Cheese 143 St. Albert Cheddar-Extra Old and Extra Yummy

My husband returned home earlier this week from a business trip in Ontario. Like all good husbands returning from a business trip, he brought me a gift, but like the best husband in the word, this gift was a cheese not available locally! Take this to heart, fair readers. If you are returning from abroad and considering which gift to bring home, why not cheese? Cheese says “I love you” more than silly jewels or horrid flowers.

I have never seen this cheese before, as it seems to be available only in Ontario. This charming-looking cheddar has an old-timey wrapper-which I do appreciate. It’s from the St Albert Cheese folks, in Ontario. According to their website, people have been making cheese here under the auspices of St Albert since the end of the 19th century, and not just any cheese- but a “highly renowned Cheddar” the St-Albert.
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Since its humble beginnings, five generations have continued the tradition of cheese making in St Albert. St Albert is actually run by the St-Albert Cooperative Cheese Manufacturing Association. The cooperative came together with the “collective will of a handful of Eastern Ontario milk producers determined to process their own milk,” and also includes a dairy bar, open to thousands of visitors each year. According to a tip I found online, if you go to the dairy itself, you can watch the cheese-making from a glassed-in gallery…and buy cheese “off-cuts” at a reduced price. Sounds like fun.

It looks like St Albert’s is a pretty big deal in Ontario, they have a robust line up of cheeses, and are available widely. Interestingly, it looks like there was a terrible fire last February at the cheese plant that nearly ruined operations. Thankfully, other cheese-makers stepped in (under supervision) to save the cheese. OK, now I almost want to weep, that’s one of the sweetest things ever. The St Albert’s folks also have their very own store for their products, it’s called Cheddar et Cetera . All of the cheese at St Albert’s is made of pasteurized, local (to Ontario) cow’s milk (non-organic.)

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As I remove the wrapper (once again charmed by the old-timey drawing of a cow) a yummy, sharp cheddary smell emerges. Oh goody! It’s a pale white and yellow cheese with faint signs of cheddaring in the paste. I don’t see any crystals. This is the “extra-old” or “très fort”- actually, I like the phrase “très fort” better…but how old is extra aged?

Here goes…

Mmmmm. Damn fine cheese! This is a real cheddar, it tastes like what I want cheddar to be, but so often cheddar isn’t. It’s sharp and is making my saliva glands squeak happily. It’s a great mixture of salt and that astringent aged taste, but it’s also just a tiny bit sweet. It breaks apart in your mouth,  crumbles, and then dissipates. There’s a very subtle crunch of tyrosine in the paste, to remind you that this is cheddar you are eating.  It’s good, it’s really good!

Damn Ontario, they just get everything.

If you see this cheese, buy it and eat it, you will be happy.

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Cheese 128 Isle of Mull Cheddar

I recently asked one of my favourite cheese sellers to name his favourite cheese. I realize that this is a cruel question. People ask me this cruel question all the time, and you might as well ask me who my favourite child is, it’s just wrong. Instead, ask me what my favourite washed rind cheese is, or my favourite mountain cheese, or perhaps, my most beloved cheddar.Still challenging, but much more realistic.

However, my cheese seller, when pressed (that’s a cheese pun) admitted to one favourite and that favourite is today’s cheese, “Isle of Mull Cheddar.” It’s taken me quite a while to track some down, as this is a very rare and precious cheese, but for you, readers, and for cheese, I will do just about anything.

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Isle of Mull cheddar is made by one family only, the Reades. They are the only family with a dairy herd on the Scottish Isle of Mull, which lies along the coastline of west Scotland. The island is quite “wee” with a population of no more than 3000. Proprietors Jeff and Chris Reade have been making cheese here since 1979. Their cheese is made from the milk of their own herd of cows, and due to the small area of the island, this milk is very affected by terroir-limited grain, and limited grass. To supplement the available food, these cows are fed the “spent grain husks” from the nearby whisky distillery, which is added to their feed (lucky cows). Apparently, this adds a slightly yeasty and perhaps alcoholic tang to this cheese. Wow! I mean, most of us have heard of wine and cheese, but this is the first whiskey IN cheese I have run across.

This is a relatively young cheddar, aged about 18 months, and it’s wrapped in cloth. Can I just say here  how mad I am for a cloth-wrapped cheese? I believe this is only my third cloth-wrapped cheese in the over 130 I have reviewed. Maybe I’m sentimental for the days of yore when more cheeses were wrapped, or maybe it’s that  funky smell the cloth gets when the bacteria move in, but I really give extra bonus points for this. More cloth please, cheese-makers of the world!

