Sunday, March 29, 2009

What I learned at the Toronto Wine & Cheese Show

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Toronto Wine & Cheese Show at the International Center in Mississauga, sponsored by Metro and the Toronto Star. I was able to do this courtesy of Food Buzz. The show is billed as an event not only for wine & cheese lovers but chock full of gourmet foods as well. It was the cheese and gourmet foods that really made me want to attend the show. I love wines, but am admittedly far from an expert. It was great to try some new wines, some of which I've even bought since the show, but I was really hoping to use my time at the show to get some inspiration for some new recipes and write about some of my fabulous gourmet food finds. While my friend and I tasted a chickpea curry from a new family run business, Gourmantra ( a company that found a way to get their family recipe into an easy kit), had some fresh P.E.I. Malpeque Oysters and bought some tasty sausages for our boys at home, this Wine & Cheese show was much more about the wine than cheese or anything else. It was a bit disappointing, since I was craving some good cheese and to learn something during my time spent at the show. Luckily there was one cheese centered seminar, sponsored by the Dairy Farmer of Canada. The class promised to educate us on tasting cheese and how to put together a cheese tasting on our own. Exactly what I was looking for!

About 40 minutes before the demonstration was set to begin, there was already a line forming outside of the demo area, so my friend and I did another circle of the hall and got a bit more wine to have during the demo and got into the line-up. We ended up right in the second row of tables which was perfect to see and hear everything that our teacher, Anne-Marie Shubin, a teacher at the Cheese Education Guild in Toronto, said. The seminar started with a bit of Dairy Farmer's of Canada info. 2009 is their 75th anniversary and something that I never knew is that milk from Canada is one of the highest quality available. I liked this one because it means their cheese is of a higher quality. Definitely something that made me happy to be in Canada!

We then got into the meat of the seminar, Anne-Marie began by talking about the importance of keeping a cheese journal. A way to record the cheeses you've had and how much you liked or didn't like them. It could contain anything from a written description to a simple 1 to 10 rating system. I can't believe I never thought to do this before since the boy and I go to the cheese monger fairly regularly and while I love tasting the cheeses to pick the ones I like, it would be great to be able to go in and ask for the ones I know I've loved by name.

After reinforcing that cheese is always best served at or slightly below room temperature, Anne-Marie spent some time going of the order of cheese a service. You should start with the softer, more mellow and generally younger cheeses and gradually move through to the older, harder and more pungent cheeses. The only exception to this rule are the blue cheeses. They are a soft cheese that will almost always end a cheese service. Once you have your order of the cheese, for a true cheese service you should also have some very neutral crackers or baguette on hand to be used as a palate cleanser between cheeses. Then much like with wines, you should consider the appearance and smell of each cheese before tasting while also noticing how the taste compares to the smell.

We went on to try six different Canadian cheeses, all were excellent and I decided that rather than show and write about these cheese we had in the class that I would put together my own cheese tasting, putting to use all I learned from Anne-Marie. While the whole class was extremely informative and the best part of the entire day, the most interesting tidbit I took away from Anne-Marie was her suggesting to do a cheese tasting with beer or cider. This was something I had to try! I spoke with her after the class to find out which beers or ciders she suggests for a cheese tasting. She said the Du Minot sparkling cider or Strongbow cider and Hoegaarden for beer.

I walked away from the demonstration wanting to visit my local cheese monger picking out a few and setting up a little tasting for the boy and I at home. The boy and I met at The Art of Cheese, a cheese shop very close to our house that we had yet to try. We spent some time there tasting and carefully picking the cheeses for our own cheese tasting. And amazingly had the willpower to wait until the next night for our cheese adventure.

When we sat down of our tasting. I made sure we had some baguette as well as a nice cold Hoegaarden to try. Our first cheese was a Grey Owl goat cheese from Quebec. The rind has that interesting grey color because it's rolled in olive tree ash. Appearance wise, this cheese is nice and gooey near the rind and more chalky towards the center, something that denotes a younger cheese. It smells a bit like a goat cheese would, but not nearly as pungent. On tasting it, it tasted very fresh and milky, a symptom of it being a younger cheese. Overall it was very enjoy and went so well with the beer. I was fan. After some baguette, we moved onto the Le Migneron de Charlevoix an cow's milk cheese also out of Quebec, it is a nice semi firm cheese, with a complex aroma and a creamy, nutty taste. I could imagine making a grilled cheese with this one.

Our next cheese was also from Charlevoix but was the Hercule, an Oka-style raw cow's milk cheese, The one was more firm than the Migneron, but in retrospect should have been tasted first, as the Hercule was much more mellow in flavor than the Migneron. Thus far it was my least favorite cheese. Next up was a 3-year old organic cow's milk cheddar. When we tasted this at the cheese shop the boy asked for extra, he loved it so much and have to say trying it again during our tasting I am inclined to agree. The is a solid sharp cheddar, it's nice and firm, with a fabulously pungent smell and just the right amount of sharpness. It also paired perfectly with the slight sweetness of the Hoegaarden.

While we could have left it with the fabulous cheddar, both the boy and I are fans of blue cheese. When we were at the cheese shop we chose the Roaring Forties Blue Cheese, out of Australia. It was the only non-Canadian cheese we chose and while I had intended to get only Canadian cheeses in honer of the Dairy Farmers seminar I was inspired by, this one was too tasty to pass up. The beautiful yellow color comes from the Jersey cows milk that is used. I found this blue interesting because while it is definitely pungent in smell, it was much less in your face than the blue's I generally gravitate towards. On tasting it just melts in your mouth this delicious rich taste with a slightly sweet and nutty flavor. It just stays with you, with the most pleasant aftertaste. Even this one worked with the beer! This cheese is getting a 10 in my cheese journal, I love it.

So there you have it, what I learned at the Toronto Wine & Cheese show, while I tried a ton of wines and tasted some yummy treats, the Cheese seminar is what made it all worthwhile. I will very soon be hosting a beer and cheese party for some of our friends and family and promise to share the outcome. Enjoy!

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