Day 96-Chevrotina

The biggest transformation for me personally through this almost 100 day journey into cheese has been my new-found love for goat cheese.  Now that I have crossed over to the goat side I just can’t get enough.  Luckily, BC seems to be full of goat’s-milk cheese, and some of it within driving distance of yours truly.I just picked up this little button of goat cheese the other day in Vancouver.  It looked intriguing to me, it’s the first “button” of cheese I have seen for sale.  When I saw that it was goat, local and organic I was sold.  Really, they had me at goat.

Today’s cheese, Chevrotina is made by the certified organic “Goat’s Pride” Dairy in Abbotsford, BC. It’s the first Certified Organic goat dairy in western Canada.  This local company has been making cheese for the past six years. In addition to cheese, Goat’s Pride farm offers tours for groups of 12 or more with activities including  goat education, cheese tasting, and goat milking demonstration.  This farm tour offering seems to be on trend with local fromageries.  One suspects it must be challenging to deal with goats, cheese making, and tourists simultaneously.

Goat’s Pride is a family owned farm. Peter and Jo-Ann Dykstra and their children do it all.  They keep their goat-herd and their fromagerie on the same property, so it’s all very cozy. The goats have access to roam outside when it is sunny, and they can wander freely on the farm’s 20 acres of bush, snacking to their little goat hearts content. Their pens are large, and roomy, and this whole set up seems very goat positive. The goats here are fed organic grain, hay and alfalfa. They  use no hormones, and will use antibiotics only under duress-preferring to use herbal or homeopathic remedies, and that’s a first, homeopathics for goats!  Wow. Most of the milk comes from their farm although they do occasionally source milk from another organic goat farm in Chilliwack.

I am fairly certain there must be a savvy teenager in this family, as this is one of the more dialled in set ups I have seen.  Besides the website and facebook page, this dairy also tweets on Twitter, and that’s another first.  Goat’s Pride Dairy received two awards at the recent American Cheese Society Cheese Competition in Montreal, alas, not for today’s cheese, but not bad for a newbie.

Today’s cheese, Chevrotina, is a camembert style goat’s cheese.  That means it’s very young and surface ripened-and made of goat milk.  Interestingly, they appear to have made up the name Chevrotina.  Chevrotin des Aravis and Chevrotin des Bauges are both AOC cheeses from France, thus perhaps the name is a nod to these cheeses.  Maybe they just liked the name as it includes the all-important “Chevre,”   Who knows?  Goat’s Pride Chevrotina is made from pasteurized milk.

My little button of Goat’s Pride Chevrotina is well, cute as a button.  I’m not really sure why it is sold in this format, but as it was less expensive than the log format it also came in, I went with this one.  Thrift, you see.  It’s pure white and covered with penicillium camemberti mould, which is correct for this type of cheese.  It is a surface ripened cheese, and likely quite young. The interior is also quite white, goat’s milk tends to be albino-like.  There is a spackle of tiny eyes in the interior paste.  This cheese smells kind of funky, like mushrooms, and also slightly carnal, if I may be so bold.  There’s just something a little naughty about it, which is surprising for such a sweet looking little button! But where’s the goat? I can’t smell that at all.

Here goes…

Oh, there’s the goat, it was just hiding!  Little rascal.  The cheese has a mushroomy taste, that’s that camembert rind, and the paste is quite toothsome.  The uric acid and salt is quite understated for a camembert type cheese.  In all, it’s pretty mellow.  Unfortunately,  I’m not crazy about this cheese, and the sad thing is, I really wanted to love it! I think it’s the texture that’s not really working for me.  It’s all the rind that’s the problem.  Because this is a button sized piece there is much more rind than normal, and this rind is a little tough and mealy.  There’s almost no creamy paste to mix in with all that rind, so it’s not giving me a great mouth feel, really, it’s not the cheeses fault, I’m just not a rind girl.  I’m not sure if this would be the case in another form, like the log. Bummer, this one is not my slice of cheese, but there are 10 cheeses in their line up, so I will be back, Goat’s Pride, that’s a promise.

Day 92-Jarlsberg

For those of you who have been following my blog, I am happy to report that my neck is much improved.  A day at home with hot pads, Advil and mindless television seems to have worked.  Oh, and lots of cheese, of course.  I have to admit to a little cheese binge yesterday.  But it has calcium, right?  It must be good for bones, and thus necks as well, as they contain bones, right?

