Fromageries or cheese shops are now surfacing in most major cities in every province and for good reason. Canadians are developing a palate for fine cheeses that range in color, texture, aroma, and taste which is coinciding with the fact that Canada is producing some of the best varieties right here in our own back yard. No longer are we going after the brie and the blue as our digression from cheddars, Monterey jacks, and mozzarellas but we are opting to try any one of a hundred cheeses from around the world now available at the local fromagerie. The cheese plate is coming out at parties, growing in popularity as an interlude between the main course and dessert, or even serving as the dessert itself. If you haven’t discovered your local fromagerie it is time to do so, especially those that carry the artisanal cheeses made in Quebec, which are becoming more readily available across the country.
Do not be intimidated by the sheer numbers to choose from, variety is great, and the fromageries usually come equipped with cheese experts who will help you select the right cheeses to create your cheese plate. Be prepared to inform the staff what you are serving for dinner, if the cheese plate is slotted in as a course or as dessert, and what type of wine you are planning to serve with the cheese (white, red, port, ice etc.). And arrive with a bit of an appetite because the best cheesemongers will let you do some taste testing before buying so you can ensure the choices hit the mark.
Refrain from wanting to buy a little bit of everything in the store, the cheese plate should be simple, comprised of three to four cheeses (plan on about 75 grams of cheese per person), accompanied by some nuts, dried fruit and bread (or crackers) on the side. Keep the plate to use only for the cheese. Plate the cheeses in a progression from simple to more complex, younger to older, lighter to heavier, milder to stronger. If you try a heavier or stronger cheese first, tasting the innuendos of a simpler or lighter cheese proves difficult. Take the cheeses out of the refrigerator 1 hour before serving them and place your cheeses on the plate starting with the simple, younger, milder, lighter at the left and progressing to the right. Reserve the labels from the cheese packages and hand write a legend for your guests to take home as a reference. Do not serve the cheese course with a complex wine, especially if it contains a complex cheese because an assertive wine will crush the flavors of the cheese. Ask the staff at your wine store to recommend a wine specifically for pairing with a cheese plate. An easy guideline is to choose a wine from the same region your cheese comes from – a Spanish wine to accompany Manchego or a white wine from a region in France to serve with a chevre from that region.
Have some fun and walk on the wild side when you are choosing cheese. Tell the cheesemonger that you would like to create a cheese plate with different textures (some soft, some semi, some hard), from different animals (cow, sheep, goat) with different tastes and if you can handle it, aromas. That being said, progress within your comfort zone and as your palate develops. Eating a cheese with a bloomy rind might best be saved for a few cheese plates down the road but branch out from the bries and blues because there is an amazing world of cheeses to indulge in.
Alain Besré, from La Fromagerie du Marché Atwater in Montreal, has kindly signed up to be our cheese consultant. Admittingly we are spoiled in Quebec with a number of high quality fromageries carrying locally produced artisinal cheeses, but the one at the Marche Atwater is my personal favorite. Starting with his recommendations for creating your summer cheese plate, you can request these in cheese shops in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, and BC. He has also included a few extra cheeses to enjoy in summer, aside from the cheese plate, including one you can even grill on the BBQ. Alain will be providing recommendations on a seasonal basis, so look for his fall cheese plate choices in an upcoming Issue of 3 dish limit.
The summer cheese plate:
Abitibi’s (Northwest Quebec) «Allegretto» is a great cheese to introduce yourself to the magical world of sheep milk cheeses. It is a firm 4 month-old cheese made of raw milk, very flavorful yet mild. (You can even use this one beyond the cheese plate - serve it cubed or grated in a summer salad of fresh mesculun greens).
«Comtomme» is a firm organic raw cow milk cheese from the Eastern Townships. Ripened for three months it keeps an interesting slightly lactic flavour. It is now available, with it’s nutty flavoured big brother «Alfred», throughout Quebec and Ontario (unfortunately it doesn’t reach Alberta and BC until September).
«Laracam» is a fabulous cheese to discover in summer mainly because it is ripened for 60 days. Therefore, the ones on the market in August were made with the milk of cows that were feeding on the fresh spring fields. The cheese has a buttery yellow centre because of the increased amount of chlorophyll. The taste is also much more complex because of the large variety of flowers and plants in the spring.
Other cheeses to discover for summer:
BBQ : Haloumi, a traditional Cyprus cheese made of sheep milk, is made out of cow milk in Canada. It retains its shape when heated so you can fit cubes on a brochette for the BBQ or grill the cheese in slices to serve in a salad (try it with spinach and mushroom, thin sliced zucchini and green beans, or grilled shrimp and tomato)
Feta: Excellent sheep milk fetas are produced in BC, Ontario and Quebec, but you can also try goat milk feta, which is slightly firmer, for an interesting comparison. (The sheep’s milk is perfect for the sautéed feta recipe found in Eat this Book)
Cow - Any fresh, unripened cheese that you can serve either with fruit or vegetable as a dip or spread.
Buffalo - Classic Mozzarella di Buffala slices with tomatoes, fresh basil, good olive oil, fleur de sel (Camargue sea salt) and fresh ground pepper.
Sheep - There are a few Canadian sheep cheesemakers who produce a variation of Corsican Broccio, a fabulous fresh cheese that is used in Mediterranean cuisine.
Goat - Fresh unripened goat cheese can be used in a number of dishes from crostini, crumbled in salads, or in omelette.
Want to learn more about cheese? Check out Cheese Culture or pick up The Cheese Plate by Max Calman (Clarkson Potter, New York)
Alain Besre’s cheese recommendations can be found at:
La Fromagerie du Marche Atwater
134, ave Atwater Montreal 514-932-4953
House of Cheese
34 Byward Market Square Ottawa 613-241-4853
br>The Fabulous Pan Chancho
46 Princess Kingston 613-544-7790
45 Ripley Ave Toronto 416-762-6292
Paddy’s International Cheese Market
10732-82 Ave NW Edmonton 780-413-0367
Janice Beaton Fine Cheese
2 locations in Calgary 403-229-0900
2272 Oak Bay Avenue Victoria 250-592-4080