OK enough waxing on, now a word of warning. This is not a cheap cheese. Do you see this slice? Yes, it’s a tall slice, but it cost $8.00 here in Canada. That’s kind of crazy. It is a raw milk cheese (I’m not sure if it’s organic, it doesn’t say) and yes, it comes all the way from a wee Scottish Island where the cows drank spent grain husks all day, but this is one of the priciest cheeses I have sampled to date. Don’t grate this cheddar into your mac and cheese!  SAVE  IT FOR A RAINY DAY AND A GOOD FRIEND.

 

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First, this is a handsome cheese, that’s the best way to describe it. It’s an old-fashioned cheddar, with a creamy coloured paste but it’s very pale-much more pale than most other cheddars, and darker as it approaches the rind which I am thrilled to say is wrapped in cloth (don’t eat that part, for heaven’s sake.) You can see the texture of the cheddaring in the paste, a little pattern of pressed curds with tiny cracks. It’s a firm cheese, but a little moist, it’s not crumbling like some cheddars. The smell is crazy! I can actually smell whiskey in this cheese, I kid you not, these cows must have been truly “lit” as we say here in Canada. I know human moms who are breast-feeding aren’t supposed to drink as the alcohol passes on through the milk…that’s what has happened here folks. I can absolutely smell booze in this cheese, it’s so interesting!  Talk about terroir.

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Now the tasting-it’s so complex! It’s actually really hard to explain. The texture is a nice cheddary chew, yes, no crunch, but the taste. It’s meaty, salty, boozy. There’s no tang that I sometimes taste in cheddar, that tang is replaced by an alcohol note. It’s not sweet either, despite it being a raw cheddar. It’s fruity, but without any sweet, like a savoury fruit. It’s completely unlike any cheddar I have ever tasted.It’s funky and yeasty and aggressive. It’s boozy and sexy and weird. I don’t even know that this is cheddar, I don’t even know what it is, it’s kind of out of this world.

Wow, Isle of Mull Cheddar, I think, for once, I’m kind of speechless, or maybe I’m just drunk from eating you. Crazy!

Cheese 127 Beecher’s “Flagship” Handmade Cheese

Have you ever longed for something a very long time-fantacised about it-wondered what it would be like to have it as your very own thing? I mean, who doesn’t?

But is that longed-for thing ever a cheese for you?

You see, for me, it often is. Perhaps that’s why I have a cheese blog and so few other people do. When I start thinking about a cheese, I just can’t get it out of my mind. I must have it. I must possess it! I must ingest it! his is how I feel about today’s cheese, Beecher’s Flagship.


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About a year ago I made my annual pilgrimage to Pike Place market in Seattle. It’s a vibrant if not overly crowded and touristy indoor/outdoor market full of fruit vendors, craft vendors, and men flinging fish. Across the street from the market is Starbucks store number 1 with its devotees lining up in pilgrimage, then a little further down this store, Beecher’s. A cheese store, with its own line up! When I was there last the line up was out the door, and I didn’t have the time to wait, so I was stymied. Why were they all lining up for cheese? This seemed so cruel to me. Apparently there was a sort of cheese making museum behind these lines-with a matching one in the Flatiron district in New York- where cheese making can be observed first hand, and I do SO APPROVE  as cheese making as entertainment, more places should do this

At long last I have managed to procure my own Beecher’s cheese, and it awaits me now. The label says, “semi-hard cow’s milk cheese, robust and nutty, straight from Seattle’s historic Pike Place Market” (I told you that bit already). I’m not sure if all the cheese is actually made there on site, or if this is a demonstration kitchen with another kitchen doing the heavy lifting elsewhere. It’s hard to imagine how that much cheese comes from such a little space, but maybe they make it work-I’m not sure.

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It’s apparently “pure, all natural and additive free and aged 15 months.” This cheese is pasteurized and made of cow’s milk, for those keeping tabs of these sorts of details. Beecher’s is the brainchild of turophile Kurt Beecher Dammeier. He opened his doors in this business in 2003. 1% of all sales go towards the Flagship foundation providing education about the benefits of healthy eating and nutrition to kids-sweet, like the healthy eating of cheese. Nicely done, Kurt!

Just in case you were wondering what exactly this  “flagship” cheese is, I notice that it won second place in the 2009 American Cheese Society “Aged Cheddars” so there’s your answer, it’s a cheddar. I notice from the Beecher’s website that there’s also a 4 year aged version and a smoked one too. Flagship also comes in a raw milk cheese, and a cloth bound raw milk version called “reserve”-bummer, I didn’t manage to score that, but now I have another goal, I must get me some of that cloth bound reserve.

