Say Cheese!


Cheese 1


Develop your taste for Canadian cheese at Vancouver’s EAT! Festival


By Valentina Ruiz Leotaud


A sharp Roquefort, a salty pecorino, a sweet manchego. When people think about cheese, many think of European products. For consumers, centuries of manufacturing tradition guarantee good quality.


Newcomers may be surprised to discover Canada has its own cheesy traditions. “Making and eating cheese has been a part of the culture since [Samuel de] Champlain brought cows from Normandy in the early 1600s,” Walrus writer Sasha Chapman explains in a piece exploring the origin of Kraft Dinner. (KD is a neon orange powdered macaroni dish that has gained mythical status in Canada—the opposite of “quality” cheese). Kraft products aside, during the 2013 Global Cheese Awards, an aged Lankaaster from Ontario was named the best in the world.


At Vancouver’s upcoming EAT! Food + Cooking Festival beginning May 30, Canadian Dairy Farmers will be hosting a series of workshops showcasing national cheeses. Guidebook reached out to Reg Hendrickson, Dairy Farmers’ trainer, consultant and cheese connoisseur, to find out what festivalgoers can expect.


What’s out there


Hendrickson says each seminar will showcase six to seven varieties of 100 percent Canadian cheese, from Vancouver Island to Prince Edward Island. For Hendrikson, the key is “to get the cheese in people’s mouths,” and let them experiment and have fun with it because no matter what they try, it’s going to be good.


“We have a really high milk standard,” he said.


Asked about what’s the best type of cheese being made in the country, he didn’t hesitate to mention cheddar. Hendrikson pointed to Cows Inc., a company from P.E.I. as a personal favourite: “Their Avonlea clothbound cheddar was the top cheddar in Canada in 2013; their creamy extra oil cheddar was one of the top cheddar of the world in Wisconsin three weeks ago; and their appletree smoked cheddar won the top smoked cheddar in the world in Wisconsin,” he said.


Hendrikson says you can taste the cheeses’ island origin. “What’s Prince Edward Island famous for? Potatoes! So when you smell their clothbound [Cows’] you get raw potato; it’s called their terroir.”


Every year Hendrikson travels from coast to coast to research cheeses produced in each part of the country. His latest discovery was in the west.


“There’s an interesting cheese called Queso Fresco, it’s a Latin American cheese and the producer is out in Alberta. It’s a grilling cheese; he has the queso fresco and then the queso paisa, and then the queso duro, they are fresh cheeses and when you get them in your mouth is like ‘whoa!’ The butter, and salt, and it’s gorgeous!”


You can learn how to find and taste these cheeses in Hendrikson’s EAT! seminars. Nevertheless, he was kind enough to provide Guidebook with a few tips in advance:


  1. Do some research. Tell a cheese seller what you like, and work together to find a taste profile that fits your palate.
  2. Not all cheeses are the same. They might all say “blue cheese” on the label, but Hendrikson says the tastes vary wildly. “You have the softer blues, you have the big, bold blues, and you have what I call the socky-moldy blues.”
  3. Pair cheeses with fruit, grain, nuts, and seeds. Avoid things like peppers, garlic or cauliflower “because those particular vegetables are going to have fairly high taste profiles which then takes you away from the taste of the cheese.”
  4. Start with tradition. Hendrikson recommends beginning with traditional pairings, like cheddar and apples.
  5. Taste mild cheeses first. If you have variety, start with the milder cheeses and then move up in flavour until you reach the bolder ones.
  6. Keep it social. Each person in a group of friends can buy a small amount and then everybody gets to taste a little bit. Kids can be involved if pairings with juices are arranged.

Want more? Watch this space next issue to read more about “100 mile” cheeses in B.C.


Photo: Queso Fresco from Latin Foods in Alberta.