Today is dedicated to Jarlsberg, my first Norwegian cheese.  Actually, it’s my first Norwegian cheese to be reviewed here. I did sample another Norwegian cheese whilst in Iceland called Gjetost, which looks like peanut butter, is often served with whale (I wish I was kidding), and tastes like a combination of all things horrible-but I digress, no Gjetost today!

Norway has a long history of farming.  Norwegian farmers first started to keep cattle more than 6,000 years ago. Their chief dairy product was butter, which was actually used as a kind of currency. Modern dairy production was established in the early 1800’s, when Norwegian farmers decided to branch out from butter and approached some  experienced Swiss cheese makers to teach them how to maximize their cheese production.  Thus, in many ways, Norwegian cheese is a direct descendent from Swiss cheese.

Jarlsberg is made from pasteurized cow’s milk and is aged from 1-15 months.  A version of this cheese  was first produced in the 1860’s in Jarlsberg by a Anders Larsen Bakke, a farmer and  pioneer in Norway’s dairy industry.  Bakke’s cheese shared similarities with Emmenthal  and other mountain cheeses except that it was sweet!  It was the first Norwegian re-imagining of Swiss cheese.  Bakke’s cheese had some popularity, but eventually all but disappeared.

The Jarlsberg cheese known today is kind of a revival of that cheese.  It was the result of intensive research and development by the Dairy Institute at the  the Agricultural University of Norway.  This group of top-secret dairy scientists were dedicated to locating the best Norwegian cheese recipe and putting it to work   The current Jarlsberg cheese-making process was developed by professor Ola Martin Ystgaard and his cheese minions in 1956. Ystgaard’s team started experimenting with old cheese recipes, including Bakke’s original Jarlsberg. They succeeded in combining old cheese-making traditions such as Bakke’s with modern technologies.   The team called their new cheese creation Jarlsberg . Hence, Jarlsberg is a relatively modern formation.  The recipe as well as the name are trademarked, it is technically Jarlsberg® .   The recipe for Jarlsberg currently in use is also top-secret!  Production of this top-secret well-researched university-based cheese began in the 1960s.

The largest producer of Jarlsberg today is the TINE factory in western Norway.   TINE is one of the twelve agricultural cooperatives in Norway and the largest  Norwegian dairy cooperative. Jarlsberg accounts for 80% of TINE’s total export.  Jarlsberg is also produced in the United States on license at Alpine Cheese in Ohio, and by Dairygold in Ireland, also under license. Jarlsberg is actually a very successful cheese.  It is the 3rd largest export product from Norway. Jarlsberg comes in original, lite, special reserve (aged) and smoked.

My little slice of Jarlsberg original is certainly taking its cues from “Swiss Cheese.”  It is almost a caricature of Swiss cheese, in fact, there should be a mouse posing beside it leering suggestively. It’s a semi-hard looking cheese with no discernible natural rind, although there is a thin orange plastic coating which says “Jarlsberg” on it.  It has one massive eye winking at me, so I think we can safely assume that during the processing of this cheese, bacterial gasses are released, forming eyes.  As everything about Jarlsberg is really top-secret, I’m not sure how it is made, or even how old my little slice is.  As it is rather supple and not all that gnarly smelling, it is probably a couple of months old: not too young, and not too aged.  The smell is mild, but reminds me of Emmenthal.  It’s piquant but not repugnant in any way.

Here goes…

Not so crazy about this one.  God, I’m difficult.  But really, it’s just weird to me. I know I bitch all the time about cheese not being sweet enough, but this one is too sweet. It’s like Emmenthal that someone stirred a bunch of sugar into.  It’s like cheese-flavoured candy.  It has that mountain cheese alcohol-taste, but then it’s so sugary, almost everything else is lost. The texture is cool, it’s chewy and nicely elastic, and melts on the palate, but the taste is so sweet I find it utterly distracting.

I love you, Norway, but Jarlsberg, you aren’t my slice of cheese!

Day 78-Halloumi


A friend and I were chatting about this blog last night.  “Is it a midlife crisis?”  She asked. I was slightly chagrined.  I don’t think it is a midlife crisis.  First, I’m 39 years old.  Am I old enough?  Second, who has a mid-life crisis involving cheese?  Am I that weird?  Maybe.

Speaking of crisis, there is also a crisis in the Mediterranean.  It’s called “what Willow has been saying about our cheese.”  I’ve had two terrible experiences with cheese from this area, but I’m happy to report that I have gotten to the root of the problem-it’s salt.  It is hot in the Mediterranean, they don’t have nice cold caves.  In order to preserve cheese they need to involve salt.  A lot of salt.  It just had to happen that way, and I need to get over it.

