There's a new cheese bucket list shining the spotlight on cow's-milk wedges. On April 22, the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix winners were announced in Toronto, and the list is long and delicious.
The biennial Grand Prix, sponsored by the Dairy Farmers of Canada, grows in numbers (268 this year) and refinement with each competition. The 2015 winners are not just standouts within Canada, they would shine on any cheese board, side by side with cheeses from around the world.
This year the Grand Champion title – won in 2013 by Ontario's Quality Cheese for its full-flavoured whole-milk ricotta – has returned to Quebec, and landed back in the hands of Fromagerie du Presbytère and expert cheese-maker Jean Morin for his triple-cream bloomy-rind cheese, Laliberté. Morin won the Grand Champion title in 2011 with his stunning mountain-style cheese, Louis d'Or (a category champion this year). His Bleu d'Élizabeth (a personal fave) took home top prize in the blue category.
Laliberté first grabbed my attention a year ago at a tasting during the Great Canadian Cheese Festival in Picton, Ont. As any triple-cream lover would expect, it's decadent, silky and melt-in-your mouth, but the smooth, rich paste is also bursting with complex sweet, grassy and mushroom notes; flavours not expected from a young, pasteurized cheese and a tribute to the quality of milk which comes from the Morins' own farm.
As a member of the jury, I can tell you that all the category winners (and nominees) are worth experiencing. Here are a few of the standouts:
BEST PASTA FILATA:
Cherry Bocconcini, Natural Pastures Cheese Company, British Columbia
Tender and delicate, the perfect combination with summer tomatoes or grilled veggies.
WASHED- OR MIXED-RIND SOFT CHEESE:
L'Origine de Charlevoix, Laiterie Charlevoix Inc., Quebec
A Reblochon-style cheese from the makers of Le 1608, this pungent wheel is made from the milk of the Canadienne Cow, a breed unique to Canada.
MOZZARELLA (BALL, BRICK OR CYLINDER) OR PASTA FILATA:
Oaxaca, Local Dairy Products, Ontario
This Mexican-style cheese looks like a knotted ball and is great for melting.
WASHED- OR MIXED-RIND FIRM CHEESE/ORGANIC CHEESE:
Alfred Le Fermier 18 months, Fromagerie La Station, Quebec
An oldie but a goodie. If you haven't had this nutty, flavourful washed-rind recently, it's worth revisiting this staple of Quebec cheese.
FLAVOURED CHEESE WITH ADDED NON-PARTICULATE FLAVOURING:
Griffon Raclette, Fromagerie Fritz Kaiser Inc., Quebec
Washed with Griffon beer, this cheese is as great at the table as it is melted onto nachos.
Handeck, Gunn's Hill Artisan Cheese Ltd., Ontario
Isn't every cheese lover in Ontario in love with Gunn's Hill? This is a Swiss-style cheese with complex flavour that will keep you enamoured.
Gouda Smoked Natural Cheese, Sylvan Star Cheese Ltd., Alberta
Sylvan Star Goudas are exceptional overall, but the restraint in the smoked flavours of this cheese balances wonderfully with the cheese's rich, creamy flavours.
Mountainoak Farmstead Premium Dutch Gold, Mountainoak Cheese Ltd., Ontario
Another example of Canada's amazing Gouda output, this sweet-salty cheese would be perfect after dinner served with some dark chocolate and dessert wine.
For a list of all the winners visit dairyfarmers.ca.