*[Correction 21:45 PDT: My first post of this article stated that Kootenay Alpine Cheese Co. is in Alberta. It is, in fact, in British Columbia!*
M. Cheesemonger and I loved Vancouver so much when we visited three years ago, we decided to return this year! This time, we focused almost entirely on savoring the local flavor, and we started at Granville Island Public Market.
One of my top priority stops was Benton Brothers Fine Cheese. I had been to their Cambie St. location a few years ago, but I was curious to see their newer Granville Island location. Happily, both brothers, Jonah and Andrew, were at the counter. Business has been brisk for these two, who started their first shop in 2007. Since then, they’ve opened two other shops. When I showed up, they were busy serving customers, but shared a little bit of the state of artisan cheese in Canada. Many of their cheeses are imported, although there were a few Canadian ones. Mostly, the Canadian cheeses hailed from Québec (you can even read about some of the ones I tasted during my Montreal visit!). Some British Columbia (B.C.) cheeses were dotted throughout the case, too.
The brothers explained that the barriers to entry into cheese making were extremely high in Canada (something I’ll need to research in much more detail!), which could account for the relatively few B.C. cheeses in production. Instead, Québec, keeping in touch with its French heritage, is the powerhouse cheese producer of Canada. Andrew gave one example of a barrier—at least one local farmstead cheese maker is obligated to sell its milk to the local milk board, and then buy it back before making cheese. It wasn’t unusual to see Canadian cheeses priced higher in the case than imported ones.
All that said, both brothers sent me off with some excellent cheeses, and well wishes for my new cheesemonger gig! In my bag, I had: Alpindon, Grey Owl, and Blue Capri.
Alpindon, Kootenay Alpine Cheese Company
The Alpindon is made by the Kootenay Alpine Cheese Company, in Creston, B.C.. Researching this cheesemaker reminded me a lot of Thistle Hill Farmstead, maker of Tarentaise in Vermont, for their commitment to traditional, Old World methods. Anyway! The Kootenay Alpine Cheese Company makes cheese from certified organic milk—primarily Holstein, but there is a smattering of Normande, Guersney, and Swedish Red cow in the mix as well. Their environmental consciousness pervades the cheese making process. It’s in the gravity-based milk transport system, the solar power, and the geo-cooled caves. They make several cheeses, but the Alpindon is their Alpine French-style cheese, based on Beaufort. Like the traditional alpine cheese makers, only summer milk is used in the Alpindon, and the cheeses are hand-rubbed as they age at least 90 days.
The cheese grabbed my attention the moment I saw it. The semi-hard wheel was about 3 inches high, with a tan rind bearing woven imprints and a warm, butter yellow paste. The paste was almost like lace, as it is covered in small eyes. If you were to slice it with a cheese plane and looked through it, it would be like looking through a sky of cheese and stars. That’s how many eyes there were. I’m not sure I’ve seen anything quite like it! For such an aged cheese, it looked and smelled fresh. There was some tang on the nose that resembled crème fraîche and almonds, almost like the summer its milk comes from. Tasting it, I could tell that this was not Beaufort, but it was certainly a Canadian cousin. There was the buttery, almond-y flavor typical of Alpine cheeses, but all very delicate (I bet this would make a great addition to mac n’ cheese, fondue, or anything requiring melted cheese!). The mouthfeel was exciting! Tiny protein crystals were everywhere, and the cheese had some bite to it. It didn’t break down nearly as easily as I thought it would. It was almost the texture of a fine, sandy biscuit. The other thing I experienced (although no one else around me did) was a light tingling sensation, an allergic reaction I’ve gotten from a few other foods in the past. I have no idea what in the cheese was causing it, though, and it wasn’t a problem.
Grey Owl, Fromagerie le Detour
The Grey Owl was the couture addition to the cheese plate, all covered in penicillium candidum molds, a wrinkly, fine rind and a dark ash coating to contrast sharply with the bright white paste. It’s produced in Québec, at Notre-Dame-Du-Lac, by the Fromagerie Le Detour, and is named after conservationist Archibald Belaney, nicknamed “Grey Owl.” While the cheese tastes about as close to a Loire Valley goat cheese as I’ve ever tasted, it’s produced with pasteurized milk and microbial rennet.
What words would describe this cheese best? Stately? Regal? Those are heavy words for a cheese less than 2 inches tall. Peeking past the rind to the paste, it looked almost like a fudgey cake. Raising the cheese to my nose, I could sense a sweet, almost Meyer lemon tang and light cream, which was confirmed when I tasted. The texture only added to the cheese’s mystique; it coated the tongue easily, like a drape thrown over the palate. The flavor drew itself out beautifully, with a long finish. Sadly, I bought far too small a piece of this cheese, and it was gone too soon.
Blue Capri, Goat’s Pride Organic Dairy
My last Canadian cheese, a local cheese, was the Blue Capri, a blue goat’s milk. Yes, a blue goat! They are rare, but here one was, and it was made in British Columbia, at Goat’s Pride Organic Dairy in Abbotsford! Sadly, their website seems to be down, but the dairy is run by couple Joann and Peter Dykstra, who raise the animals and make the cheese.
The cheese was a beautiful showcase of the local terroir. The wedge was rindless. Inside, the veining from p. roqueforti twisted and turned, filling the small pockets of air with great displays of kelp green mold, which contrasted beautifully with the warm white paste. It smelled a little sharp at first, then graduated to umami reminiscent of aged Parmesan before finishing off with a trail of granite. Taste-wise, I got the same thing (does this mean that my sense of smell is improving?)! There was a salty tang up front that then mellowed out to something reminiscent of chicken stew, which then seemed to turn to stone before fading away. Texture-wise, it was beautifully creamy, dissolving completely. Perfect for eating with the homemade bread we had! It was wonderfully complex!
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Hooray for artisan cheese everywhere! THANK YOU to Andrew and Jonah Benton for sharing their stories and a bit of their cheese case with me! If you’re in the area and want some cheese, you can visit one of their locations at:
Vancouver, BC, Canada
Vancouver, BC, Canada