The Island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean is the birthplace of the beloved and much celebrated cheese, Halloumi.   The name Halloumi derives from the Greek word “almi” – meaning salty water-which is further proof of my salt hypothesis. Halloumi is an integral and traditional part of the Cyrpiot diet.  It’s very popular in Crete, Greece, and oddly, Sweden.

Historically Halloumi was the basic requirement of the island diet.  All families needed a good stock of it to get through the winter months when there was no milk. Entire villages worked together to process milk to meet the communal Halloumi needs. All stages of Halloumi making was controlled by a special woman known as a “galatarka” or cheese woman.  She controlled and organized the making of the cheese.

Although it is still made traditionally on the farm,  (perhaps by galatarkas) due to a huge demand for export  Halloumi is more commonly made in factories.  While the original cheese is made from raw sheep’s milk, the factory cheese is made from a less expensive and also pasteurized mixture of sheep,  goat and cow milk.  Halloumi purists feels this has had a negative impact on the taste.  Because of this milk issue, Halloumi does not yet have PDO status.  In order to do so it would have to have an agreed upon ratio of cow to sheep and goat milk.  Thus, for the time being it is not a protected name in the EU.

Similar to the Italian pasta filata cheeses like mozzarella and provolone which are stretched, halloumi is kneaded to create the chewy and unique texture. Halloumi is  formed by submerging the fresh curd in hot whey to soften. It’s then kneaded and  placed in baskets where it is hand-folded into small cheeses. There is virtually no aging.  The cheese is packaged and ready for sale immediately.  Halloumi is often found garnished with mint which both adds to the taste and also acts as a kind of preservative because of its anti-bacterial effect.  Halloumi  is stored in its natural brine and juice and can keep frozen for up to a year!

Halloumi seems to be one of those rare cheeses that people make at home.  The ‘net is full of Halloumi recipes (just like grandma galatarka made!).  Even Nigella Lawson took on making Halloumi for her cooking show. My package of Halloumi said “try it barbecued!” which is something you just don’t expect to see on a cheese.  People  love to grill their Halloumi over the open flame.  It’s the only cheese that doesn’t melt and retains it’s shape with heat.  As it is currently  5 AM in Vancouver in January, that’s not going to happen.  But we will attempt some sort of facsimile.

My slice of Halloumi looks exactly like mozzarella.  It’s pure white with no rind.  When I removed it from its package it was bathed in a little bit of brine.  It looks rubbery.  There is no smell at all.

Here goes…

Fresh it’s quite mild and a little sweet.  It’s loud.  It’s like a really loud, chewy and salty and rubbery mozzarella.  It squeaks on my teeth like a poutine curd.  I don’t taste the sheep or goat at all.  The flavour is quite subtle and salty, but the texture is odd.  It won’t melt .When you chew and chew it, the paste just breaks into smaller pieces.

Now grilled (in my George Foreman, what’s a girl to do)…

Oh, I like this better. It’s crispy on the outside and now the texture has changed-it still squeaks, but at least it breaks down when you chew it.  The squeaking is totally bizarre, it’s like eating live mice.  Every bite is protesting loudly. Mmm, it’s really yummy grilled, I get it, do try it barbecued!

Well, it’s definitely the most palatable of my foray into the cheese of the Mediterranean. It’s not the most toothsome cheese,  but I kind of like it!

Day 67-Provolone Piccante

I’m turning into a cheese geek.  There’s no denying it.  I was in Stong’s market yesterday, and nearly had a public fit of joy when I realized they carried a whole line of Greek cheeses.  Later, I went out to Salt, a charcuterie restaurant in Gastown- and checked out their tasting menu. Imagine how thrilled I was to find Lincolnshire-“please, is the Lincolnshire Poacher?” I inquired, full of hope.  I also scoffed at the Mahon on the menu and steered my friends far away like a mother hen with her little cheese chicks.  You see, this is what I have become.  My life revolves around cheese.  It only took 66 days.

Speaking of cheese, isn’t it interesting how you often know the name of a cheese, but actually have no idea of what that cheese is?  Take Provolone, for example.  Up until just now I couldn’t tell you the first thing about it-but it’s one of those cheeses that has worked its way into our common discourse. Perhaps that is because Provolone is actually the national cheese of Italy.

