Cheese and not-cheese

Compare and contrast.

No, I won’t do that, because that’s comparing apples and …hmm. bread? Two vastly different categories, although both are in similar spaces.

Fifth town, if you read back in my blog, is an organic cheese maker based in Prince Edward County. And they’re here, at the Delicious Food Show. I picked up some of their Quark cheese. I had never tasted quark until this summer, when they drizzled some maple syrup over some and offered tastes. Yes, I’ll take that over dessert any day, thanks. It’s delicious.

Fifth Town Cheese

The other was a maker, Daiya, that I had heard about, and I saw their products when the Foodist Mart was briefly open in Leslieville. They create a vegan product that tastes like cheese.

Daiya

They had some slices of pizza out with their mozzarella-like cheese-like product, and I took one and ate it. It did have a cheesy flavour, it melted like mozzarella, and looked like it, too. So for vegans who miss the taste of cheese, there’s a product out for you! They also had some grilled cheese sandwiches with a cheddar-like product, but after wandering all the stalls, I confess, I was sated, and didn’t try it.

I love Kozlik’s.

They’re at the Delicious Food Show. I hope more people try Kozlik’s mustards and horseradish. They are my absolute favorite purveyor of those items.

Kozlik's mustard

I usually buy their products at the Saint Lawrence Market. I’m a huge fan of their horseradish: it’s got heat and flavour. Totally clears out the sinuses. Has taste and works well in a Bloody Caesar as well as being served alongside a hunk of prime rib, or mixed in with some applesauce to go with pork (think I got that trick from the Joy of Cooking).

One of my favorite mustards is the triple crunch: it’s the caviar of mustards. Three different types of seed — makes a beautiful visual. Has an awesome flavour. Your teeth bear down on a seed that’s been softened and expanded with vinegar, and it explodes in your mouth with pure flavour, the way a fish egg does. It’s awesome. Put some on a slice of aged cheddar and eat it. Your toes will curl with pleasure.

One of the big reasons I love Kozlik’s is their customer service. My father can’t eat sulphites, and for years, this has meant the only mustard he could eat was the Keen’s powdered mustard, which my mother would add water to and make a paste.

I called to find out if any of their mustards or horseradishes were sulphite-free, and got a phone call back (I think it was Jeremy who called), and had a superb conversation. I couldn’t get my Dad a pure horseradish (it requires sulphites to keep it) but I could get him a horseradish mustard (wow, was it tasty). I was also given the names of two other mustards I could get him that were sulphite-free.

You treat a customer well, it’s remembered forever.

Sustainable sturgeon caviar — at the Delicious Food Show

Sturgeon caviar is a product we associate with Russia. It’s a shame, but sturgeon has been driven to the brink of extinction there because of fishing practices. Sturgeon farming began in the US in the ’80’s, in California.

Sturgeon’s an incredibly old fish, dating back 200 million years. You can learn more about them on wikipedia.

Now we’ve got a Sturgeon farm based in New Brunswick, on the St. John River. Founded by Cornel Ceapa, who has a PhD in Fisheries Engineering, Acadian Sturgeon sells caviar and smoked sturgeon, and is selling sturgeon eggs and young sturgeon to European concerns to help replenish faltering European stocks.

Acadian Caviar

It takes a long time to get a Sturgeon fishery going, and about 10 years for the fish to reach maturity. Dr. Ceapa is determined that a sustainable, environmentally correct fishery is the direction to be taking before the fish is annihilated, and has been developing the fishery since 2004.  The fish are raised in tanks with water taken from the St. John River. After use and cleaning through multiple filters, the water is returned to the river. It’s important to him that the water be clean both ways! Intake must be clean, or he’s risking his stock. Output must be clean, or he’s risking downstream destruction.

In the mean time, Acadian Sturgeon is selling sustainably harvested sturgeon, about 350 a year. The sale of wild sturgeon will wind down over time, but wild sturgeon will always be the standard against which Acadian measures its product.

Sturgeon caviar

The caviar is delicious: I tried some on a hard-boiled half of a quail egg.

