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Travel the world for a great cheese

In search of a great Gouda or a robust Raclette?

If you have trouble reaching me in mid-October I will probably be at the World Cheese Awards competition in Bergamo, the Lombardy Region of Italy.

I like cheese, so I thought I would head to the World Cheese Awards. It is a big deal. I buy orange cheddar cheese from my local grocery store, but I seldom consider how vast the cheese world is. Probably a good thing, because most of the really good cheeses I can’t afford anyway.

I’ve loved cheese since I was a kid, and I blame that on Mahlon Gow. Mahlon was a local dairy farmer in eastern Ontario — more from the Hosaic Creek area than near our farm at Colquhoun — but still considered a neighbour. He hauled milk to a local cheese factory. In those days of the late 1950s and 1960s in eastern Ontario there was a small cheese factory about every 10 miles.

Mahlon hauled milk — eight-gallon milk cans — from local farms to the cheese factory and every so often he would stop in and bring us a block of cheese. If you saw Mahlon’s old flatdeck truck pulling into the farm lane, you knew cheese was coming. Sometimes it would come as a wheel in a round wooden cheese box. I don’t know how much my mom paid for it — it was fresh from the factory, but since Mahlon often dropped in around dinner time (noon-time meal) at least he got lunch too.

The cheese always tasted so good. Most of it was probably new or mild cheddar but sometimes my mother would also buy the white “old” cheese and you sure knew the difference. The old stuff was really sharp, with a real flavour kick to it. And sometimes we’d also have cheese curds — white, fresh, un-pressed cheese and boy would that stuff disappeared in a hurry.

But there was always cheese on our dinner table. Even long after my parents retired from dairy farming themselves and as long as my mom was making meals in her own kitchen, well into her 80s, there was always a dish of cheese — old and new cheese — that appeared on the table at the end of the meal — dessert if nothing else.

So I continue to consume cheese. It might just be more of a habit now because I find most no-name brand cheeses not really flavourful. Grocery stores always have a good selection of cheese. And the stuff I buy is usually about $10 per pound range — that’s about the cheapest I can find. And whether it is mild, medium or old it all tastes about the same. I’m not sure how long it takes to age cheese. I see on-line some cheese maker in Wisconsin amazed cheese lovers’ pallets when he finally cut into a block of cheddar that was 40 years old. Among the cheeses I buy, I’m guessing the mild is packaged on Monday, the medium on Wednesday and the old on Friday — not a huge difference.

A few years ago now, I used to stop in at the Folkert brothers farm at Rainier, near Brooks Alta., and buy farm produced Gouda cheese, but I don’t believe they do that any more.

At the retail store deli counter, there is a wide selection of mostly imported cheeses — most I have never heard of and have no idea how they taste. Just little wedges start at about $5 for a chunk the size of a deck of cards and then range up to $10, $12, $15 or more dollars for a wedge. You could easily drop $50 just for a sampling.

The best cheese

But the World Cheese Awards folks got me thinking about cheese. At the 31st awards event in Bergen, Norway, in late 2018, cheese makers from 41 countries entered 3,472 cheeses with 235 judges from around the world using their nose, taste and grading criteria to judge cheeses. Who knew there were that many cheeses?

While there was one gold, one silver and 14 bronze medals presented to Canadian cheese makers, the grand champion Canadian cheese was entered by the multi-generation dairy farming/cheese making family farm — Fromagerie La Station — the Bolduc family from Compton, Quebec.

The farm started by Alfred and Aglae Bolduc in 1928 is today operated by their grandson Pierre and his family. Milk from their 70 head dairy herd goes into producing cheese. The herd is mostly black and white Holstein, but they have recently added a few head of the Montbeliard breed from France to the herd. Known for producing milk that is ideal for cheese making, this red and white breed at first might be mistaken for Ayrshire or just red and white pied Holsteins. Their milk may be the key to making excellent cheese.

Some of the Bolduc family members who farm and make cheese on Hatley Road near Compton, Quebec.
photo: Courtesy World Cheese Awards

While most of the Canadian awards went to Quebec cheesemakers, the lone outsider was a bronze medal to Mountainoak Cheese farm owned by Adam and Hannie van Bergejik who emigrated from Holland in 1996. Adam’s father had emigrated to Canada and started dairy farming at New Hamburg, in Wilmot Township west of Kitchener, Ont. in 1976. When Adam made the move 20 years later he took over the farm and began making artisan cheese.

These Canadian cheese makers are expected to be among 200 other producers from around the world, showcasing about 3,500 cheese entries at the 2019 World Cheese Awards in Italy in October. Organizers are expecting 12,000 kilos (about 26,400 pounds) of cheese will be tasted and sold during the event, which could draw 40,000 visitors. I already have my toothpicks packed so I can sample my way through the show. All that is left to be done is to convince my editor that attending a world cheese competition is a valuable use of my time and travel dollars for a grain and beef magazine. Anybody in their right mind can instantly see the connection.

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.

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