Let’s Talk About Cheese: The Great Canadian Cheese Festival

Sandbanks Baco Noir and Cabernet Franc Sandbanks Baco Noir and Cabernet Franc
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Leave it to a lowly food blogger to wait to try the beer at a newly opened brew pub until it hosts a cheese festival launch.

Several months have passed since Mill Street finally opened its brew pub and restaurant in what was historically a grist mill. The doors opened to public three months late, but several days ahead of its last “official” opening date.

Now, if you cram a restaurant with cheese artisans, Southern Ontario’s only purveyor of artisan salumi, and probably the only Chef we would watch on the Food Network, yeah, I’ll show up. I will come armed with a fresh memory cartridge, a newly charged camera battery, a notepad, and a pen. It takes quite the event to attract this kind of talent.

This year we move in a totally different direction… demoing it at mill street tomorrow for media press release for Cheese festival.. are you going to be there?

Chef Michael Blackie

Add some bottles of Sandbanks Estates wine, including some of the first bottles of the Prince Edward County (PEC) winery’s 2011 rose, you would be hard pressed to dissuade me. Before you ask Sandbanks’ John Squaire takes good care of Ottawa.

Mill Street Brew Pub

Mill Street Brew Pub

The artisan cheese makers were Maggie Paradis and Christian Girard of Quebec’s La Fromagerie des Folies Bergères in Sainte-Sixte. They showcased some of their newest cheeses, including the runny “Enchanteuse.” Grace and Paul Mussel of Ottawa’s Clarmell on The Rideau Farms were also on hand, showcasing their goat gouda.

Clarmell on the Rideau Farms' Goat Gouda

Clarmell on the Rideau Farms' Goat Gouda

Glengarry Celtic Blue

Glengarry Celtic Blue

The purveyor of artisan salumi was Mike Mckenzie of Seed to Sausage, whose shop and soon-to-open retail store are located in Charbot Lake. He brought quite the sampling of his wares with him, including a dry cured leg of lamb that noted food journalist Gay Cook, formerly of local newspaper The Ottawa Citizen, raved about.

Seed to Sausage Salumi

Seed to Sausage Salumi

The noted chef was sometimes Food Network personality Michael Blackie, Executive Chef of Ottawa’s National Arts Centre. He served the dish he will be preparing and serving at the festival’s Cooks and Curds Gala event. The first seating of that event at 6 pm is completely sold out by the way. Tickets for the second seating at 7 pm are in short supply.

Chef Michael Blackie

Chef Michael Blackie

Regarding the festival, as last year, Crystal Palace in Picton, Ontario, will host events from a two-day artisan cheese and fine food fair to tutored cheese tastings and the aforementioned Cooks & Curds Cheese Gala.

Beginning June 1st and ending June 3rd, founder Georgs Kolesnikovs intends The Great Canadian Cheese Festival to be the largest exhibition of farmstead and specialty cheeses in Canada. According to the press release, there will be more than 125 cheeses on display from more than 30 producers from Vancouver to Prince Edward Island (PEI).

Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs

For the fair, 50 food producers, craft wineries, and micro breweries will show off their products, including Lacey Estates Vineyard & Winery, Karlo Estates, Rosehall Run Vineyard, The County Cider Company, Barley Days Brewery, Beau’s All Natural Brewing, Major Craig’s Chutney, Seed to Sausage, and michaelsdolce. Slow food and sustainability are themes.

Major Craig’s Chutneymichaelsdolce's Jams

Operating concurrently with the fair, there will be cheese tastings and seminars in the “All You Need Is Cheese” Annex, presented by the Dairy Farmers of Canada. One particular seminar, the “Taste of Quebec”, will be led by Ottawa’s own Vanessa Simmons, cheese sommelier of Savvy Company.

New this year, the festival’s food court features Toronto’s Cheesewerks and PEC’s Buddha Dog. Cheesewerks being the festival’s “Official Grilled Cheese”, co-owner Kevin Durkee will be unveiling a signature sandwich. And, on Sunday, actor Kris Holden-Ried (aka: Dyson on the television show Lost Girl) will work the Cheesewerks stand to help raise funds for a Cheesemaking Technology Scholarship Fund at the University of Guelph. The scholarship will go to a young Canadian, pursuing a career in cheese.