Have you ever wandered into an Italian deli and noticed the weird looking cheese bound up in twine and hanging from the ceiling like some sort of fromage-based bondage scene?  That’s provolone.  It’s kind of like a mozzarella, only with taste.  Both cheeses come from the Italian “pasta filata” or “spun paste” family-meaning that they are a pulled-curd cheese.  The cheese curds are heated and then kneaded and stretched like a salt water taffy.  That gives the cheese that chewy texture and allows the shape to become almost anything.  After the young provolone is stretched it is then put into any number of bizarre shapes ranging from pear, sausage, or  hot air balloon, to the more creative. Some people actually sculpt provolone into animals, figures, or just about anything else.  It’s basically cheese silly-putty. A single provolone can weigh anywhere from one to several hundred pounds, so there’s an awful lot of room to free-form with this cheese.

Provolone-which means large Provola (basically meaning small provolone, a cheese tautology) first appeared about 120 years ago in southern Italy.  It started as a small cheese, made by individual producers, but then it grew and grew in size and popularity as it spread north. Provolone is now made both industrially and artisinally.   Provolone is always made from full-fat cow milk.  It is usually pasteurized, but sometimes made from raw milk.   There’s a lot of taste difference in the provolone family.  My sample, the Piccante (piquant) is aged a minimum 4 months and is well-piquant.  Then there is the Dolce-sweet version- which is younger and milder. Two types of provolone, Val Padana and del Monaco have received DOP designation, but not Provolone in general.  This explains why you find cheese calling itself provolone  just about everywhere.

My little piece of provolone piccante isn’t claiming to be DOP, so it likely isn’t. It has been warming up beside me for some time now, waiting for me-patiently.  The longer it waits, the stronger it smells.  This is actually quite a stinky little cheese for something that looks so benign.  The chunk it was sliced from also looked rather benign, no balloon or animal shape, no tortured string-acrobatics. Sigh.  My slice is pale and wan.  It looks like mozzarella. It’s firm looking with no eyes, no mold,  and no discernible rind whatsoever. Boring.

Here goes…

Mmmmm.  Not what I was expecting at all.   Yes, piquant is correct!  This cheese is extremely um, “intense” in flavour-not in a rotten sort of way, but in a salty, cheesey, bound-up-in-twine and hanging from the ceiling, astringent, zingy, “oh my God what is this,” sort of way.  It almost hurts my tongue to eat it- the taste is so loud.  Second bite-Holy!  It’s so sharp and zesty that my saliva glands have just gone insane-squirting madly. What in the world have they done to this cheese? How do you make milk taste like this?  Why did I ever think this was a boring little cheese? Provolone piccante is a sleeper: looks like mozzarella, tastes like pain. But in a good way.  You know that line,”hurts so good?”  I think they were talking about provolone piccante.   Clearly this is not the version found in sleepy little deli counters across the world, I suspect that would be the dolce (sweet) version.  That’s for wimps.  For those of you who like to eat on the edge, pick up some piccante and thank me later.

Day 30-Brebiou

Friends, I have a confession.  I have literally bitten off more than I can chew with this blog.  I planned and committed to tasting and reviewing 365 cheeses over a one year period.  Alas, I am scaling back this endeavour to 100 cheeses in 100 days-please forgive me.  The cost and logistics of this adventure are more complex than I imagined.  However, never fear, I do plan to cover the great known (and perhaps unknown) cheeses over the remaining 70 days.

I’m excited to report that today is my first sheep’s cheese, imagine that!  This bloomy rind cheese, Brebiou, is made from pasteurized sheep cheese in the Pyrenees, France.  Brebiou is made by the Fromagerie de Chaumes (not to be mistaken for actual Chaumes cheese-I know, it excited me too!) which is an industrial cheese maker.  It seems like the line between industrial and artisinal cheese gets a little blurry at times-what actually makes a fromagerie one or the other?  The word “artisinal” seems to evoke a certain indication of quality, care or love-but is that really true?  Brebiou is a funny looking little cheese, it has a half-round form with an irregular surface that is the result of using large linen cloths in the production-almost as if to evoke that home-made look, like buying ersatz home-made wreaths at Super Store: it’s a little contrived.

