses, a camembert-style and a Roquefort-style blue, which the students get to take home with them to finish, age, and enjoy. Peter is a former teacher in the hospitality field at Niagara College, and has been featured in these pages before as the master-cook on some of my fly-fishing trips (he’s a pretty good fly fisherman, too). Doreen is also a former teacher and dental hygienist, and their classes come very highly recommended. For more information, have a look at www.makingcheeseathome.ca or call Peter or Doreen at 905 354 8873.