Cheese 135 The Farm House Natural Cheeses-Brie


Sometimes, when something is so good, it’s hard to find the right time to share it. I have been aware of today’s cheese and cheese-maker for over a year now, but it’s just never seemed like the right time to let this little secret out. But enough is enough, welcome-cheese friends, to The Farm House Natural Cheeses.

About an hour and a half outside of Vancouver, lies the sleepy town of Agassiz, in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia. Last year I was lucky enough to go and visit The Farm House Natural Cheeses to interview their cheese maker and have a tour of their premises. Yes, thanks for asking, it was awesome. At the risk of sounding like an overly star-struck cheese lover, let me just say, that this was potentially the best cheese experience I have had to date.

Everything there was just as you would want it to be. Cows and goats produce the milk on site, and the cheese is made a few steps away: true terroir. The beautiful mountains of the Fraser Valley loom overhead, and the fields of hay shimmer below. Besides that, the whole family is involved too,  from daily milking and barn chores, hay-making and field work, to cheese making. It’s a real family affair.

The co-owner and head cheese-maker, Debra Amrein-Boyes, is one of only twelve people in western Canada and US to be inducted into the prestigious French Cheese Guild, the “Guilde des Fromagers Confrerie de Saint-Uguzon.” This guild  recognizes those who protect and continue the tradition of cheesemaking around the world. And because of this honour, Debra actually has her own patron saint of cheese, and what’s not to love about that? Yes, you did just read that, a patron saint of cheese. Besides that, she’s a lovely lady with a true passion for cheese, who showed me around her fastidiously clean facility and her sumptuous affinage caves. I was loath to leave.

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So how does a cheese maker in a little sleepy valley in BC get such an honour, you might wonder? It’s likely partially because Debra authored her book, “200 Easy Homemade Cheese Recipes-From Cheddar and Brie to Butter and Yogurt” which was nominated in 2009 for a World Gourmand Cookbook Award and is available for purchase in many book stores, or online. If you have ever wished to try your hand at home cheesemaking, this is the book for you. No, I don’t own it yet, and yes, it’s on my Christmas wish list.

Right, I have gushed enough. Can you tell I’m a fan?

The Farmhouse Natural Cheeses makes a number of cheese products, most of which I have sampled (lucky me) but when I saw today’s Brie for sale, so deliciously close to the “best before” date (remember, this means “best on” date,) I knew that today was the day, and this was the cheese.

This round of Brie is rather diminutive, it’s about 2 inches in diameter. It’s made from pasteurized cow’s milk, sourced on site. It’s an authentic, naturally ripened Brie, hand-ladled, with a lovely, fully developed white mushroomy rind.The smell is inviting, a warm combination of mushroom and straw. When I cut into it, the paste is astonishingly yellow, the milk from the cows must have been very rich, it makes a handsome contrast to the white rind (which I shall eat, aways eat the rind on a brie!)
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Here goes…

Mmmm, it’s salty and smooth and creamy and fantastic. It’s a delicious balance of fat, salt and mushroom. The rind is fabulous, with a real texture to it, and when you mix it in with the paste it makes for an amazing experience. It’s Fraser Valley terroir at its best. It’s perhaps not as gooey as I hoped for,  but it’s only been out of the fridge for 15 minutes, so I’m leaving it out the rest of the morning, and hope to see this little cheese run. It’s a mild and inviting locally sourced Brie, made by a local cheese master (with her own patron saint of cheese.)  What’s not to like about that? Go out and buy some, and thank me later.

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Cheese 131 14 Arpents-Fromagerie Medard

 

 

You know how some people like to shop for cars, or jewellery, or clothes?  I like to shop for cheese.

Every time I’m in a new store, I’m drawn to the cheese section, and my children mock me for this. Last week they accused me of being “addicted to cheese.” And that’s just unfair. I mean, addicted? Addicted means that I think about it all the time, I obsess about it, I can’t live without it. Shit. Maybe I AM addicted.

Last week when the whole “mom’s addicted” issue came up, I was elbow deep in our local Whole Foods cheese section. I do like to look for cheese here as they tend to have a decent selection, and they also have a basket of smaller “amuse bouche” tastes of cheese, which is a great way to get into cheese without making a huge commitment.

