Canadian Cream of the Crop
Best-in-Show comes from northerly neighbor
For the first time in the 30-year history of the American Cheese Society’s annual competition, “Best in Show” for North America was not from the U.S., but from our neighbor: Canada.
After 19 teams of judges reviewed a competitive field of 1,779 products submitted by 267 companies in the rigorous two-day judging, Celtic Blue Reserve from Glengarry Fine Cheese in Lancaster, Ontario, was crowned the ultimate winner.
A tie for second “Best in Show” was awarded to two Wisconsin cheeses: Standard Market cave-aged Chandoka from LaClare Farms — the cheesemaker Katie (Hedrich) Fuhrmann was previously featured in OWP — and Grand Cru Reserve from Roth Cheese. Third place went to Harbison — 2013 “Best of Show” winner — crafted by Cellars of Jasper Hill in Vermont.
Glengarry cheesemaker Margaret Peters-Morris, also an author and a longtime leader in the Canadian cheese community, proudly mentors aspiring artisans throughout North America — and the world — through her books, consulting and cheese supply company.
Celtic Blue springs from Morris’ self-declared competitive nature. In 2013, Celtic Blue, the slightly younger version of this year’s winner, took home a third in its category.
“I knew Celtic Blue was good but there was room for improvement,” she says. “I wanted to have a cheese that would win, so I said, I think we have to add some cream to this recipe to kick it up a bit.”
Morris and fellow cheesemaker Wilma Klein-Swormink tweaked the recipe with success. The resulting cheese is immensely satisfying in the tradition of English Stilton and French Fourme d’Ambert.
Her instincts were spot on and the creamy wheel, aged just a bit longer than its predecessor, sailed to the top of its category. The resulting cheese melts on the palate like a fine chocolate with beautifully balanced notes of blue, salt, cream and sweetness that linger on the tongue.
Morris recommends pairing blue cheese with a zippy Moscato in the warmer summer months. She likes the sweet, fruity notes and slight fizz to refresh the taste buds.
Though Morris and Klein-Swormink have been making cheese together since 1991, Celtic Blue is relatively new in their repertoire. She started producing this rich, delicious blue just two years ago. Morris makes the winning cheese with milk from a single herd of Brown Swiss cows living on her family’s dairy pastures only three miles from the creamery.
Her path to cheesemaking has been an organic one. The daughter of a dairy farmer whose early career involved work with a fine food importer, she saw how much superior cheese Canada brought in from the EU, and it looked like an grand opportunity.
Using milk from her families’ herd, she began experimenting with cheesemaking in the ’90s while keeping meticulous notes. “I worked with specific types of cultures and became proficient at it,” she says, before publishing a book on the subject “The Cheesemaker’s Manual” in 2000.
“In the last 20 years, we’ve made big strides commercially and with our own business, developing the supply side to look after this market, which was not very well served in the area of farmstead and home cheesemaking supply.” Her company, Glengarry Cheesemaking Supply, filled this gap and she quickly became the go-to expert.
At the same time, she helped people move beyond cheddar, encouraging them to make other varieties of cheese with their milk. “If you have a good procedure and give the cheesemakers some confidence and know-how, it works,” she says.
Celtic Blue Reserve was mighty tasty and, unfortunately, unless you are traveling to Ontario, perhaps for the Great Canadian Cheese Festival held in early June in Prince Edward County, Ontario, you’ll have to take my word for it.
Morris and her team are accelerating production, but, at least for now, there is very little of this special cheese to go around and most of her production remains in Canada. She’s eyeing key cheese cities in the U.S. for export soon, so stay tuned.
You can, however, taste award-winning cheese from Oregon. In total, the state’s cheesemakers took home 17 ribbons.
The ripples of Morris’ mentorship have traveled far and wide. Local cheesemaker Sarah Marcus, of Briar Rose Creamery in Dundee, received a first place for her Goat Milk Feta — a modified version of the feta recipe found in Morris’ book. Briar Rose Carena scored a second place in the competitive Aged Goat Cheese category.
Others did quite well, too. See side bar on page 22 for all Oregon winners.
Congrats to all, near and far, earned ribbons at this year’s judging and competition.
TOP: Celtic Blue. ABOVE: Margaret Peters-Morris (right) and Wilma Klein-Swormink accept the Global Supreme Champion Award in 2013 in Somerset, UK, for their Lankaaster Aged Loaf; Celtic Blue took a bronze at this competition.