For the Cooks & Curds Gala, eight Canadian chefs will prepare tasting dishes with cheese and either fine wine, craft beer, or craft cider. The “strolling dinner” will then conclude with an after-dinner cheese board, sweets, sparkling wine, ice wine, port, coffee, and tea. The chefs follow:

  1. Whistler, British Columbia’s Jimmy Stewart of Bearfoot Bistro (Top Chef Canada 2012 contestant)
  2. Winnipeg’s Talia Syrie of the Tallest Poppy
  3. Toronto’s Jamie Kennedy of Jamie Kennedy Kitchens
  4. Ottawa’s Michael Blackie of the National Arts Centre
  5. Montreal’s Marc Cohen of Lawrence
  6. Montreal’s François Gagnon
  7. Bay Fortune, PEI’s Dominic Serio of Inn at Bay Fortune
  8. Upper Amherst Cover, Newfoundland’s Katie Hayes of Bonavista Social Club

The gala is also a challenge with attendees voting on their favourite dish. Chef Blackie holds the title from 2011. His Clarmell on The Rideau feta and pulled elk dish was voted most popular by the event’s 400 guests last year.

It was a family win. Chef Blackie’s entire family helped out with preparing and serving the dish during the gala. His wife Jillian expertly worked the fryolater beside chef Kennedy’s son Micha. His children plated and served the dish.

Here is a similar dish Chef Blackie prepared for a Taste of the Prairies event in 2011.
Crispy Hazelnut Glutinous Rice Ball with Tarragon Cheesecake Core and Saskatoon Berry, Green Peppercorn PullCrispy Hazelnut Glutinous Rice Ball with Tarragon Cheesecake Core and Saskatoon Berry, Green Peppercorn Pull

This year, Chef Blackie is moving away from round shapes…

Highland Blue Cubic Melt with Seed to Sausage Chorizo Crispy Bits, Kumquat Compote, Mustard Lettuce, and Acidulated Shimeji Mushrooms

Highland Blue Cubic Melt with Chorizo Crispy Bits, Kumquat Compote, Mustard Lettuce, and Shimeji MushroomsHighland Blue Cubic Melt
Highland Blue Cubic Melt with Chorizo Crispy Bits, Kumquat Compote, Mustard Lettuce, and Shimeji Mushrooms
Highland Blue Cubic Melt with Chorizo Crispy Bits, Kumquat Compote, Mustard Lettuce, and Shimeji Mushrooms

Unlike the Glengarry Celtic Blue (above), which Simmons of Savvy referred to as a tame “starter blue”, Back Forty Artisan‘s Highland Blue is full flavoured, earthy, and savoury. The Highland Blue is named for the Lanark Highlands where many Scottish expats settled.

Pairing recommendations for Chef Blackie’s dish of contrasting textures, balanced flavours, and seasonal ingredients include late harvest riesling or vidal, tawny port, oatmeal stout, or ice-cider.

So great food, lots of cheese, good drink, culinary competition…how much?

General admission is $35/person and tickets can be purchased online here. Tickets entitle attendees to access to all exhibitors; 10 tasting tickets for cheese, artisan foods, wine and beer, valued at $10; a souvenir festival glass; and admission to the cheese seminars presented by Dairy Farmers of Canada. At the door, tickets will be $40.

Youth and child tickets are available for the cheese and fine food fair. All other events are age of majority only.

The program of “Tutored Tastings” requires separate ticket purchases of $50/p/seminar. They can also be purchased online here.

The Cooks and Curds Gala, the culinary highlight of the festival, is also separate from general admission. Tickets are $100/person and are quickly selling out.

Already, pre-events leading up to the weekend events, a cheese tour ($95/p) and cheese cooking class ($90/p), are sold out.

Our wine blogger Claire already purchased tickets to attend. Will you be joining her?

For more indie-food blogger coverage of the launch, click on the following links:

What: The Great Canadian Cheese Festival
Where: Crystal Palace (375 Main Street East, Picton, Ontario)
Date/Time: Friday, June 1st – 3rd, 20112
How Much: General Admission is $35

Mild-mannered IT professional by day and food blogger by night, I founded foodiePrints with a single intention, to share my love of all things food. My first post shared a recipe. Many followed. Eventually, I learned Ottawa prepares and serves great food. Thereafter, I started meeting restaurateurs, chefs, cooks, farmers, and other local producers, all good people. Ideas for food-related content swirled in my head. foodiePrints grew into a place to put them. From exploring foreign and domestic cuisines to shopping for exotic ingredients and cobbling together my takes on dishes in my meager kitchen, there are stories to tell. Welcome to foodiePrints. Here, you will find stories about food and drink, cooking, and eating in Canada’s capital. Be it food-related or just food-for-thought, I hope you find something tasty here.