Alright, I said I’d check in last night and report on the picks but it was just too much after the sensory overload of seven delicious cheeses and a fantastic bottle of New Zealand Cab/Merlot – a 2004 Te Awa Cab/Merlot from Aoteoroa/New Zealand. I was rolling in post-degustation bliss and in no condition to be sitting in front of a computer.
One of the seven was a Fromageries Papillon Roquefort (sorry my American cousins – it’s still ‘reasonably’ priced here) which has enough reviews out there so I won’t bother saying much about it … Ok, jut one thing (famous last words). I used to be a cheese purist. In fact, I still am, for the most part. All of this ‘cheese-with-honey’, ‘cheese-with-truffles’, -horseradish-flavoured ‘whatever” just did nothing for me. Until one day, my friend Terry at Alex Farms on Queen East, saw me walk in the door and called me over. He claimed that one of his customers – a man of French origin – had come in and told him that when he was a boy in the French countryside, he ate Roquefort with slivers of fresh butter on top. Terry loaded up a nice piece of Roquefort and, sure enough, the butter brought out the creaminess of the cheese. It was a lovely combination.
A few weeks later I walked into the shop to find him hawking something that left me a bit more skeptical. He had just stocked a new product from the Niagara region – Red Pepper Icewine Jelly – and claimed that it was a perfect addition to any blue. I resisted. He persisted. I gave in. And I’m glad I did. The combination of flavours was fantastic – the spicy sweetness of the jelly complemented the tanginess of the blue and left me drooling for more. I’m still not giving in to outright adulteration, but my eyes (and taste buds) have been opened. Thanks Terry.
Alright, on to Sunday’s selections. All of our cheeses this week came from About Cheese, the retail outlet of Provincial Fine Foods, a company owned by Cole Snell, a dynamic young entrepreneur who is full of information and enthusiasm about Canadian Cheese. My knowledge grows by leaps and bounds each time I talk to Cole. If you’re visiting Toronto and want to experience a good cross-section of fine Canadian cheese, this is the place to be (check the Cheese Shops link for info). I’ll add the cheeses one by one just so you don’t get bugged down (and to keep you coming back).
BACK FORTY MADAWASKA, Back Forty Artisan Cheese Ltd., $84.00/kg.
Madawaska is reminiscent of a Pierre Robert or a Brillat Saverin, made in small molds with that delightful snowy white bloomy rind. But inside that rind, Madawaska holds a secret – you’ll see it in the picture – a lovely ivory tinge to the paste. Yes, this is a sheep’s milk triple creme. And it’s a delight. It’s made from the raw milk of ewes who, when the snow’s off the ground, dine out on grasses, goldenrod and apple blossoms. The result is remarkable, with notes of sour cream – but without the tanginess of a Brillat – that quickly transition to the sweetness typical of sheep’s milk, as the paste dissolves on your tongue.
Madawaska is named after a river of the same name that flows south out of Algonquin Park and enters the Ottawa River at Arnprior. The river was central in the development of the region’s economy in the 19th century, and here’s hoping that Back Forty becomes just as central. Back Forty is run by James Keith who makes Madawaska by hand and produces a range of other delicious cheese in a little fromagerie in the Lanark Highlands, about an hour’s drive northwest of Ottawa, in the Ottawa Valley. He sells his cheese at the Carp (pronounced Cairp – if you’re from the valley) Farmers Market during the season, and at Ottawa’s Byward market, but he’s also generous enough to let us Toronto folk lay our hands on some from time to time. This one’s a no brainer. If you see it, buy it.