My little slice of cheddar, erm, Flagship sits beside me. It’s not raw milk, or cloth bound, but it’s still a lovely cheese to behold. It crumbled ever so slightly when I cut it, and I do so love that. It has a lovely looking texture with a faint echo of curds in the paste. It’s a uniform light yellow throughout with no rind. The smell is totally mellow and chilled out. This is, after all a pasteurized cow’s milk cheddar, even my husband couldn’t complain about this one. Incidentally, there’s a LOT of complaining at times around this house at the cheese I bring home, I mean, really.

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Here goes: Salty, tangy, meaty-it’s a nice cheddar. There’s just the slightest hint of tyrosine crunch in this cheese, which makes me very happy. I bet the 4 year version is delightfully crunchy. It’s a nicely balanced cheese-the tart and salt are in great balance, and it has that happy cheddar hit that everyone loves, I mean really, who doesn’t love a real cheddar. My only complaint would be that perhaps it’s a little tame for my taste buds. Now that I know there’s an aged and a cloth bound version, I long for that strong mouldy taste as you approach the rind. I appreciate that may not be for everyone, but it sure is for me. This one is a perfectly lovely and friendly cheese, it’s a starter Cheddar and certainly won’t scare anyone away-and for those of us who like to kick it up a notch, there are more gnarly options, and THAT’S a very good thing.

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.

Day 82-Le Blackburn


As I get closer to finishing my 100 day epic journey of cheese, I grow increasingly nervous about which cheeses I review.  There’s just so much freaking great cheese out there, what’s a girl to do?  I find myself being more drawn to local cheese.  With few exceptions, it seems like great cheese can be made just about anywhere.  It’s a recipe- you see-it’s not reinvented every batch. There’s something very appealing to me about eating Canadian cheese.  It’s not just patriotism in the form of fromage, it’s appreciating the local twist on a universally acknowledged great cheese.

Le Blackburn is one such cheese.  This time a local twist on an old-schoool cheddar.  Le Blackburn is an eponymous cheese made by the Blackburn Fromagerie  in Jonquière-a city of 51,000 people located 3 hours north of Quebec City on the Saguenay River.  I have mentioned the Blackburn fromagerie in a previous review because of my favourite milk fact: the milk comes directly to the fromagerie from the Blackburn family farm via underground pipes which run below the street.  I am entranced by this fact.  It doesn’t even really matter how the cheese tastes to me now.

The milk for Le Blackburn comes from the farm’s herd of Holstein cows. So everything happens here on the farm, from cow to completed cheese.  Like the Chevre Noir we discussed yesterday, Le Blackburn is made from thermalized milk.  It’s not quite pasteurized and not quite raw, and thus retains characteristics of raw and pasteurized milk-hopefully the best of both. I’m not sure what this means if you are pregnant and needing to be careful of raw milk-I would probably give the thermalized cheese a pass if I was concerned.

The Blackburn family has lived and farmed this farm for four generations but the cheese-making is relatively new-only getting up and running in 2006.  Despite its young age, Blackburn has done extremely well.   This fromagerie also makes Le Mont Jacob which won the 2011 Canadian grand prix in the washed rind category.  Le Blackburn and Le Mont Jacob are complimentary cheeses, Le Mont Jacob is a washed rind cheese, and can be turned over quickly for sale, while Le Blackburn is an aged cheese that needs time to get ready for the party.

Le Blackburn is a pressed firm-bodied cheese.  After the curd is made, it is pressed to expel the whey and then milled and salted again.  This is the same technique used with cheddar before modern cheddaring techniques came into being.  It gives Le Blackburn cheese that same crumbly and cheddary texture.  After being formed and pressed the cheese then mellows out in its own affinage room for at least 6 months, with a frequent wash of its rind to keep the bacterial growth in check.

My slice of Le Blackburn has been waiting patiently beside me as I write.  It does look like a cheddar to me, it reminds me of Avonlea cheddar, except there’s no linen bandage to remove, and no buttered rind-pity!  It’s a firm looking cheese with a yellow paste that’s already crumbling a little-and I haven’t even touched it, I swear.  The rind is a thin natural brown. The smell is very mild, barely discernable.

Here goes…

Mmmm, it is a yummy little cheeese once you get into it. I wasn’t sure for the first couple of bites-the taste is so mild I was having a challenge even registering it, but then it crept up on me.  It’s a safe cheese, you could feed this one to anyone, even fussy children.  It’s a little sharp, but not overly so.  It keeps all the tasting notes in balance and is a perfectly respectable cheese. There’s the slightest hint of a stronger taste as you get near the rind that’s yummy and a little mushroomy, but it’s only at the rind mark, not in the paste.   The texture is smooth, it melts on the palate, there is no crunch.

