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 139 Ashley-by Albert’s Leap

I discovered a new cheese shop in Vancouver yesterday, which shocked me. I thought I knew of every slice of cheese in this town  but Pane e Formaggio somehow slipped me by. It’s a cosy bread and cheese shop and deli with a small selection of cheeses- but the staff there were extremely friendly and knowledgeable, and that’s really what I’m looking for in a cheese shop. Please, talk cheese with me.  I so appreciate people taking the time to indulge me in a little cheese chat. Bravo, Pane e Formaggio, I shall be back!

One cheese there which caught my eye was Ashley, by Albert’s Leap. Ashley has a line of ash running through it-get it-“Ash” ley. This line of ash theme is a common one in cheese-and basically a cheese nod to the  great French cheese Morbier– traditionally made with a layer of ash running through the middle.    Once upon a time, Morbier was made in small batches by monks in the dark ages in presumably dark monasteries.  The line of ash separated the morning milk from the evening milk, keeping a rind from developing-like an ash band-aid. My Albert’s Leap was made in  Ontario, probably in the light of day-but I appreciate the effort and the nod to tradition, nonetheless.

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Ashley is a bloomy rind, ash dusted pasteurized goat’s milk cheese brought to us by Quality Cheese , specifically their Albert’s Leap brand. I confess to finding their website a little confusing. Firstly, it doesn’t mention Ashley at all. I have looked closely at the Ashley label, and it clearly is made by this company, so why the company does not describe it on its website is a little mysterious. Feel free to shed some light on this if you know the reason for the omission. The internet is also strangely mum about Ashley, so it may have been a limited run, or just a new product-who knows?

The site does reference this company being run by the Borgo family, specifically brothers Joe and Albert (who sometimes Leaps) who are carrying forward the tradition of cheese started by Italian Almerigo Borgo, who, “left for Canada in 1954 and by 1957 he decided that cheese was his passion and that he would begin his own venture.”  Almerigo built the Quality Cheese company and mentored the next generation of Borgos to carry on his tradition.

Ashley is an attractive, showy cheese.  As with all soft goat cheeses, this one has ripened from the outside in, so there’s a nice creamy yellow gooey rim, and a whiter chalky interior. It’s an attractive cheese, and would look great on a cheese board.The odour is mild and faintly farm-like, as it should be.

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Here goes…

Hmm. There’s a lot going on here. It’s sticky and creamy and goaty, but doesn’t have the sweet note I was expecting. The rind is almost a little bitter-or maybe that’s the ash. The rind is also quite surprisingly chewy, but then there’s that gooey first layer, and chalky finish. It’s good, and I like the three textures, but I think I would want to eat this one with a little something sweet-fruit perhaps, or a quince jam?

Ashley is a real looker that would make a great compliment to any cheese board-but make sure you have a little sweet to go with this darling.

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