The Garlic Box at The Delicious Food Show

It should come as no surprise that I’m a big fan of garlic! One of the booths at the show was The Garlic Box, which has some glorious cloves of Music garlic at $1.00 each:

Garlic Box #6

 Music garlic doesn’t play an instrument — it’s called that because Music was the last name of the farmer who developed it. It grows very well in Ontario. The garlic used by The Garlic Box is Ontario product.

Now — not all garlic heads look perfect to sell as full heads. What do you do with the rest of them? How about pickles, sauces, and spreads? The Garlic Box has a wide variety. One I couldn’t resist is pickled scapes and cloves.

Garlic cloves & scapes

 I was curious about how they create this combination, since they are harvested at different times. They put the scapes in brine until the cloves are harvested, and then create a layered pickle — scapes on the bottom, cloves on the top.

They have an interesting idea for a Bloody Caesar:

Garlic Box #4

And lots more products.

Garlic Box #3

 Dressings, beans and such.

Garlic Box #2

And dried garlic products, too.

Getting recipes from chefs

As posted waaaay back, Sandy won a dinner by Matt Kantor of Little Kitchen and (now) Ghost Chef fame. One of the early dishes was a creamy sunchoke soup, garnished with crispy fried bacon lardons and shiitake mushrooms. I was fortunate to get the recipe after the dinner!

This past winter, I subscribed to KEG’s winter CSA (look back to the winter months to see my pictures). I had more sunchokes/Jerusalem artichokes and potatoes and squash and celeriac than I could comfortably eat in the time frame, so I made a lot of purées and froze them in ziplock bags (sandwich size).

I was having Sandy and Damir and Betty for dinner yesterday, and decided that I’d do a variant on Matt’s soup, so I took some bags of my purées of sunchoke and potato out of the freezer, and came as close to replicating the soup as I could, given I was starting with purées rather than whole raw veggies.

That’s when I started making a few changes.

I put the soup in the fridge, and served it cold.

To garnish the soup, I used a lotus root I had bought on Friday over at T&T Supermarket (the one on Cherry Street).  I used my mandoline to cut uniform slices across the root (and get those gorgeous circles with the tuber holes). Then I dried off (on paper towel) the slices, and deep fried them in some olive oil in my smallest frying pan. You have to watch them: there’s a lot of water in them, so most of the cooking time is used with just getting the water out of them (they shrink a lot). After the water is out of them, the temperature rises, and they start to carmelize and turn crispy. That’s when to pull them out of the frying pan and drain them.

Hey, Matt! Thanks for the recipe: it works well cold with lotus root garnish!

Last stop of the day in Prince Edward County: Mushrooms!

In the ongoing downpour, we decided to stop for lunch in Wellington. Alas, I was elected the one to leave the car to find out if the restaurant Sandy and Susan had picked out was open (only fair: Susan was driving and Sandy was in the back seat). No dice. The  restaurant was closed, and wasn’t going to be opening that day. I don’t even remember what it was called, unfortunately, and Google Earth has a really shitty low-resolution map of Wellington and no Street View, so I can’t tell you what it is from walking down the street and stopping just before the traffic light. But it was a place Sandy and Susan were hoping we could get to for lunch, since it was too rainy to eat outdoors at any of the wineries with restaurants.

So we went halfway down the block to the Devonshire Inn for lunch, and had some lovely local fare of salads, pork, and fish. While we were finishing up and talking to the waitress, the topic somehow got onto mushrooms and the local mushroom farm/factory. Heck, what else are you going to do on a rainy Wednesday afternoon? We went off to Highline Mushrooms, just past the corner of Gilead and Conley. Go to their website if you want to learn about the place. I’d love to do a tour some time. What they offered was a price list and a fridge full of mushrooms at really great prices.

Price list:

Mushroom farm in Wellington

“Cafe” are what they call cremini mushrooms at the grocery store. Ports are portabellas. Susan bought a box of mushrooms, but I’m not sure which variety. Here’s how big a box is.

Highline Mushrooms

That’s lots of mushrooms to dry, confit, turn into a spread to go on toast with some paté… oh yes, I could imagine doing things with lots of mushrooms.

Stop 4: Carriage House Cooperage

A cooperage is where barrels are made. It’s a very old craft, and people apprentice for years to become master coopers.  Susan heard of this County-based cooperage where they not only made barrels, they also made useful items from old barrels. We had to go!

