A tasty af­ter­noon on The Cheese Trail in On­tario’s Dairy Cap­i­tal ‘If you don’t have the touch, you can’t make good cheese’

Grand Magazine - - CON­TENTS - BY DAWN MATHE­SON

A tasty af­ter­noon on The Cheese Trail in On­tario’s Dairy Cap­i­tal

One Fri­day night last June, our down­town Guelph home was full of more than a dozen Grade 7s shoot­ing Nerf guns and blar­ing tunes, chaos loud enough that the whole street must have over­heard. “Mom! Neigh­bour’s here,” my son yelled into the kitchen where I was load­ing frozen pizza into the oven.

It was Jen Whyte from over the fence. I found her in the back porch with a glass of a dark liq­uid in one hand and a plate topped with a del­i­cate mound of soft vel­vety heaven in the other. She said it was just the time-out I needed.

“Close your eyes, open your mouth,” Jen or­dered. “Smell, savour.”

All it took was one dewy dol­lop of but­tery, creamy cheesy bliss on the tongue for the Eminem thump­ing in the liv­ing room to si­lence; the waft of the 13 pairs of stinky run­ning shoes in the porch to vapour­ize.

It’s clear this taste was noth­ing like the pla­s­ticky-goo on the piz­zas warm­ing in the oven.

My face melted. “Or­gas­mic,” I told Jen as I washed it down with the dark brown stout. Eat­ing a piece of cheese with Jen is al­ways like a se­duc­tion. “I’m in France, eat­ing Brie on the Loire.” “No, you’re not,” said Jen, as she launched into the story be­hind the cheese that just slipped down my throat.

“In fact, you are in On­tario, in Ox­ford

County, eat­ing cheese­maker Shep Ys­sel­stein’s Brigid’s Brie from Gunn’s Hill.”

My neigh­bour is a cheese snob; there is no nicer way to say it. And her life mis­sion is to make snobs of us all. Jen has booths at the Guelph Farmers’ Mar­ket year round and in Rock­wood at the sea­sonal mar­ket, sell­ing ar­ti­sanal cheese – cheese pro­duced in small batches by hand, us­ing tra­di­tional crafts­man­ship. By night, Jen cu­rates cheese, beer and chocolate tast­ing events with her com­pany, Taste of Craft, run with lo­cal beer con­nois­seur, Karyn Boscar­iol.

Jen’s tim­ing in the mar­ket couldn’t be more per­fect: Cana­di­ans are crav­ing lo­cal spe­cialty cheeses over the gi­ant pro­duc­ers of the man­u­fac­tured pro­cessed brands. Don’t get me wrong: Kraft Din­ner still reigns supreme with my kids. It is pretty well Canada’s na­tional dish: James Lewis Kraft grew up on a dairy farm in On­tario.

Un­til about a decade ago — other than ched­dar, which was once Canada’s sec­ond largest ex­port — the great va­ri­ety of ar­ti­san cheeses you found in the cheese shops were from Que­bec or im­ported from Europe.

To­day, there are 40-some ar­ti­sanal pro­duc­ers through­out On­tario — the con­cen­tra­tion sprout­ing up in Ox­ford County, about 30 kilo­me­tres south­west of Kitch­ener, where Bright Cheese still pro­duces ched­dar on the same land where their cows were milked 142 years ago. In 2015, four Ox­ford County ar­ti­sanal cheese­mak­ers were nom­i­nated for the Cana­dian Cheese Grand Prix, and three came home with an award.

“It isn’t just the amaz­ing qual­ity and range of flavours in ar­ti­sanal cheese that con­sumers are look­ing for, they want the sto­ries be­hind the food: where it comes from, who makes it and how,” Jen says.

Hence, Ox­ford Tourism’s smart mar­ket­ing move with The Cheese Trail in On­tario’s Dairy Cap­i­tal – touris­mox­ford.ca/cheese­trail – launched in 2015.

The last fa­mous mar­ket­ing ploy for the dairy in­dus­try in the re­gion was in 1883 when the lo­cal dairy farmers got to­gether to pro­duce a 7,300-pound wheel of cheese that toured to the New York World Fair and then to Great Bri­tain.

In the 1800s, Ox­ford County was one of the most im­por­tant cen­tres in Canada with 98 cheese fac­to­ries. On the tour to­day you can see a pe­riod replica cheese fac­tory at the Inger­soll Cheese Museum.

Plans were laid that Fri­day night in my back porch for an es­cape to cheese heaven. I mapped out our route and Jen hand­picked the cheese­mak­ers while the ’tweens Nerf-gun de­mol­ished my liv­ing room and the pizza burned in the oven.

But I didn’t care. Soon I’d be de­vour­ing lots and lots of lus­cious cheese pro­duced vir­tu­ally just down the road.

Moun­tain­oak Cheese

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