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blue haze cheese

If cheese could walk, Blue Haze would swagger. The rock 'n' roll-inspired name sets the tone for this blue cheese with a smoky edge and creamy base. It is specially made for Ontario's Provincial Fine Foods by the monks at the Abbaye de Saint-Benoît-du-Lac in Quebec. Acting as the affineur , Provincial takes the budding cheese through the crucial finishing process that gives Blue Haze its character and refinement.

Unique to Canada, Blue Haze was inspired by Smokey Blue, a low-key blue cold-smoked over hazelnut shells at the Rogue Creamery in Oregon. Blue Haze's smokiness is also mellow toward the interior of the paste but the golden brown rind that develops when it's smoked (over cherry and hickory chips) imparts the exterior "crust" with a burnt caramel quality. The sweetness of the smoke is a perfect counterpart to the salty, buttermilk quality of the blue.

Blue Haze was created with the smoking process in mind. The curds are smaller and pressed to craft a firmer cheese that will not allow too much smoke to penetrate to the core of the wheel. Provincial owner Cole Snell says that because you're already working with strong flavours, "you have to be delicate when smoking a blue, it can go wrong very quickly."

The cheese is nine to 10 weeks old when it arrives at Provincial and is then aged an additional 30 days. It is tightly packaged in Cryovac to help knit the curds together. The main goal is to set the cheese rather than ripen it further. The cheese is then unpackaged and left on wooden planks for two to three days before smoking to allow more moisture to wick out and create a drier rind. Blue Haze is smoked for 30 to 40 minutes depending on the volume of cheese in the smoker.

The smoking process occurs at Hansen Farms in Cayuga, Ont. Provincial's Brian Semenuk explains that cold smoking is a process that uses smoke to add flavour without involving heat that would cook a product. Ice will sometimes be used to cool the smoke. "Usually when you cold smoke you try to keep the temperature under 100 F, that way your product will not melt or cook. The wood chips are usually burning in a steel box beside the smoker which contains the product to be cold smoked and the smoke is funnelled into the smoking chamber," he says.

The sweet smoky tang of this cheese adds zip to any summer barbecue. Melt it on a burger and you won't need any other topping. Breathe in the aroma and feel like you're sitting around the campfire. With Blue Haze, it's okay to inhale.

On the block

Cheese: Blue Haze

Producer: Provincial Fine Foods

Cheese maker: Abbaye de Saint-Benoît-du-Lac

Milk: Pasteurized cow

Type: Semi-soft, blue, pressed, smoked

Shape: Two-kilogram wheel

Availability (Ontario only):

Toronto: Culinarium, Whole Foods Market, Leslieville Cheese Market (new location at 541 Queen St. W.), Mabel's Bakery and Specialty Foods

Oakville: Jubilee market

London: Smith Cheese

Guelph: Ouderkirk and Taylor

Kitchener: Vincenzo's

Sue Riedl studied at the Cordon Bleu in London.

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