Tag Archives: canadian Cheese

Curds and Eh: Kelsie Parsons Reports on The Canadian Cheese Awards

Le Baluchon displayed at the Canadian Cheese Awards

Very happy to be able to get the scoop (below) on the new Canadian Cheese Awards from cheese monger and cheese writer Kelsie Parsons–  he is in the last legs of finishing his Canadian Cheese Book and I look forward to having more on that down the road.

There’s a new champion in the Canadian cheese world – Le Baluchon, an organic washed rind cheese made in Quebec by Marie-Claude Harvey and her team at Fromagerie F.X. Pichet. It was named cheese of the year at the first-ever Canadian Cheese Awards held April 7 at St. Lawrence Market in Toronto.

Three awards in total were handed out for Le Baluchon – best semi-soft cheese, best organic cheese, and cheese of the year. Each award is well deserved.

Cheese of the Year - Le Baluchon

Le Baluchon was first made in 2004 in a partnership between Fromagerie F.X. Pichet and Fromagerie Jonathan. At the time, Fromagerie F.X. Pichet produced cheese milk from their own herd of cows and then sold their young cheeses to Fromagerie Jonathan, which ripened, promoted, and sold local farmstead cheeses. This arrangement is much more common in Europe and allows farmstead producers to focus on farming and cheesemaking. Unfortunately, Fromagerie Jonathan went bankrupt. By that time, Le Baluchon had made a name for itself in Quebec so Marie-Claude Harvey and her husband Michel Pichet purchased Fromagerie Jonathan’s building and the rights to the name Le Baluchon and continued its production.

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Fromagerie F.X. Pichet’s ripening room with bowls of brine and brushes in the foreground.

Washed rind cheeses, such as Le Baluchon, are frequently rubbed with a brush that is dipped in brine. This technique adds salt to the cheese, keeps its exterior moist, and creates the proper environment for the growth of Brevibacterium linens (or B. linens for short) which creates the pinkish orange rind typical of this style.

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The name Le Baluchon refers a hobo’s bundle of possessions tied to a stick.

What I love about Le Baluchon is its complexity and depth of flavour. There’s so much happening in every bite – flavours of nuts, butter, a slight bitterness to the rind, and a subtle pungency. Although the judging was blind (they could see the cheeses but weren’t told the names), the judges picked a cheese that is consistent in quality from batch to batch. I have never had a wedge of this cheese that was less than excellent.

Marie-Claude Harvey and Art Hill

Marie-Claude Harvey displays her award for Cheese of the Year with Professor Art Hill

Marie-Claude was instrumental in changing regulations in Quebec to allow for certain fromageries to legally produce unpasteurized cheese aged less than 60 days. She has been inducted into the prestigious Guilde de Fromagers for her contributions to the cheese industry.

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Marie-Claude Harvey and Michel Pichet pose with dry grass grown on their farm.

Michel Pichet restarted his family farm in 1989 with a focus on producing high quality organic milk and keeping his cows healthy and happy. He now has a mixed herd of 90 Brown Swiss, Holstein, and Ayershire cows of which he milks 50 twice a day.

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A curious Brown Swiss cow on the Pichet family farm.

The cows have access to the outdoors all year round and their feed is free of genetically modified organisms and pesticides. Michel is proud that his cows live much longer than the average dairy cow and they have more offspring. He explains that most cows have 2 or 3 calves in their lifetime but on his farm they give upwards of 12 calves which are never killed for veal. Producing certified organic cheese costs Fromagerie F.X. Pichet an extra $75,000 per year but as Marie-Claude says, it’s “the price of respecting the environment.”

An amazing amount of cheese was entered into the competition; 291 cheeses from 76 cheese companies were entered.  They competed in 30 categories. There were 16 categories based on cheese style, 5 regional awards, and 9 special categories including milk type, farmstead, organic, and new cheese.

Raclette de Compton au Poivre

Raclette de Compton au Poivre produced by Fromagerie La Station – winner of the Best Flavoured Cheese award

 

Farm House Clothbound Cheddar

Farm House Traditional Clothbound Cheddar produced by Farm House Natural Cheese – winner of Best Aged Cheddar (1 to 3 years) and Best British Columbia Cheese.

Le Porto Bleu

Porto Bleu, a new blue cheese mixed with Port made by Fromagerie du Charme.

An all-star lineup of cheese experts gathered at the University of Guelph at the end of February to judge the cheeses. Professor Art Hill, a respected expert on dairy and cheese science, led the judging. The group did a terrific job narrowing down the entrants and every finalist is worth seeking out.

Georgs and Anita

Georgs Kolesnikovs and Anita Stewart speak at the 2014 Canadian Cheese Awards

Georgs Kolesnikovs is the creator of the Canadian Cheese Awards and the Great Canadian Cheese Festival (the third annual festival will be held June 7-8 in Picton, ON). Kudos to Georgs for his hard work creating these two terrific events. After the Ontario Cheese Society crumbled a few years ago, Georgs stepped up and sought to unite Canadian cheesemakers and promote their products in new ways. I’m excited to see what he has planned next though I’m sure we’ll continue to see greater unity within the Canadian cheese industry especially with the looming increase in the specialty cheese import quota proposed in the CETA agreement.

