By Nikki Bayley
Canadian cheese is undergoing a quiet revolution with dozens of cheese makers popping up across the country making delicious artisan cheeses, and some of the best are to be found in B.C. We spoke to Vancouver’s queen of cheese, Allison Spurrell at Les Amis du Fromage, who stocks around 190 varieties of Canadian cheeses and between 450-550 other cheeses from around the world:
“Canadian cheeses may not have big names like England with its cheddar or France with its brie, but Oka cheese is certainly famous in North America. It was traditionally made by monks at the monastery in Quebec, and about 20 years ago the cheese making part was bought out. It’s a semi-firm washed rind Trappist-style cheese. I think in B.C. there’s a pretty interesting cheese makers movement developing over the past 15 years, and some great cheese being made locally.
If you’re wondering about where Canadian cheese making can be found, look no further than B.C. Certainly in the Fraser Valley, the land is so beautiful, and when you talk about cheese it comes back to the milk –and that’s whatever the cows eat and how they’re cared for. We have so much beautiful grass and flowers growing here and that’s really great for the cows. We have some really great cheeses made in the Kootenays too, which is a little further away from the Lower Mainland, but so good! Lots of great cheese is made on Vancouver Island, and on Salt Spring Island too, pretty much anywhere that’s conducive to farming and that slower pace of life, you’ll find great cheese.
If you’re staying in the Lower Mainland you can make a day of it and visit one of our great local cheese makers. Golden Ears are in Maple Ridge; they make a wide selection of everyday cooking cheeses like feta and havarti and they also make some soft ripened cheese like brie. They have a great little shop there that you can visit and have afternoon tea there on the weekends. Another place is the Farm House Natural Cheese Company, they’re out by Agassiz and Chilliwack, and they have a really great selection of cheeses from goat and cows milk. Here at Les Amis we stock about 12 of them, you have to try their Lady Jane which is based on Chaource cheese which comes from the Champagne region in France –the centre stays firm and the outside is creamy– it’s very delicious. They’ve just been certified organic, their cheeses are excellent, it’s more of a European style, with more robust flavours. They’re less worried about their cheese being white and perfect and round, and focus instead on them being delicious.
In B.C, the cheese making industry is so young, but I think the firm aged cheeses show best what we can do. I really like Alpindon from Kootenay Meadows, I like that they named it themselves, rather than after some other cheese. Another great cheeses to try while you’re here is Beddis Blue from Moonstruck on Salt Spring Island which comes from all Jersey cows, when that cheese is perfect it’s unbelievable.
I think B.C. cheeses pair with white wine or beer rather than red wine. We make lots of great whites right here, try Joie Noble Blend, which works so well with those robust flavours. There are so many neat craft breweries here too, and beer and cheese is a great match!
Here at Les Amis, we let people try the cheeses if they want to sample them. We have “brown bag Saturday” where we’ll put a mystery selection together and you can try five or six new things for between $12 and $18. Check our website too; we do lots of tastings, I’m doing a Cheese 101 which is an overview of all the different styles of cheese, and I’m doing a Spanish tasting soon with wine, cheese, charcuterie and olive oil, then a Quebec one too with beer, not wine, and tourtière.”
Les Amis du Fromages
1752 W 2nd Ave.
843 E Hastings St.