Cheese 121-Grey Owl



Do you ever get obsessed with something?  I’m sure that any reader of this blog would not be surprised that I do- and that in fact, the thing that I get obsessed with (along with impractical shoes) is cheese.  Specific cheese.  I will read an article or review on a cheese, and it will become stuck in my head…I must have it!  But sometimes, this is easier said than done.  Artisinal cheese is simply not always available.  Many cheeses are only produced at certain times of the year, and depending on how much aging a cheese needs, it’s only released ever so often.  Consider an 8 year old cheddar, it needs to wait around (hiding) for eight years before going on sale.  This is cruel!

One of my little cheese obsessions (and I say here, one-as there are-in fact, many) has been a Canadian cheese that has eluded me now for months, Grey Owl.  Every time I go to look for it, they are “just out…” “oh, we just sold the last of it,” the cheese monger will cruelly utter…seriously, it’s a conspiracy.  I’m not sure if I have been clear enough here, I NEED this cheese.  It is first, a goat’s milk cheese, and second, it’s Canadian, and lastly, it references history!  It’s a freaking cheese Yahtzee.  But still, no Grey Owl for Willow, until finally, last week.  I purchased the last remaining piece from a local store, and this little darling is mine, oh yes-all mine-not that anyone else in my family would touch it with a ten foot pole-but still, it is all mine.

Grey Owl is a goat’s milk cheese made by the Fromagerie Le Détour in Notre-Dame-du-Lac, Quebec by the husband and wife team of Ginette Bégin and Mario Quirion.  Interestingly, my husband and I only make children together, imagine how lucky these folk are! Yet another cheese from Quebec.  Seriously, they are making the rest of Canada look bad.  Just saying.   Grey Owl is a really new cheese, first sold in the USA only in 2007, and here in Canada in early 2008.  The name Grey Owl, of course-as any good Canadian knows, is a nod to the story of Archie Belaney, AKA “Grey Owl” who was one of the first champions for the conservation of nature in Canada.  Grey Owl lived in the region where this fromagerie now stands, so there’s actually a local connection here to the name.  Of course, there’s also a pun in the name, as there is in all the best cheeses.  This cheese is rolled in ash, and is thus grey…hardy har!

The milk for Grey Owl cheese is pasteurized (sadly) and comes from Saanen goats-Swiss goats who live near the dairy, but not on site. Now a word on ash and goat’s milk cheese, the two go together regularly, and do offer a beautiful contrast between the bright white of a goat’s milk cheese and the dark grey ash coating.  When you see these two together, you know you have a goat’s milk cheese.  Historically this was done to protect the young cheese from insects, and also help produce a rind for a fragile cheese.  The ash is totally edible, and I like to think that it is somewhat medicinal, as we used to feed our dogs charcoal.  I have no basis of fact for this, it’s just something I like to think.  In truth, the ash can counter the lemony tang present in goat’s milk, as it tends to act as an alkaline.

My little coveted wedge of Grey Owl waits for me here at my desk.  It has collapsed into a wet heart-shaped piece of cheese as it warms up and starts to ooze.  It is both hideous and beautiful.  The grey ash seems counter-intuitive to my taste buds who typically do not search out the colour grey, but the white oozing interior beckons me…eat me…eat me.The exterior, just under the rind, has ripened and is sticky and glistens: the interior core, white and chalky.  The smell is mild yet undeniably present.  “Yes, I am a goat cheese,” it whispers, “I am proud.”  My mouth squirts with anticipation.

Here goes…

Ohhhhh.  It’s delicious!  It’s surpassingly mild, I was expecting more of a goat kick.  It’s really well-balanced.  Really, the texture is the show-stopper for me, I can’t get enough of the sticky outer layer mixed with the rind and chalky core, it makes me crazy!  It sticks to my tongue and teeth.  The cheese itself is really chilled out, the lemon taste is present yet dialed back.  There’s the faintest peppery kick at the finish, but mostly it’s a creamy, ever so slightly goaty cheese. This one would be perfect smeared on something.  Baguette, a pear, a good friend!    The real Grey Owl was one of Canada’s first conservationists, and in his honour, I shall also conserve this little darling for me and me alone!

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