If the cheese world held a beauty pageant, Grey Owl could sweep all categories. Visually it's a showstopper. The dark ash rind contrasts starkly against the snow-white cheese. The paste oozes around the edges - reminiscent of a just-melting scoop of vanilla ice cream. With a tangy, crisp scent evoking fresh air, the aroma speaks volumes as you bring it to your mouth. And proving it's not just another pretty face, Grey Owl's dense texture is silky smooth and melt-in-the mouth. The sweet and tangy flavour rounds off nicely into a long linger. It plays well with others, making an especially refined match with smoked salmon.
Grey Owl is made at Fromagerie Le Détour in Notre-Dame-du-Lac, Quebec. Husband and wife team Ginette Bégin and Mario Quirion (who also make the tasty washed rind cheeses Magie de Madawaska and Le Clandestin) first created Grey Owl at the request of an American client. It was sold in the United States in January, 2007, and then introduced to the Canadian market in early 2008 when the cheese was officially christened Grey Owl. The name not only refers to the colour of the cheese, it also honours the legend of Archie Belaney, one of Canada's first conservationists, also known as Grey Owl. He lived for a number of years on the edge of Lake Témiscouata, influencing the region near Fromagerie Le Détour with his beliefs of upholding harmony between nature and man and preserving the Canadian wilderness.
The milk for Grey Owl comes from Saanen, a Swiss brand of goat raised about 30 kilometres from the dairy. Once the milk is pasteurized, it goes through a slow coagulation, draining and light-pressing process after which the cheese is put into moulds. The vegetal ash is sprayed on the exterior seven days into the 14-day ripening process.
At one time rolling a cheese in ash served to shield it from flies and other insects. Ash can also be used to protect the interior of a cheese by creating a thin rind. In the case of Grey Owl, the edible ash is primarily decorative, though its alkalinity helps counter acidity in a cheese. Acidity can hinder ripening so ash aids the affinage process and can mellow the tang of a goat cheese.
To give it a final edge over the competition, all the cheese from Fromagerie Le Détour is made with non-animal rennet and is vegetarian friendly. As for the talent component of the cheese pageant? You'll have to settle for a tap dance on your taste buds.
Sue Riedl studied at the Cordon Bleu in London.
On the block
Cheese Grey Owl
Origin Notre-Dame-du-Lac, Quebec
Producer Fromagerie Le Détour
Owners Ginette Bégin, Mario Quirion
Cheese maker Mario Quirion
Milk pasteurized, Saanen goat
Type soft, uncooked, lightly pressed, edible ash rind
Note This cheese is made with a microbial enzyme (non-animal rennet), thus vegetarian friendly
Shape 1 kg wheel
Distributors Provincial Fine Foods, Fromagerie Atwater, Gourmet Denis (USA)
East Coast: available in New Brunswick, check with your cheese monger
Quebec: Fromagerie Atwater
Toronto: Thin Blue Line, Nancy's Cheese, Whole Foods, Pusateri's
Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.: Cheese Secrets
Collingwood, Ont.: Dags & Willow
Saskatoon: Calories Bakery and Restaurant
Calgary: Blush Lane
Victoria: Ottavio, Charelli's Cheese Shop