Anatomy of a Cheese Plate
There is truly good energy in artisan cheese with the amount of passion, love, and gift of self that goes into its making. Like snowflakes, each is absolutely unique in style and character. From fabulous fresh feta to oozy brie-types to bodacious blues, our local region boasts over ten farmstead and artisan producers with dozens of mouthwatering cheeses to pick from.
Cow, goat, water buffalo and sheep milk cheeses. Fresh, soft, blue, washed-rind and aged cheeses. Mild, creamy, stinky and tangy cheeses. Gouda, cheddar, alpine-style and flavoured cheeses, you name it, we’ve got it here in our own backyard. The sky’s the limit when it comes to creating a great, local, artisan cheese plate.
Enjoying artisan cheese is easy. Select three to five cheeses of different styles, milk types, shapes, and flavours. Visually, variety is the key. Fortunately, there is no shortage of tasty accessories to adorn your cheese platters, boards, or plates. The best cheese companions can be found at local farmers’ markets, artisan delis or gourmet food shops, where great cheese is sold. Handcrafted charcuterie, honeys, chutneys, jams, pickled veggies, preserves, artisan breads and seasonal fruit all provide perfect pairings.
Cheese lovers, it’s time to get your cheese on.
Tasting Notes and Our Favourite Local Cheese Vendors and Producers
1) Honey Cheddar: Black River Cheese Company, Milford, Prince Edward County, Ontario
“Canadiana” is a familiar term to all of us, referring to things related to the country of Canada. Black River Cheese celebrates tradition as one of the regions oldest farmer-owned dairy co-operatives with over 100 years of cheese-making experience, firmly rooted in Prince Edward County as far back as 1901.
Black River’s Honey Cheddar cheese is a shining example of medium cheddar that has been naturally aged (pure milk, no artificial additives, preservatives or flavors) with a surprise flavor twist. It has a dense, moist, smooth paste (not too dry, soft but still crumbly), milky aroma, clean slightly fruity and milky taste, and is accented with a splash of local honey flavor to contrast against a mild salty finish, without being overbearingly sweet.
Look for Honey Cheddar at The Piggy Market, Metro Ottawa stores, and other fine food stores in the region.
2) Saucisson Sec: Seed to Sausage
3) Apple Marmalade: Lowertown Canning Co.
4) Pecorino Classico: Canreg Station Farm and Pasture Dairy, Finch, Ontario
An adaptation of one of Italy’s oldest cheeses (with it’s own hundreds of varieties), Josef Regli’s Pecorino Classico is a take on table Pecorino that farmers produce for their own consumption. The owner, farmer and cheesemaker at Canreg Station Farm and Pasture Dairy adds his passion to pure and natural ingredients in the making of traditional, alpine style, small batch farmstead sheep and buffalo milk artisan cheeses.
Pecorino Classico is a firm, raw, pressed and cooked sheep’s milk cheese. Naturally aged for a minimum of two months (but better at four to eight months), it has a velvety interior with a striking dark charcoal colored exterior due to being rubbed with virgin olive oil and ash. Acting as a protectant, this keeps the cheese from drying out, helps manage molds and adds to flavor. Milky, fruity and sweet flavors richly coat the palate, with a building earthiness closer to the rind. Best use I’ve seen yet is grating into fresh homemade pesto.
5) Speck: Seed to Sausage
6) Highland Blue: BackForty Artisan Cheese, Lanark County, Ontario
The popularity of Jeff and Jenna Fenwick’s Highland Blue, Canada’s most distinctive artisan blue cheese, puts it on the ‘not to miss when you see it’ list. A true artisan, handcrafted blue, this regional favorite and award winner at the Royal Ontario Winter Fair is named after our local Lanark Highlands.
Back Forty Artisan Cheese Highland Blue wheels are tall, regal and rustic. As a semi-firm unpasteurized sheep’s milk blue cheese, it has a dense, antique ivory to golden paste with prominent vertical teal-blue colored veining throughout, and a mottled natural rind. Notice a distinct sharpness, salty richness and earthy flavor with a bit of a kick in the piquant finish. Traditionally, this cheese pairs perfectly with a local Ice Wine, Late Harvest Vidal, or Port. For a different twist, try an Iced Cider from Quebec, with dried apricots as garnish to bring out a bit of extra flavor pop.
Highland Blue can be found at Serious Cheese and select fine food shops in Ottawa and the surrounding region.
7) Smoked Duck Breast: Seed to Sausage
8) Tomme: Milkhouse Farm and Dairy, Smiths Falls, Ontario
The National Capital region’s newest raw sheep’s milk producers, Cait & Kyle White, hail from Smiths Falls as the dedicated shepherds and cheesemakers of Milkhouse Dairy. What started out in 2010 as a small flock of ten British Milk Sheep, has now multiplied into forty-eight ewes and a steady supply of yummy farmstead Milkhouse Tomme, to the benefit of Ottawa and surrounding area cheese lovers.
Milkhouse Tomme sports a gorgeous slate grey country-style rind covering its firm, pale ivory interior. Flavors are all terroir (a reflection of the farm’s high quality milk); think pasture, fresh, and grassy with a rich, creamy overtone. It’s perfect for snacking or to upscale a grilled cheese complimented by grain bread, field greens and caramelized onions.
Find at Ottawa Farmers’ Markets & contact the farm for availability in the winter months.
9) Four seed bread, Nat’s Bread Co.
Tête à Papineau: Fromagerie Montebello, Montebello, Quebec
Fromagerie Montebello is making its mark after only a few short years of cheese production, with finalist recognition and wins at the inaugural Canadian Cheese Awards, the Quebec Sélèction Caseus Awards and the Grand Prix du Tourisme de L’Outaouais awards for agritourism and regional products. Owners and friends, Alain Boyer and Guy Boucher aptly called the factory and cheeses titles that tie to the area and rich history of what used to be Lower Canada in the early 1800’s.
Tête à Papineau, a semi-soft washed-rind pasteurized cow’s milk cheese name translates to a saying about Lordship Louis-Joseph Papineau’s intellect. At only a few months old, under a thin golden apricot grainy finish its taste profile is a welcome discovery. Aromas of sweet cream mix with flavors of butter, cream, and mild nut graduating to more prominent toasted nut over time, making it an ideal melting cheese.
Tête à Papineau can be found at The Piggy Market and La Trappe À Fromage in Gatineau.
For tips on how to truly and intimately get to know artisan cheeses, read my ten tips in “Finding Your Whey With Local Artisan Cheese”.