The crowd of cheese industry professionals watches as category champions are announced

The crowd of cheese industry professionals watches as category champions are announced

At the end of the award ceremony, Georgs challenged cheesemakers to submit better quality cheeses for the next competition. Apparently, some entrants were inferior in quality to what they are known for. It was a rather solemn end to the awards ceremony but I’m confident it’s not a sign that the quality of Canadian cheese as a whole is slipping. Regardless, the bar has been raised and I know cheesemaker are already planning which cheeses they’ll send to the next Canadian Cheese Awards which will be hosted in Montreal in 2016 followed by Vancouver in 2018.

Once again, congratulations to all the finalists and category champions. There are many world class cheeses made in Canada and Georgs’ events are wonderful opportunities to recognize and celebrate the work of our talented cheese producers.

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Canadian Cheese Grand Prix -Behind the Scenes as a Judge

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The Jury for the 2013 Cheese Grand Prix. Photo courtesy of Dairy Farmers of Canada.

There we are, all eight soft-lit happy cheese eaters.  I thought I would introduce you to my co-jury members from our Grand Prix judging last weekend and mention how proud I was to be a part of this team!

Left to right:  Moi, Chef Michael Howell, Allison Spurrell (owner Les Amies du Fromage in BC), Gurth Pretty (Cheese Buyer for Loblaw), Chef Danny St. Pierre, Reg Hendrickson(with Dairy Farmers of Canada), Ian Picard (VP of Fromagerie Hamel in Montreal) and Jury Chairman Phil Belanger who has been with the competition since its beginning in 1998.

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Can you guess what cheese I am about to taste? Your guess is as good as mine!

For a behind the scenes report on tasting 225 cheeses in 48 hours check out today’s Spread column.  And here are some more photos of the event.

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Photo Courtesy of Dairy Farmers of Canada.

Here we are evaluating the soft bloomy rinds and Allison is trying to convince me it is normal protocol to pick up the wheel and take a bite from the edge (hazing for the newbie).  No, not really, but it it was tempting.

Judging the firm washed-rinds.  Photos courtesy of Dairy Farmers of Canada.

Judging the firm washed-rinds. Photos courtesy of Dairy Farmers of Canada.

All of the Nominees have been announced and you can find the list here 2013 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix Finalists.

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Introducing “Curds and Eh” A new Cheese and Toast Blog series by Kelsie Parsons

This is Kelsie Parsons.  Well, it’s Kelsie if he were to be made of cheese (St. Albert Mild Cheddar in fact). Kelsie is the cheese manager at Sobeys Ira Needles in Kitchener.

As you can see from his cheese doppelgänger, Kelsie is not only compact and shelf-stable but he’s amazingly passionate about cheese and knows a lot about it.

Kelsie speaks to his cheese peeps at Sobeys.

I bumped into him at the Great Canadian Cheese Festival at the beginning of June and told me he’s taking the summer off  to  write a book about Canadian cheese.   He’ll be touring Canada over three months and researching his book along the way.

If any of you cheese lovers own a copy of the great cheese reference book by Steve Jenkins “Cheese Primer” this is Kelsie’s blueprint for his own writing.

I was instantly smitten with his cause and also dying to hear about his adventures.  I figured the people reading Cheese and Toast would probably love reading about this too.

So Kelsie has agreed to write a series over the summer for my blog that we’re calling, “Curds and Eh”.  It will be published every two weeks on Wednesdays–starting tomorrow.

I’m proud to be a part of chronicling this massive effort,  and impressed with the personal time Kelsie is putting into this book. I hope all the cheese makers, cheese mongers and us cheese eaters across the country can support him along the way.

Supportive cheese mongers.

If you have some insider “cheese info” Kelsie should know about in your province leave a comment on this–or his future other posts–he in currently in Quebec and then heading to Newfoundland and the Maritimes.

Enjoy this series, I know I will.

Sue

Kelsie Parsons Bio (not messed up by Sue’s opinions as above)

Kelsie Parsons worked as a cheesemonger for Cheese of Canada and Provincial Fine Foods in Toronto and his photos of Canadian Cheese are featured in Juliet Harbutt’sWorld Cheese Book (2009). He earned his Cheesemaking Certificate from the Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese and has since apprenticed at Monforte Dairy. In 2010,Kelsie was selected as a delegate to represent the Toronto Slow Food convivium at Terra Madere in Turin, Italy. Kelsie is the Cheese Manager at Sobeys Ira Needles in Kitchener and is currently writing a book about Canadian cheese. He blogs at Sobeys.com/foodiefeature

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