Brebiou is a newish cheese-especially for France-it was created in the 1990’s and the actual name is copyrighted-not AOC but good old copyright.  Thus only the Fromagerie de Chaumes can make this cheese, local or not.  Reviews of this cheese seem relatively positive those sheep lovers, but not all folk are sheep lovers. Other detractors in the non-sheep camp have given it mixed revi(ewes.)  I am actually one of those people who adores foul flavour and smells (I am certain this comes as no surprise to the regular reader of this blog) thus the funky taste of sheep and goat’s milk in cheese form does not faze me in the least (please don’t, however, ask me to drink goat’s milk, that is simply heinous beyond belief) so I am quite happy to try this cheese.  Other members of my family won’t touch it with a ten foot pole, so do consider the sensibilities of your audience while selecting your cheese.

Interestingly, I thought most cheese was cow, followed by goat-but sheep is the number 2 milk in the cheese world.  I can’t actually imagine milking a sheep-I mean how much milk actually comes out of one sheep, and how in the world do they get it out?  It seems extremely time-consuming.

My little slice of Brebiou looks like Brie, it has a white bloomy rind, a concave top and a creamy interior, soft and sticky looking.  I can’t really smell it until I put my nose right up to it, and then-oh yah, sheepy, ammonia, goodness!  I can’t wait any longer.

Here goes…

First the texture is not the creaminess I was expecting, it’s almost a little foamy in my mouth-weird, it actually doesn’t want to melt, despite looking as though it should.  Second, the taste, like a tangy sheep hoof . Barn yardy, but not in a really pleasant way, it almost bites your tongue back whilst refusing to melt. This cheese is rather strange-I was expecting creamy and I was expecting sweet, but instead it’s kind of mushy and astringent.  Hmm, the second bite is better-but this cheese needs a friend, some dried apricots, perhaps, or a crusty loaf-not a stand alone cheese for me. Nope.

Brebiou, I give you a 2 out of 5 for weird texture and overly forward taste.


Day 27-Abondance AOC

I learned a new word today, it’s turophile- it means a lover a cheese, a cheese fancier.  Friends, my name is Willow, and I am a turophile.  Try pulling that one out in casual conversation, I dare you!

I broke down yesterday and bought some supermarket Gruyère.  It did claim to be AOC and it did claim to be made in Switzerland, so I thought it might be ok, but not so great.  The lack of rind should have been my first clue.  What self-respecting cheese doesn’t have a rind?  The flavour was just insipid and blah, and THAT”S what is wrong with cheese these days-we aren’t actually eating real cheese.  We are eating pale and wan copies of these great living legends, and wondering why “we don’t like cheese.”  Have you ever eaten an apple right off the tree?  If so, you will know the difference between what an apple should really taste like, and what they usually taste like-it’s the same thing with cheese.  It’s truly worth the effort to get the real thing, but what I can’t figure, is why there should be any effort involved in it at all.  It’s a “no brainer” to this turophile.

Luckily, I do have a little slice of heaven waiting for me today.  This cheese is Abondance AOC, and it’s a raw milk cow cheese from Savoie, France.  I’m excited to try Abondance, as the Savoie is actually somewhat responsible for this whole crazy cheese journey of mine.  My daughter returned from a 10 days school trip to the Savoie, full of tales of cheese and demanding that I track these cheeses down-thus, I feel an affinity for Abondance already.

Abondance is a cheese with some history-it has been made for at least 700 years in this region, and its name comes from a commune in the area (I tend to think this is not the same type of commune as in my hippie child days.) Another source says this cheese was made by monks from the Saint Marie d’Abondance Monastery, so I am a little unclear on this, unless these monks lived in a commune too.  Who knows.  The cheese is either artisinal or farm made and is made only from the milk of a certain breed of cow called-you guessed it-Abondance.  Abondance is only aged for 90 days, so it’s relatively young compared to some of the other cheeses I have been sampling.

My tiny little slice of Abondance looks like a Gruyere-no big surprise as the Savoie is a stone’s throw away from Switzerland-it’s pale yellow with a brown rind. The smell is mild but quite footy and just a little rank (yay!).

Here goes…

First-the texture, it’s really elastic which is shocking in its rubbery-ness it will eventually melt-but that initial texture is quite tensile.  The first taste for me is salt, yet also forest mushroom yum.  actually, this cheese is freaking delicious, it’s very brown and round tasting with a little cow foot chaser.  It’s not really a carnal cheese, but it does feel like it’s been up to something a little naughty-oh you commune monks of Saint Marie d’Abondance!  I’m not even going to melt this, because I have just eaten it all this way and I want to eat more, curses.

Abondance AOC-you get a 4 out of 5 for fabulous flavour-this includes a one point deduction for salt and texture, which is almost overcome by delicious taste.