Kelsie Parsons has always loved cheese. Even on his meagre student’s budget while studying art criticism, he would allocate twice as much money for cheese than for the rest of his groceries, spending most of it in Toronto’s Kensington Market. After graduating, Mr. Parsons discovered his dream job when he found work selling cheese at local farmers markets. Captivated by the stories of Canada’s cheese makers, he decided to write a definitive book about our national cheese culture.
“It fascinates me how the land changes across Canada from the iron-rich red soils of PEI to wild grasses found on the rolling hills of the Magdalen Islands,” he says. These unique terroirs are expressed in the cheeses themselves.
Mr. Parsons is halfway through his coast-to-coast research trip, having travelled through Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes and is currently heading toward Winnipeg, spending August travelling through the Prairies, Alberta and British Columbia. On his “to-do” list is Sylvan Star Cheese in Red Deer, Alta., which makes Old Grizzly Gouda (one of his favourites), and exploring the cheese community on Salt Spring Island, B.C.
Mr. Parsons, who has earned a Cheese Making Certificate from the Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese, will be self-publishing the book with the help of online funding platform Kickstarter. The release is scheduled for the fall of 2013. His only regret is that he can’t make the book scratch ’n’ sniff.
Here are his top five cheese destinations (so far).
Monforte’s innovative owner, Ruth Klahsen, raised $400,000 to build her new cheese plant by starting a community-shared agriculture plan. Subscribers support the dairy by prepaying for cheese. Stop by to try some of the savoury, complex Toscano or the buttery Bliss, enriched with organic cream.
“There are windows around the whole facility so you can peek in and see cheese being made at different stages right up until it’s wrapped. It’s also the only place you can see awesome cheese graffiti, which is painted on the side of the cheese plant and a silo.”
Fromagerie du Presbytère
Its award-winning Louis D’Or and Bleu D’Élizabeth are made from the organic milk that comes from the family farm and produced in a converted old rectory that serves as the cheese factory and store.
“Nothing makes me happier than seeing communities come together over food. Every Friday in Ste-Élizabeth-de-Warwick, people gather in the front yard of Fromagerie du Presbytère for a picnic dinner and to enjoy fresh cheese served at three stages of the cheese-making process. You just show up with hundreds of other people, who bring folding tables, chairs and wine and buy fresh cheese made at different points in the evening. They even have a baker on site just for the event.”
One of its most popular cheeses, Le 1608, was launched in 2008 to coincide with Quebec City’s 400th anniversary. Laiterie Charlevoix is located in the Laurentian Mountains, on the Charlevoix “flavour trail,” a popular foodie route.
“1608 is only one of only two cheeses that I know that is made solely from the milk of the Vache Canadienne, a rare breed of cow (Pied-de-Vent is the other). The Labbé family also produces a line of ice cream and preserves, has a dairy museum and runs a campground near the dairy.”
Les Fromages de l’isle
Experience North America’s oldest cheese on this island just northeast of Quebec City. Le Paillasson is made from a recipe that dates back to 1635 and is served by locals in period costume.
“Paillasson is a thin cheese similar to halloumi in that it can be pan-fried and when crisped tastes like buttered toast. Try it hot with fried apples and a drizzle of maple syrup.”
That Dutchman’s Farm
Upper Economy, N.S.
At the dairy where the infamous Dragon’s Breath blue cheese and authentic Goudas are made from traditional recipes, you can explore a myriad of trails and an on-site antique shop.
“That Dutchman’s Farm has a different feel than at other cheese makers. Mr. [Willem] van den Hoek has all these beautiful gardens on his property and one of the most beautiful views that overlooks the Bay of Fundy. When he acquired the property, he said the first thing he did was dig out space for six ponds. You just show up and for a few dollars can spend hours walking around. His Goudas are some of the best that I’ve tried.”
Sue Riedl blogs about cheese and other edibles at cheeseandtoast.com.