Here’s the thing-and I don’t want to be mean-but this cheese is boring to me.  Yawn.  It’s just another cheddar, and not even a spectacular one.  If I’m going to eat a cheddar I want it to have zing. I want to remove buttered linens.  I want there to be a mould taste as I approach the rind.  I’m looking for a party! Le Blackburn, although good is perhaps a little too good for me. Get back in the cave for another year, and then let’s talk, shall we dear?   If I’m going to eat cheese-and I am going to eat cheese-I’m looking for a good time and this one’s just a little too well-behaved for me.

Day 81- Chèvre Noir


If there’s one big take away from my 100 day journey into cheese it’s this: goats are good, and not evil.  I’m not alone in my fear of goats and goat milk.  Goat milk really, really tastes, um, goaty.  And goats have kind of creepy sideways pupils. This shouldn’t stop our enjoyment of goat cheese-just don’t look right at their eyes, and learn to enjoy the eau de farm redolent in goat products.  If I can do it, so can you!

Today’s cheese is Chèvre Noir.  When I first heard the name I thought it was a black cream cheese made of goat milk-which is quite hideous sounding-isn’t it?  Silly me!  It’s actually a goat cheddar, wrapped in a black wax.  Apparently the word chèvre simply refers to the cheese being made of goat’s milk-not all chèvre is spreadable.  Chèvre Noir is a Canadian classic hailing from Chesterville, Quebec and the Fromagerie Tournevent.  It’s been around for over twenty years and is apparently the “most awarded Canadian cheese.

The fromagerie Tournevent was founded in 1976, by a couple who started a dairy goat farm and soon found they had more milk that they could sell (is this really so surprising?).  They decided to produce cheese as a way to use their surplus milk.   By 1986, the milk production became a separate business and the cheese company was able to focus on cheesemaking.   In 2005, the fromagerie was purchased by another Quebec cheese company- Damafro, but still operates under its its own name and using its own production facilities. The goat milk that goes into Chèvre Noir is bought from co-operatives in Quebec that source from about 30 local farms.

Chèvre Noir is a true cheddar, despite the somewhat confusing name.  It is ripened for a minimum of one year before sale, but is also sold at the two and three-year age marks.  The cheddaring technique is used to create this chese-the whey is partly drained and the curd is cut into blocks and stacked, then turned and restacked in order to release moisture. Although it is a cheddar, it’s also clearly a  chèvre it is a pure white cheese-this is because goat’s milk lacks carotene which is responsible for the yellow tone found in cow’s milk cheese.

The milk for Chèvre Noir is neither raw, nor pasteurized, it’s a much less common milk treatment known as thermalization.  Raw milk is just as it sounds-milk straight from the mammary.  Pasteurized milk is heated to scalding to kill all the nasty micro-organisms-and unfortunately  also all the lovely micro-organisms.  Thermalization sits on the fence between the two-the milk is heated to only 60-65 °C for 15 to 30 seconds-this process reduces the number of micro-organisms, but not so much so that the resulting cheese will be without flavor. The United States food administration still considers this to be raw milk, while the European Union consider it pasteurized.  This explains the confusion around this cheese.  It’s raw, but it’s not.

My little square of chèvre noir is quite an attractive looking cheese, it looks like its wearing a tuxedo!  The cheese paste is very white and makes a stark contrast to the black wax-which I shall remove, never fear!  It’s a firm looking cheese, it’s a cheddar, after all.The smell is mild, I can’t catch a whiff of goat, it just smells like a barnyardy cheddar.

Here goes…

Well you can’t smell the goat, but you can certainly taste it!  It’s kind of bizarre.  It’s definitely a cheddar, there’s that sharp, astringent cheesey bite, but it’s also clearly a goat cheese.  There’s that “oops, I stepped in the pail of milk with my hoof” thing too-so it’s really and truly a hybrid. It’s actually freaking delicious.  It’s weird, and I like it!  The texture is divine. Its smooth and chewy, yet yields to the tooth.  I don’t feel any calcium lactate crystal crunch. it’s just a nice cheddarry chew. You certainly couldn’t fool a goat cheese hater with chèvre noir.  It’s a totally unabashed goat cheese, but it’s so damn good it just might make a convert out of the haters. My only complaint would be that it lacks a little salt-and I realize that I bitch about salt in almost every review: too much salt, or too little salt, is it so hard to get it right?

It’s a great looking Canadian goat cheddar.   Go out and try it and thank me later.