No one really knows who made cheese for the first time, but according to one legend – it happened by accident. As the story goes, an Arabian merchant put milk into a pouch (made from the stomach of a sheep) and set out for his daily activities. Rennet – the enzyme that converts milk to cheese – is naturally found in the belly of some animals. We’re not sure if the tale is true, but we do know cheese has been around since roughly 8,000 BC (before emperors, royalty, and even writing!)
Dairy-based cheese is made from just four essential ingredients: milk, salt, a “good bacteria,” and rennet. Cheesemakers can adjust the basic recipe by adding other elements, making all of the cheeses we’ve grown to know and love.
Cheese can come from all types of milk. You may be familiar with goat, cow, sheep, and water buffalo cheese, but there is also vegan cheese made from cashews. Once the type of milk is defined, the type of cheese can also have many variants.
Cheese is a very complex topic. Did you know you can even obtain a Master of Cheese? France now has over 400 types of cheese, as does Italy. There are so many different cheeses that in 1962, French President Charles de Gaulle famously asked, “How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?”
Cheese is divided into seven main categories:
Fresh (for example, Ricotta), aged fresh (Mozzarella), soft white rind (Camembert), semi-soft (Port Salut), hard (Cheddar), blue (Gorgonzola) and flavour added (Pecorino with truffle). These styles are made in every cheese-producing country.
Ontario has a wide selection of locally made cheeses, and the best part – some of the factories welcome tourists (we’re planning our trip now).
Thornloe Cheese Co. has been making cheese in northern Ontario since 1940 and has a beautiful selection of artisanal cheese. Their Temiskaming is a hard cheese with a yellowish inside. They also make a firm, smoked mozzarella and a Charlton, which is a goat milk cheese similar in flavour to feta.
Back Forty in Eastern Ontario (est. 2000) was one of the province’s first sheep’s milk producers. Try the Highland Blue, which has a natural rind and is less salty than most blue cheeses. Or try the Madawaska, which is salted and tangy. You can visit the farm in Mississippi Station (near Ottawa) on Saturdays from June to October.
Mountainoak Cheese in New Hamburg produces many delicious kinds of cheese. When you see the passion of farm owner Adam Van Bergeijk, you’ll understand why they’ve won so many awards. “Farming is not an occupation; it’s a way of living.” The Farmstead Mild is aged two to three months and is exceptionally creamy. It won first place in its category at the British Empire Cheese Competition in 2016, and the Farmstead Smoked took the same award in its category two years running.
Monforte Dairy in Stratford produces cheese from goat, water buffalo, and cow’s milk. The Providence Aged Cheddar is excellent or try the Tomme or Chevre.
NOTHING Goes Together Like Wine & Cheese
Pairing wine and cheese is not as simple as you may think. Not all types of cheese go with all wines. White wine is often better suited to cheese than red. The lighter the cheese, the lighter the wine should be. Fresh Ricotta would be best with a light wine like Trius Distinction Sauvignon Blanc ($19.95 at LCBO).
A soft white rind cheese such as Camembert could cope with a wine a little heavier, pairing the creaminess of the cheese and wine. Try the Westcott Estate Chardonnay ($29.95 at LCBO).
Hard cheese such as Cheddar or blue cheese goes well with red wine. The Malivoire Farmstead Gamay ($21.95 at LCBO) would be a good option, or the Norman Hardie County Cabernet Franc ($29.20 at LCBO).
There are no rules for cheese and wine, so taste different combinations and see which you prefer. Look out for Ontario cheeses and support the local industry on the up.