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If cheddar is the little black dress of Canadian cheese, then Chèvre Noir is the Chanel classic with a twist.

Made from goat's milk, this cheddar from Chesterville, Que., turns 20 this year. Its longevity is evident in its prestigious reputation. Most recently, it won accolades at the 2007 Royal Agricultural Winter Fair and the 2007 American Cheese Society awards. Its versatility can take it from flavourful accessory crumbled onto a crisp mesclun salad to star of the show on a sophisticated cheeseboard.

Chèvre Noir is true maturing cheddar, which means it ages gracefully. It is ripened for a minimum of one year before being sold, but choice lots can be aged for two years or longer. (Fromagerie du Marché Atwater in Montreal and Toronto's Cheese Boutique both age their Chèvre Noir for as long as three years.)

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Due to its age, the flavours of Chèvre Noir are complex and rich, ranging from sweet to nutty with a caramel aftertaste. One of its characteristics is a slight crunch within the creamy texture due to lactose crystals, which provide added flavour and develop in small pockets within the cheese.

Chèvre Noir is made using the same "cheddaring" technique as its cow's milk relations. Whey is partly drained and the lengths of curd are cut into blocks, stacked on each other, turned and restacked several times to release moisture and ensure all the blocks are pressed evenly. This stacking technique is unique to cheddar and creates its smooth, dense texture.

Since 2005, Fromagerie Tournevent has been owned by Damafro - a large Quebec-based cheese producer. The goat milk that goes into Chèvre Noir is bought from two co-operatives in Quebec that source from about 30 farms, selected for the quality of their milk.

Collected every two days to ensure freshness, the milk is pasteurized slowly at a low temperature to maintain its characteristics as much as possible.

So, make an excuse to celebrate this classic cheese wrapped elegantly in black wax. Dress it up with a glass of ice wine, or keep it casual by pairing it with a heavy malt beer. Either way it's sure to impress.

*****

On the block

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Cheese Chèvre Noir

Origin Chesterville, Que.

Producer Fromagerie Tournevent (owned by Damafro)

Milk Low-temperature pasteurized goat

Type Firm, aged cheddar-style cheese, encased in black wax

Shape 1.1-kilogram block (aged 1 year), 130 grams (1 year) and 260 grams (2 years)

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Food Matches Serve it with fresh fruit or try it with ice wine; can be used like any other cheddar

Notes Chèvre Noir is made using vegetarian rennet (a non-genetically modified microbial enzyme)

Distributor Damafro (using regional distributors)

Available

Vancouver: Whole Foods Market and other fine food retailers

Calgary: Janice Beaton Fine Cheese

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Toronto: Cheese Boutique, Alex Farm Products, Whole Foods Market, Nancy's Cheese (Harbord Bakery)

Montreal: Fromagerie du Marché Atwater

Beppi's wine matches

'Dry-wine diehards can pair this cheddar with either a crisp sauvignon blanc (especially a Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé), or a red gamay or pinot noir.'

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