The Definitive Guide to Canadian Artisanal and Fine Cheese

Canadian Artisanal Cheese | Steve JenkinsSteve Jenkins' Cheese Primer, an otherwise comprehensive guide to the world's cheeses, inexplicably devotes two pages to Canadian cheese. Jenkins opens his Canada section (such as it is) by curtly saying: "Though one would expect that a country as big as Canada would be home to a great many cheesemaking facilities and a prodigious quantity of cheese, it is not." Gurth Pretty's new book, The Definitive Guide to Canadian Artisanal and Fine Cheese, proves that there is, indeed, a flourishing artisan cheese industry in Canada. Organized by province, the Guide catalogs  hundreds of cheesemakers and their cheeses from British Columbia to Nova Scotia and everywhere in between. Entries provide a brief synopsis for each cheesemaker, list each cheese made by the artisan, as well as providing additional information such as regional travel and sightseeing tips. Though the profiles are brief, the sheer breadth and scope of this encyclopedia is a momentous achievement.

But just who is Gurth Pretty, and what compelled him to write this book? Toronto based Pretty is a professional chef who has worked variously in restaurants and as a private chef. He's currently serving as a culinary ambassador of sorts with his most recent venture, Epicurean Expeditions, a service that provides private parties, consulting and corporate workshops. The book evolved out of a visit to a specialty food market in Montreal three years ago. At the shop, Pretty happened to notice a guide to the cheeses of Quebec called Repertoire des fromages du Quebec. He wondered if a book existed chronicling cheesemakers from other Canadian provinces . . . and the answer was no. That initial curiosity evolved into several years of research, travel and networking with fellow food professionals, and the book was finally released in October of this year. While he says that his first goal was simply to attempt to capture the state of cheesemaking in Canada, his secondary goal was to discover more about Canada in the process, because "through food you discover the people."

I asked Pretty how he felt about the state of Canadian artisan cheesemaking in relation to the US. He noted that, like the US, Canada is currently experiencing an artisan cheese renaissance. "Canada's smaller population, more agricultural economy and French background all contribute to a great appreciation for cheese in any form," he said. The cheesemaking industry is particularly strong in Quebec,  the province with the most cheesemakers in Canada. Quebec also hosts the Warwick Cheese Festival, a grand annual celebration of all things fromage.

Pretty intends to continue to collect information about Canadian cheesemakers for future editions of the book. It's interesting to note that this book is one of two comprehensive cheese guides coming out in 2006-7; The Atlas of American Artisan Cheese by Jeff Roberts and Carlo Petrini will be issued in June of '07. Taken together, these two books will be instrumental in documenting the thriving, expanding artisan cheesemaking industry in North America. Never again will anyone be able to ignore the multitudes of artisan cheesemakers in their own back yard.

For those interested in learning more about Canadian cheeses, Pretty offered a couple of recommendations:

First, take a trip to Western British Columbia, where you can easily make a weekend of visiting cheesemakers in and around Vancouver, BC.  Salt Spring Island Cheese Co. and Moonstruck Organic Cheeses are both located on Salt Spring Island (a short ferry ride from mainland BC); in addition, there are several cheesemakers on nearby Vancouver Island, including Hilary's Fine Cheeses, Natural Pastures Cheese Co., and Little Qualicum Cheeseworks.

Second, take a trip to Quebec City (a small town in eastern Quebec), where you can visit at least six cheesemakers including Fromagerie Cote de Beaupre, Le Fromages de l'Isle d'Orleans, and Fromagerie des Ameriques.

Alternatively, he also recommends sampling some or all of the following cheeses: Le Baluchon, a semi-soft washed rind cheese; Oka, Canada's oldest commercially produced cheese (dating back to the nineteenth century) and a great aged Canadian cheddar (and by aged, he recommends between 7 and 12 years).

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Gurth Pretty will be reading at Barbara Jo's Books to Cooks in Vancouver, BC on Wednesday, November 22nd.  See the Barbara Jo's Books to Cooks website for more information.

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A Definitive Guide to Canadian Artisanal and Fine Cheeses by Gurth Pretty Whitecap Books $29.95

available online at Powells.com here