It was here that I noticed today’s cheese for the first time, a Canadian cheese, from Quebec and as it is Canada Day (Happy Canada D’eh!) I thought it an excellent choice. It’s an interesting looking square cheese from the Quebec Fromagerie Medard called 14 Arpents (FYI, that link is in French, so best of luck to you.)


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If my high school French serves me correctly, 14 arpents means 14 acres, as in “14 acres of land” and the lady at the cheese counter told me it refers to the road bordering the fromagerie, called Le Chemin 14 Arpents. It’s a whole milk, washed rind  cheese made from the milk of the farm’s own brown Swiss cattle-and this one’s pasteurized (alas.) This is a true farmstead cheese as it is made from the cattle that live on the farm.

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The milk for this cheese is sourced from the attached  Ferme Domaine De La Rivière,  established in  1881 when the Quebec government gave  families with at least 12  children (yikes) extra funds to settle and develop the area. The eponymous Médard (of Fromagerie Medard) was the son of one of these establishing families. The  Fromagerie Medard,  opened in 2006 took his name, so there’s a true thread of farming, history of the land in the cheese and in the cheese name, and I like that.

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This is a handsome cheese, it has a lovely orange washed rind and a creamy yellow interior, spotted with eyes. It seems rather alive- it oozed slightly when I cut it, and as it warms up, it really does reek quite pleasantly. There’s that delightfully foul odour of unwashed feet that captivates me. Alas, so many are scared off by that initial “hello” from a washed rind, that’s just the bark! Don’t be afraid of the bite!  Move in, I implore thee.
Mmmmmm. This is the love child of Taleggio and Oka! It’s a round tasty flavoured cheese, with just a hint of bitter from that salty washed rind. It’s toothsome and chewy, it sticks to my teeth, it plays with my tongue. Although the smell is a little fierce, the taste is mellow, yet complex. I think this one would work on just about any cheese board. It’s salty and creamy and nutty and pleasurable in the mouth. It’s just slightly “gym-socky” but in an ever so friendly way. My only regret? I only bought a small chunk.
Go out and grab some, and Happy Canada Day

Cheese 129 Roaring Forties-King Island Dairy

Last year I attempted to visit Keso Cheese Shop in Whiterock, BC (a city outside of Vancouver.) I was stopped at the door by the police! Alas, the store had just been robbed a minute earlier. As I stood outside, peering at the cheese between the boys (and girls) in blue, I promised Keso I would be back. Yesterday, was that day, and what a great road trip. Proprietor and fellow turophile Mauricio Kremer was happy to chat cheese with me, extolling the virtues of cheeses he and I have loved, and imploring me to give my cheese nemeses, Tete du Moine and Stinking Bishop another go. Nice try, Mauricio.

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I was only in the shop for a minute when this little beauty caught my eye.  Roaring 40′s has actually been on my “must try” list for over a year, but this is the first time I have seen the real thing. Did you think I made a mistake and meant “Roaring 20’s?” OK, I actually thought that was an error too, but no,  Roaring 40’s refers to the strong westerly winds that hit the fromagerie on King Island, found in the Bass Straight south of Melbourne, Australia on the 40 degrees latitude. This wicked wind, called the “Roaring 40’s”  is responsible for many shipwrecks, but also for the terroir that eventually makes its way into the cheese. According to cheese legend, (I love me a cheese legend) the King Island grasses were actually seeded from straw mattresses washed up from these same shipwrecks. So truly, this cheese does belong to the Roaring 40’s! The cattle of King Island nibble shipwrecked straw and kelp all day, but that’s about it, truly shipwrecked terroir!
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Roaring forties is made by the eponymous  King Island Dairy  from cow’s milk. It’s aged 10-12 weeks and is inoculated with blue pencillium roqueforti. Basically it’s a Roquefort, but made with cow’s milk instead of sheep’s milk, and with an Australian shipwrecked mattress twist. A thick coating of blue-black wax covers the cheese, and this acts to limit which bacteria can enter the cheese and also keeps the cheese sweet and fruity. It also keeps it quite moist and protected inside, which is a good thing as Australia is a long, long way from Vancouver. Despite the challenges I have had tracking it down,Roaring 40’s is pretty well-known in the world of cheese, it’s won a ton of awards, but most recently  the 2012 Champion Trophy in the Australian Grand Dairy Awards

