I don't bet on horses but I may start to gamble on cheese. When I saw that the Quebec cheese Louis d'Or (from Fromagerie du Presbytère in Quebec) was a finalist in the 2011 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix, I was sure it would win. Not that it didn't face stiff competition.
The Cheese Grand Prix, whose winners were announced on April 20, is put on every two years by the Dairy Farmers of Canada. And this year had a record number of entries, 203 cheeses in 17 categories (all cow milk).
As predicted, Louis d'Or swept the cheese plate, winning all its individual categories: firm cheese (it's made in a huge 40-kilogram wheel), farmstead cheese (all the milk comes from the Louis d'Or farm) and organic cheese (the makers have been farming organically for 25 years). And finally, it took the Grand Champion title at the end of the night.
Ready for the spotlight, the name of the Louis d'Or is elegantly moulded into the orange-tan rind. Its paste is a soft butter yellow with small "eyes" (holes) scattered throughout.
The paste is supple but has a slight crumble, with small crystals infiltrating its smooth texture. Louis d'Or's aroma communicates its full flavours - fruity and nutty with a fresh, tangy flavour. It closes with the long linger of sweet milk - which is where this cheese clinches its seduction.
This is the first time a firm cheese has won the Grand Champion title since the Grand Prix began in 1998. Cheeses in wheels of this size are rare to find in Canada (another smaller example is the Hercule de Charlevoix). It's a large obligation for a cheese maker to commit to aging and storing this style and size of cheese. It puts potential revenue on hold for many months, and perfecting the nuances of mountain-style cheeses is a skill that gets refined over a lifetime.
This win is significant to our artisanal cheese industry, proving that Canadian cheese makers continue to narrow the gap between Old World and New World cheese.
I felt confident about the Louis d'Or's success at the Grand Prix because it left an impression from the first bite. Like two other personal favourites in the competition - Le Mont-Jacob (winner, washed-rind cheese, soft and semi-soft) and the Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar (winner, aged cheddar one to three years) - when you pop a piece into your mouth you're hit with unique aromas and flavours.
They display a harmony of salt, acidity, complexity, a toothsome texture and the freshness of quality milk. Essentially, you pause for a second to react with "Mmmm." How else to stand out among the more than 200 other pieces of fromage than to be a conversation stopper?
If you're a fan of cheeses such as Comté and Emmental, you'll soon be a card-carrying member of the Louis d'Or fan club.
Cheese: Louis d'Or
Producer: Fromagerie du Presbytère
Origin: Sainte-Élizabeth de Warwick, Que.
Milk: raw organic cow, farmstead
Type: firm, washed rind, pressed and cooked
Shape: 40-kg wheel
Notes: aged nine months
Distributor: Plaisirs GourmetsAvailable:
Availability may be limited due to demand after winning the Grand Prix award.
Available at most cheese shops across the province
Montreal: Fromagerie Hamel, Fromagerie Atwater, Yannick Fromagerie
Toronto: Cheese Boutique, A Taste of Quebec, Grain, Curd and Bean
Peterborough: Chasing the Cheese
Burlington: Wills & Co. Fine Food Market
Vancouver: Les Amis du Fromage
Sue Riedl studied at the Cordon Bleu in London.