I have become a cheese addict.
I've always loved cheese - with macaroni as a child, on pizza, on tacos... and as an adult I learned to appreciate some of the finer cheeses, such as creamy Brie, aged cheddar and true Parmigiano Reggiano... but I didn't truly fall in love with cheese until last weekend.
Visiting a winery as part of a choral management conference, I was mesmerized by the well-stocked cheese cooler in the vinter's agreeable little food shop. I chose two cheddars - a horseradish-flavored one and a smoked one - and took them to my sister's that night. The smoked one, particularly, became the focus of every meal I ate at my sister's for the rest of the weekend, and I craved it for days after I left it behind at her house. Even her kids loved it - said it tasted like ham (which made the adults laugh, since I've been a vegetarian for over 20 years).
This week, back home, I have tried to seek out new and different (to me) cheeses, first at my local grocery stores. At Dominion I purchased some standard provolone (long a favorite, although I generally prefer it smoked, and had to settle for plain), spiced Gouda, and a cheddar with olives and red peppers in it. Loblaws offered some more exotic choices, including a chunk of Oka and another Quebec cheese I'd never heard of called Hercule du Nord.
The Oka (pictured on the lower right in the photo above) has been interesting. It came with a gritty orange-ish rind that, upon tasting (I'm usually not deterred by rinds), I learned was decidedly inedible. (I think it may have had ashes or something in it.) Even cutting off the rind didn't rid the cheese of its distinctively strong aroma and slightly bitter taste.
The Hercule du Nord (a semi-soft, ripened cheese like the Oka) has turned out to be much milder in flavour and very pleasant.
I eat my cheese in thin slivers, usually with fruit or tomatoes to provide contrasting tastes and textures between bites. The above cheese was photographed during my al fresco breakfast this morning, and was accompanied by peaches. The provolone (in the upper left) was a perfect foil for the sweet ambrosia of peach juice.
This afternoon I stumbled upon a cheese store that's been open in my neighbourhood for a year or two, but whose threshold I've never crossed. About Cheese is my new favorite food shop; it's filled with really fine cheeses (including several local artisan and organic choices) and other foodie stuff like imported spices and artisan bread.
I asked if they carried a smoked cheddar (still pining a week later), and they let me sample a sheep's milk one from Stratford, ON (photo below, left). Sold. Then, wanting to broaden my horizons a bit, I asked which cheese they've been featuring recently, or were really excited about. I was treated to a sample of Lost Lake organic chevre, which made me swoon with its creamy tartness. I almost asked for a second sample, it was so good. Bought that one, too (photo below, right). They were my supper tonight, with a couple more ripe peaches.
I think I'm going to have to get a second job to pay for my cheese habit; these specialty cheeses don't come cheap. I'm so excited that my summer memories will be tied to these new flavours, though - and I can't wait to try some more cheeses. Remind me to revisit About Cheese again late in the day on a Saturday - today they sent me home with a free loaf of sourdough bread which would have otherwise been thrown out before the store opened again after the holiday. Sweet.
In a recent blog entry, a friend who has moved her family to Belgium was unfavorably comparing Canadian cheese selections to those she's discovered in Europe; maybe she's never been anywhere like About Cheese?