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Roaring 40’s is an extremely sexy looking cheese. Blue/black thick wax covers the exterior with a creamy paste shot through with mould, what’s not to like? As I peel back that thick wax (don’t eat it , silly, it’s not a rind) I’m kind of drooling. It’s a handsome cheese, it looks like Stilton to me with that lovely creamy cow’s milk yellow. It really is moist for a blue, that wax did a good job. This cheese smells fabulous, pungent and cheesy, it’s a little sticky to the touch. Enough, I must taste.

Mmmmmm. Wow. Oh yah! It’s really smooth and unctuous, yet slightly crumbly in the mouth. There’s a tiny little crunch in the paste, is it salt? Is it calcium? Who cares, it’s great. It’s salty and fruity, almost caramel sweet but with that unmistakable spicy blue mould hit. It’s really a terrific blue, and not overly terrifying. It’s actually pretty mellow for a blue, I MIGHT be able to talk to blue-phobic husband into this one…nah, I’m keeping it for myself.

Cheese 126 Cave Aged Vermont Cheddar (Trader Joe’s)


Why Yes, I am reviewing another Trader Joe’s spotlight cheese. This one is Miss May, and it’s called “Cave Aged Vermont Cheddar Cheese.”

It’s actually a good thing that I stocked up on cheese when I was in the USA last week, as apparently the bridge on the I5 has just collapsed-the very bridge that connects my house to Trader Joe’s (I do not jest!)  Perhaps somehow I knew that I would soon be cut off when I made my excessive cheesey trip there last week. Maybe it was just gluttony. Who knows?

I digress. As mentioned last week, every month Trader Joe’s (or TJ’s to its intimate circle of friends) has a Spotlight Cheese. These tend to be cheeses a little off the eaten path, not your typical cheese aisle offerings, and I think that’s great. They are also really dirt cheap and I think that’s even greater! Anything to encourage people to try new cheese is fantastic as far as I am concerned.

Plus, they had me at Cave Aged.

How I wish that I were cave aged, instead of simply aged by life.

There’s something about the phrase, “cave aged” that just send s a shiver of pleasure down my back. What happens in the cave? Do the walls of the cave themselves imbue some special power?

Alas, it seems these days most “caves” are actually dark rooms with lots of fans and special ventilation, not real caves after all, but I do like to imagine that these so-called cave aged cheeses really did just emerge from a dank cave somewhere, it’s a dream.

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This cheese is somewhat mysterious. It says on  the label “deep underground Vermont’s green pastures our Cave Aged Vermont Cheddar Cheese is matured.” But it doesn’t say if it’s a REAL cave. Sigh. Just something “deep underground.” Oh well. It also doesn’t say who the maker is, but they must have had some decent capacity to make enough cheese to be a spotlight item for TJ. It’s too bad the maker isn’t identified in these spotlight cheeses, but I’m sure there’s a reason for that. This cheese is made from pasteurized cow’s milk, which makes me a little sad, but that may have something to do with American rules. To tell you the truth, I have yet to figure out Canadian vs American rules for unpasteurized cheeses. It just seems, in general, that cheese is made from pasteurized milk unless it’s something really, really special. This one’s also young for a cheddar, only 10 months old.

But back to the cheese. It is a handsome cheese. It’s creamy and has a nice looking natural rind. I doubt this one is cloth-bound as they would have mentioned that, that’s the kind of thing to make a turophile swoon!

The cheese has a mild nutty smell, no hints of anything offensive at all.

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Here goes:

I’m loving it. The texture is really creamy and buttery-chewy, a fantastic mouth feel. The cheese is nutty, mild and not astringent in the least. It’s pretty benign. There’s no tyrosine crunch, a little surprising, I would have expected it, but this cheese is only 10 months aged, so I’m curious to know if it would show up in a year or so. It’s actually quite sweet and really smooth. Wow, if you live close enough to a TJ and all the bridges are intact, go and score some this month. For a cave-aged cheddar, this one’s pretty tame, but I’m pretty sure you could feed this cheese to just about anyone and they would dig it.

