I never tasted cheddar cheese, that staple of Canadian households, until I was in my late teens. It was probably at my highschool friend Martha’s place, portal onto all things anglo. It seemed exotic, yet strangely plain.
I grew up on European cheeses. Cheeses selected solemnly by my father at the farmer’s market: Gorgonzola, Roquefort, Edam, Gouda, Gruyere. Huge, creamy or crumbly hunks of cheese, wrapped in brown paper, eaten without any embellishment, the minute we returned from our Saturday shopping.
Since then, I’ve ben on a lifelong quest for continued cheesey satisfaction. And it’s not just about the cheese. The fromagist/e must be a tiny bit of a pedagogue, willing to explain the particular characteristics of an obscure cheese I’ve never tried. At the very least, cheese tasting must be ungrudgingly allowed (with the taster having the discretion to never taste more than three or four). The cheeseman or woman must be willing to cut smaller, 100 gram pieces for a hungry girl who lives alone, and must be above that cheesey trick of cutting three times as much and saying, blithely, is that OK?
I was excited when a particular cheese shop . Le Fromagerie, opened up near my house on College Street West near Ossington, of all places. But my experience with this elegantly appointed shop (and, to be truthful, that of some of my neighbours) has at times been disappointing. We occasionally feel shamed, for arriving too early on a Saturday (even thought the doors are wide open, the hour coinciding with opening hours posted), for not knowing the provenance of the baguette, for forgetting the name of the cheese we desire. It’s no fun skulking home with $20 worth of cheese and egg on your face. Maybe we need to have thicker skins? After all, this shop has introduced me to Chevre Noir and Bleu d’Auvergne, and they carry great pastry and scrumptious green olives…but I wanted more
So i was more than excited, thrilled, actually, when I stumbled upon the modest booth of Monforte Dairy at the brand-new Trinity Bellwoods Farmers Market. There were tiny plates of artisanal cheese laid out to taste. There were pre-packaged slices of cheese with the prices right on them. There was a calm, gracious woman (who, I later found out, is Ruth Klahsen, the owner of Monforte, herself a classically trained chef – now cheesemaker).
And there was the cheese.
I tasted the haloumi, first, a Middle Eastern cheese I’ve often noticed listed as a recipe ingredient but never knew how to obtain. I’d imaginedit to be a very plain cheese, but Klahsen’s version tastes lemony, somehow, as though one is tasting the very pasture the sheep graze on. All of her cheeses are made of sheep’s milk – local, Mennonite-produced sheep’s milk, to be exact (Klahsen is herself of Mennonite extraction).
I ended up buying two of her aged cheeses: Paradiso, a washed-rind Italian cheese with a creamy-yet-chalky texture and a sweet butter taste with a bit of a tang, and Placere, more of a French cheese, very much like chevre, coated with rosemary, savory, chili pepper and jumiper. These cheeses are extraordinary, stellar. Out of this world! I tasted them last night, alone, before going out. I wanted them to myself! They made me happy, in a fine, secretive, sensual way. (Tomorrow, I’ll generously share them, with The Guitar Player – but knowingly, smugly).
Monforte has its heart and its politics in the right place. Their mission includes fair trade with Mennonite farmers, slow food movement principles, and tithing. Ten percent of their profits go to Doctors Without Borders/Medicins Sans Frontiers.
Run, don’t walk, to Monforte Dairy’s booth: at Trinity Bellwoods Farmers Market (Tuesdays, 3-7pm), or St Lawrence Market (Alex Farm Produce, three Saturdays out of four), both in Toronto. Check their website for other outlets in Toronto or across Ontario. They are based in Stratford – who knows, maybe they welcome visitors…
Have you tried Monforte cheese? Do you have any cheesey stories of your own?