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The art of tasting cheese

Assessing cheese quality, the 2015 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix winners, and Jessica Emin's recipe made with Grand Champion winner Laliberté

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Photography by Jessica Emin, Styling by Lindsay Cameron Wilson

Photography by Jessica Emin, Styling by Lindsay Cameron Wilson

I was still in the stairwell and, before I even laid eyes upon them, I could smell the the category winners from the 2015 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix. There were notes of mushroom, wet leaf and manure. I was excited because I knew I wouldn’t be introduced to any wimpy, tasteless, odourless cheeses. Meeting chef, and 2015 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix Judge, Michael Howell to taste through the best cows milk cheeses in the country is a start to a good day.

An array of cheese, from soft, fresh cheese, like Ricotta Bella Casara from Ontario, to hard, aged cheese, like St-Albert’s five year aged Extra Old Cheddar, cover the better part of a 12 seat table.

There was a semi-soft rusty-orange wheel, L’Origine de Charlevoix from Quebec, and I knew it was to blame, or thank, for the pungently intoxicating odour emanating from our bright meeting room.

Photography by Jessica Emin, Styling by Lindsay Cameron Wilson

Photography by Jessica Emin. Styling by Lindsay Cameron Wilson

This year marked the ninth year for the awards, and 268 were submitted for evaluation. Judges picked 81 for the finals. They judged the cheeses against other cheese of the same type or style, of which there are 27. They then picked a winner from each category, along with only one overall winner. The Grand Champion cheese this year is Laliberté from Fromagerie du Presbytere. I found it to be a soft, pillowy and unctuous cheese with notes of fresh cream, grass, a salty minerality and a rich buttered corn sweetness. The rind, which was unbelievably soft and incorporated well with the center paste of the cheese, had slight pasture and dehydrated mushroom notes.

When tasting cheese I often default to assessing quality the same way I do when tasting wine. Howell told me that makes sense: the way cheese and wine are judged is closely related.

Howell explained that chefs, critics or affineurs (a professional cheese taster, like what a sommelier is to wine) go through a set of criteria to determine the quality of the cheese.

He says that beyond looking for how sound the cheese is from a technical perspective (for example a ricotta should not be dry while an aged cheddar should not be wet) the judges are looking for balance and flavour. “We’re looking for a cheese that’s not out of whack,” Howell says. “You just want it to be a harmonious example of the category.” If it’s too salty, pungent, smoky, or woody, it won’t make it to the top.  

Photography by Jessica Emin, Styling by Lindsay Cameron Wilson

Photography by Jessica Emin. Styling by Lindsay Cameron Wilson

The cheese is assessed through its initial impression, to the mid-palate, and through to the finish (or the lasting impression) the cheese leaves with the taster, says Howell. Other characteristics judges search for are expressions of umami within the cheese (savoury or meaty notes associated with ageing and complexity) or cheeses that exhibit similarities to the terroir where the animals grazed.

The Canadian Cheese Grand Prix celebrates excellence in farming and production of cows cheese in Canada, and Howell says that those who win awards usually see it reflected in their sales. “The Grand Champions from previous years have had trouble even keeping up with demand.”

Photography by Jessica Emin, Styling by Lindsay Cameron Wilson

Photography by Jessica Emin. Styling by Lindsay Cameron Wilson

My Top Picks from the 2015 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix Category Winners:

  1. Best Extra Aged Gouda: Mountainoak Farmstead Premium Dutch Gold, Mountainoak Cheese Ltd., Ontario
  2. Best Aged Cheddar, 1 to 3 years: Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar, Cows Creamery, PEI
  3. Grand Champion and Best Cream-Enriched Soft Cheese with Bloomy Rind: Laliberté, Fromagerie du Presbytere, Quebec
  4. Best Farmhouse Cheese: Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese Ltd., Ontario
  5. Best Blue Cheese and Best Organic Cheese: Le Bleu d’Elizabeth, Fromagerie du Presbytere, Quebec

 

Spring Frittata with Fromagerie du Presbytere’s Laliberté Triple Creme Cheese

Photography by Jessica Emin, Styling by Lindsay Cameron Wilson

Photography and styling by Jessica Emin

Recipe by Jessica Emin

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Category: breakfast, brunch, lunch

 Ingredients:

-¼ wheel of Fromagerie du Presbytere’s Laliberté cheese, cut into small thin slices

-6 eggs

-½ cup of partially skimmed milk

-½ teaspoon of table salt

-½ teaspoon of fresh ground black pepper

-¼ cup of fresh parsley, chopped

-1 tablespoon of salted butter

-10 asparagus, washed and cut into 3 inch segments

-10 green beans, washed and cut into halves

-1 teaspoon of garlic, finely chopped

-a dash of finishing salt or sea salt

-a pinch or two of ground pink peppercorn

Cooking instructions:

In a mixing bowl whisk together eggs, table salt, black pepper, parsley and milk until frothy and even.

Melt butter, in a 10 inch frying pan, on medium to low heat, then add asparagus and beans to the pan. Cook vegetables on low heat for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure even cooking. Add the garlic to pan in last minute of cooking.

Turn the burner heat down to lowest setting and add egg mixture to the frying pan. Stir the eggs and vegetables once with a spatula, then place a large pot lid (preferably glass, to see cooking progress) over the frying pan. Let the eggs cook through slowly, without stirring, until the top layer has set and is no longer raw or slimey. This should take approximately ten minutes, depending on the type and power of your stovetop. If too much water or condensation starts to accumulate on the eggs or under the lid while cooking just shift the lid for a few minutes to let out some steam.

Turn the burner off, quickly remove the cover, and cover the top of the frittata with Laliberté triple cream cheese. Replace the cover. The residual heat from the burner and the pan should easily melt the cheese.

Garnish the eggs with finishing salt, ground pink peppercorn and whole parsley leaves.

Serve the frittata like a pie alongside baby potatoes, salad greens with oil and citrus or a grapefruit mimosa.

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