Cheese 125 Pont L’Eveque

About once every two months, I like to go cross-border shopping into Bellingham, Washington. It’s only 1.5 hours from Vancouver, and-unlike Vancouver-it has a Trader Joe’s store- full of Canadians. The parking lot is awash with BC plates, it’s almost laughable.

Trader Joe’s features a new “Spotlight” cheese every month. This cheese is sold as a killer special deal,  and their cheese, in general, is about half the price of the same cheese in Canada. You can imagine what I like to stock up on (along with the lacy chocolate cookies and coconut ribbons-I digress.)

Yesterday I picked up April’s special, Pont L’Eveque. Now, it is May, not April, so I’m really hoping that this cheese is still good. It’s a little risky buying a famous and fragile cheese like this. It’s really a cheese that should be cherished and purchased lovingly from a cheese monger who slices off a morsel, wraps it in cheese paper and passes it to you-but here it is bought in bulk.  Image

Pont L’Eveque is a French cheese made of (in this case) pasteurized cow’s milk. It carries the DOP label (appelation d’origine protegee) so that means it’s the real thing. I confess to being a little confused over whether or not this cheese is normally pasteurized-web sources seem to contradict themselves. However, this Trader Joe’s version is pasteurized, that may have been done to allow sale into the USA-not sure.

It’s a washed rind cheese and one of the very oldest of the French cheeses-and that’s saying something. A famous French poem from the 13th century makes reference to this cheese, so people have been eating and loving this one for a long time.

ImageSome believe it is named after the Norman Abbey monks who first introduced it in the 12th century. Pont l’Eveque was originally called Angelot cheese. It’s also called Moyaux cheese. Why it needs three names is unclear, but you can just interchange them at a dinner party and people will think you are amazing!

Pont L’Eveque looks like a square brie or camembert, except it is a washed rind cheese, so it’s a little yellow and sticky on the outside-not that velvety white. There are small lines running through the rind. The inside is soft and gooey-I have been letting it warm up, unwrapped on my counter for about an hour (please do let your cheese warm up, it’s so much happier if you do!) It’s slightly bulgy and creamy looking on the inside, there are several small eyes throughout the paste.

Now, the smell. I have read a number of accounts describing how stinky this cheese is. People refer to all sorts of bodily odours in comparison to this cheese, and that’s just silly. Anyone who thinks this cheese smells obviously hasn’t eaten a lot of cheese. Yes, it is a washed rind cheese, which means that there are a lot of happy bacteria on the rind (not just inside) so it is a little funky, but don’t be scared off by reports of it’s reek. They are misleading. It’s a nice, pungent little smelling cheese.

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Mmmm. Oh, I like it! It tastes like asparagus to me. Isn’t that weird? It’s pretty mild, with that expected hit of ammonia from any washed rind, but it mixes nicely with the creamy, smooth interior. There’s a great balance of salt, and as it’s a rather small cheese there’s a lot of rind to body ratio-so that stronger rind mixes with the creamy interior and gives a great flavour profile. OK, I’m going to say it-it does taste a tiny bit like pee or maybe belly button (these are both guesses, for the record, I actually don’t know what either of those taste like) but there is something a little carnal about this cheese. It has a nice, “I’m alive and you are eating me” sort of taste, but I like that! I don’t want to eat some dead, wimpy sort of cheese.  I might like it even more with a little slice of pear or apple, it is described as a dessert cheese, and I get that.

Funky, gnarly, yummy, cheap.

Go and get some!

Cheese 122-Shropshire Blue


First, an apology. For those of you who are regular readers of this blog you may have noticed that I neglected to write a post last Saturday.  After nearly a year of daily and then weekly posts, this was a first, and I am deeply chagrined.  In truth, it was a confluence of family events so wretched that cheese could not be made a priority-yes that bad!  Thus, today’s post-a Thursday post-is a make up for last week. I promise another in two day’s time barring no new family type emergencies. Forgive me.