 The Carriage House Cooperage is located in Wellington. You have to watch carefully for it, because it’s partly hidden by a glass studio in the building in front of it.

The Carriage House Cooperage

Marla Cameron, one of the two proprietors and coopers, was minding the store on this rainy Wednesday.

Marla Cameron

We wandered through, admiring the various pieces that had been crafted from old barrels. Barrels have a life span: when visiting a couple of wineries in Niagara last month, they only use a barrel 3 or 4 times. What happens with them later? Some get turned into wood chips for smoking food. Here at the cooperage, they get recycled into usable items. Candle holders — or maybe shot glass holders for a party?

Beautiful things

A really gorgeous table and stool. I want to have a wine cave, just so I can have pieces like this in it to entertain friends. Well, not just for the furniture. I want the wine, too.

Barrel furniture

Custom sign boards, coat hooks… so many possibilities.

Barrel stave goods

Marla told us that wineries have to get rid of any wine that has turned to vinegar immediately (they don’t want it to spread). The cooperage found a unique niche and service: they take the vinegar, barrel age it, bottle it, and sell it. Brilliant. They have a great way of seeing things and developing relationships in the County, and these relationships lead to new products. Dare I say it? Synergy.

Wine vinegar

 We went outside, under the extended roof, and Marla invited us to “nose” some barrels that had been toasted. These were special barrels — their Elite ones.

Glorious barrels

What makes these barrels unique is that they are made of four woods: oak, ash, maple, and hickory. Does this sound familiar? These are the barrels that County Cider is using to age their award-winning Ice Cider. These are the barrels that gave it the smoky complex flavour. These are the barrels… that smell absolutely wonderful.

Marla and Pete are apprenticing to become master coopers at A&K Cooperage, down in Missouri. It means a few trips a year to work on things under the supervision of a master. In a few years, they’ll have completed their apprenticeships. I hope their business continues to prosper, and that they become the cooperage of choice for Ontario wineries!

Stop 3: more cheese, please!

Black River Cheese

Our third stop was Black River Cheese, a venerable establishment down in the county. It being a rainy day, people were inside, milling about and exploring. And tasting. The cheddar on the left is 6 years old.

Black River Cheese Company

I’ve had their cheddar for years. Sandy used to bring some back to university, and when we were sharing an apartment, a late night of studying would be accompanied by some extra old cheddar, hot banana (or Bick’s Mixed) pickles, and long green onions. And espresso. I don’t know how we did it without developing indigestion, but it went over well at 1am.

Eating their cheese curds while driving around is fun the whole family can enjoy. Curds fresh enough to squeek.

Cheddar cheese curds

They also sell local fare like these delicious tarts from Burt’s Bakery.

Pastry delights

And this chocolate sounds like a great idea  — and it’s local! The plant is located in Belleville.

Chocolate for wine

And more local soaps, from a different maker than the ones at County Cider.

Small batch soaps

 Their factory burned down at the turn of this century, and there were concerns for a while that the company might not survive. They did and they continue to thrive. Their website provides good historical information about the area and its cheese-making history.

I bought a nice block of 5-year-old white cheddar. When the weather cools down, I think I’m going to make a roast-garlic cheddar soup.

Stop 2: County Cider and more tasting

On to County Cider. Our next stop wasn’t quite as busy as Fifth Town — although there were people there, it was a bit more of an open space, and maybe people weren’t into sampling the wares so close to noon on a weekday. Whatever. It was our weekend and it was raining.

County Cider

A quick reconnoitre of the shop, and then we lined up over at the tasting bar, and sampled the different types of cider that are available.

Feral Cider. This one is quite sweet and fruity. Actually, too sweet and fruity for our tastes. On to the next item.

Feral Cider

County Premium Cider. This one is a nice cider for a hot day. Nothing really unusual about its taste that makes it stand out, but it’s a good, workaday cider, and it’s a lot closer to Toronto than BC cider houses are, if you’re considering carbon footprint.

