A special event celebrating the wide variety and high quality of cheeses made from 100% Canadian milk is held every two years, and it's kind of a big deal. Sponsored and hosted by the Dairy Farmers of Canada, the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix, 2015 edition, included a record number of entries from across the country, with 268 cheeses entered. The jury - a panel composed of cheese experts and internationally-respected Canadian chefs - whittled the list down to 81 finalists and eventually 27 category winners plus the Grand Champion were declared. A full list of winners is available here.
One of this year's jury members was well-known Canadian Chef Michael Howell who brought a number of the winning cheeses to Ottawa this week to help celebrate the Grand Prix. I can tell you the 2015 grand champion is a stunner called Laliberté, made by Quebec's Fromagerie du Presbytère. A triple crème cheese, it has a gorgeously bloomy rind with a creamy centre that oozes umami, the earthy, savoury taste that is so appealing. I detected mushroom, white turnip and a delicate grassiness in this cheese, one of several outstanding products from these cheesemakers. Howell and others regard Fromagerie du Presbytère as possibly the best at their craft in Canada (their award-winning Bleu d'Elizabeth, which I was delighted to taste again, and their Louis d'Or - a Swiss-type cheese - are also fabulous).
Other winners Howell brought for tasting included Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar from PEI's Cow's Creamery, a peppercorn-studded Raclette style cheese from Fromagerie Fritz Kaiser in Quebec, an extra-aged Gouda called Premium Dutch Gold, from Mountainoak Farmstead in Ontario and a washed-rind cheese called L'Origine de Charlevoix, from Laiterie Charlevoix in Quebec. All were fantastic.
Howell is proud to help promote Canadian cheese, noting that, "there has been a tremendous increase in the breadth and depth of cheeses available across the country." He cites enhanced ethnic demand - driven by both immigrants and world travels - for the greater variety of cheeses being made and notes that as Canadian cheesemaking matures, techniques are improving, resulting in better, more consistent product, so much so that Canadian cheeses are finding their way onto European menus.
Most of the winning cheeses are available at local cheese shops; the Grand Prix winner, Laliberté, can be found at International Cheese & Deli in the ByWard Market as well as the McKeen Metro Glebe. One of the best opportunities for us in the Ottawa area to sample the finest in Canadian cheese is coming up soon, courtesy of the Great Canadian Cheese Festival, taking place June 6 - 7 in Picton, Ontario. It will be a cheese lover's paradise!