The more cheese I taste and review, the more I realize that there really are only 5 types of cheese: washed rind, bloomy rind, blues, mountain, and fresh.  All cheeses are some combination or permutation of the above with a tweak on the milk used, the affinage, the addition of a particular mould or salt or wash, but really…that’s it!  Yes, this small number of cheese types produces an almost infinite number of actual cheeses…just like humans, I suppose.  We are all a combination of egg and sperm, but what a sumptuous variety.

I mention this because today’s cheese, Shropshire Blue, is referred to as the “love child” of Cheshire and Stilton.  Well, no one actually uses the phrase “love child,” but I shall here today, on My Blog of Cheese!  Cheshire and Stilton had a lovely little orange baby.  Both of these British cheeses have been reviewed here, Cheshire-an ancient British crumbly and salty cow’s milk cheese, and Stilton, the famous cow’s milk British Blue…but, their child, Shropshire Blue came out orange!  Sometimes kids come out funny in the wash.

Interestingly, I really haven’t been able to pin down the origins of this cheese to my satisfaction.  Numerous sources on the web give quite different inception dates, and these are all great sources, so it’s quite the mystery.   One excellent source says it came to be in 1970 at the Castle Stuart dairy in Scotland by Andy Williamson, a cheesemaker who had trained in the making of Stilton, while another trustworthy source claims it was created in the 1930’s by a Cheshire Cheese dealer Dennis Biggins. This troubles me.  Was it Biggins, or was it Williamson?  Was it the 1970’s or the 1930’s?  Everyone seems to agree that it was first made in Scotland and the name Shropshire was used fictitiously to cash in on the cache of British cheese names, but who and when?  It’s a freaking mystery.

What I do know for certain, is that Shropshire Blue is now made in Britain, not Scotland, and although the cheese is not protected it is only made by three cheese makers.  I also know that Shropshire Blue is a blue cheese made from pasteurized cow’s milk which gets its funky Halloween colour from our good friend, annatto. The mould used to produce this beauty is our old friend, penicillium roqueforti.  Shropshire Blue has a natural rind and ages about 2-3 months before sale. It is usually made by Stilton makers using the same technique as Stilton, the only real difference being the annatto which does  interact in the aging giving this cheese and ever so slightly sour but sharper and spicier taste than Stilton.  But really, Shropshire Blue  is Stilton with a spray tan.

 


My little wedge of mysterious Shropshire Blue, and I say mysterious as I actually don’t even know who the maker is of this specific cheese-a huge shame- cheese mongers, don’t deny this knowledge to me-it’s like a foundling at the hospital door, yes, it’s a child, I can see that, but what about the parentage? I digress, my little wedge of mysterious Shropshire Blue is truly hideous, yet lovely.  It’s a deep russet orange flecked through with blue veining.  I showed it to my husband, who recoiled visibly, it’s really not what most people think of when they think of cheese.  The rind is natural and thin and brown, and the colour becomes darker towards the rind. When I sliced the cheese it crumbled a little, it’s just begging to be eaten. The cheese smells mild, and here I mean mild in a blue cheese sort of way.  It actually just made my mouth water sniffing it…oh, I can’t wait!

Here goes…

Salty! Spicy! Creamy!  It’s a Stilton, no-it’s not as sweet as Stilton, this Shropshire Blue burns my throat, it’s really peppery and spicy…what is that?  Is that the annatto?  No orange cheddar has ever done that. Seriously, my throat is on fire, this is weird. Could it be an allergy?  Who cares. The texture is amazing, smooth with little crystal flecks, I wish I could smear this on something, it’s begging for smearing and a slice of pear, but I am a purist-I resist.  There’s a real ammonia kicker to this cheese, more so than in most blues-it makes my eyes water, it’s so foul and fabulous, how can I explain myself?  This cheese is heinously delightful!  If you are looking for something that looks shocking on your cheese board and sets your throat on spicy fire, look no further.  Shropshire Blue, I dig you, but I’m weird, you my friend, are my slice of cheese.

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!