Waupoos County Cider

There was one in little brown bottles that I didn’t get a picture of:  Waupoos Premium Cider. It had a nice taste: richer than the others, a little spicier. The woman running the tasting said it works well in a 50/50 with beer (sort of like a shandy, but… different). We all enjoyed this one. Susan bought some of it.

Then we tasted the most wonderfully strange and different item they had. All I can do is quote Miranda “Oh brave new world!” Prince Edward County Ice Cider. This is made from varieties of apple that continue to hang from the tree branches after freezing weather. It’s then aged in some really innovative barrels made in the county by Carriage House Cooperage: each barrel is made of four woods — ash, maple, hickory, and oak, which is then toasted, and then the cider gets to age in the barrel. It’s winning awards, and I’m not surprised. The taste was complex, and first made me think of sherry, then cider, then got some Scotch-like notes from the barrel.

Ice cider

Each of us bought a bottle of it, and it’s laying down, waiting for an occasion. The County Cider website recommends pairing it with foie gras, and my toes are curling in delighted anticipation. Yes, I’ll blog about it.

Learning about the barrels (and then we made a trip out to the Carriage House Cooperage (I’ll be writing about it soon), and seeing some of the local products for sale in the shop, made me realize that there is a cross-breeding happening between businesses  in Prince Edward County that we would do well to emulate in other places. It’s something we’ve lost with importing everything from everywhere instead of doing our own manufacturing.

In cheese stores they sold other food items, soaps, candles, chocolates. In County Cider, there were some clothes, some soaps, some goods from elsewhere.

Sunlight through soap

Our visit here ended with a quick peek out back, with vineyards sloping down to the lake. Alas, we didn’t try any of their wines, and the rain was still coming down, so we didn’t sit out and enjoy the view for a long time, either.

Vineyard out back

More to follow with the trip to Black River Cheese, then to Carriage House and an interview with one of the proprietors!

Tasting our way through Fifth Town Artisan Cheeses

By the time we were ready to hit the road on Wednesday morning, the rain had started. It kept up all day, making driving difficult and forcing Susan to be mindful of big puddles. The first place we went to was Fifth Town’s dairy, located on County Road 8 in Picton.

Fifth Town Artisan Cheese Co.

It was a rainy day, and fairly crowded in the little store. All those people who were on camping trips starting on the long weekend decided to go into Picton (we had the most amazing traffic jam going through — worse than Queen West when all the young’uns are out in their cars, cruising the strip) or to the wineries and cheese places!

I’ve been a fan of Fifth Town’s cheeses for a quite a while: Alex Farms sells some of them, and Fifth Town comes to the Brickworks market, so I’ve bought directly from them there.

I do like that they had samples of most of their cheeses out to try. Susan noticed there wasn’t any quark, though, and inquired about it. Out came a container of quark cheese, and the staff member did something I thought very odd: she opened the container of quark, and drizzled dark maple syrup all over it. Ewwwww, right?

Wrong. Quark with maple syrup is delicious. The cheese is very mild, slightly tangy like yoghurt is tangy, and has a consistency like a dry cottage cheese that has been tightly packed. With the addition of maple syrup, it becomes light and fluffy and creamy (even though it’s a low-fat cheese). I had some on crackers this evening when I started writing this entry. I’ve told myself I can have some more when I finish writing tonight.

Each of us bought some quark.  We also tasted other cheeses and bought some of them. From Fifth Town, I came home with some Lemon Fetish (feta-like round with some lemon zest in it) and some Bagel Chevre with Lavender. Susan was hoping to score some Rose Haus, their washed-rind cow’s milk cheese, but none was to be had: it’s so popular that they have problems keeping it on hand, and even sold some that wasn’t as ripe as they’d like it to be, because of demand.  Either Sandy or Susan picked up some Bedda Fedda, their version of a Greek feta cheese.

While we were in line to pay for our purchases, Fifth Town kept us entertained and educated by running two videos overhead about how their cheese is made. “First, start with some goats or sheep…”

Fifth Town cheese

Alas, with the rain, I didn’t get a picture of the underground aging caves or wander around at all. I did go through their website again when I got home, and they’re really quite the model company for the future: involved in their community, cherish their employees, do what’s right for the environment, and produce great product. Go have a look: they’re really upfront about what they do.