Tasting Notes: Poplar Grove Tiger Blue and The Farm House Brie

Poplar Grove Tiger Blue | The Farm House Natural Cheeses Brie A few weeks ago I was in British Columbia for a couple of book signing events at the Vancouver Farmers Market. While crossing the international border means enduring a litany of things, including drug sniffing dogs and gruff border guards, once I'm across I swear I can see a whole new world of great regional cheeses opening up before me. And when I'm visiting BC I always try as many local cheeses as I can, because it's rare to find these cheeses for sale south of the US/Canada border due to complex import/export rules. Here are a couple of great cheeses I tried on this most recent trip.

Poplar Grove Tiger Blue

Located in the Okanagan region of British Columbia, Poplar Grove Cheeses was once part of Poplar Grove Winery. Though the two are now separately owned, Poplar Grove Cheeses is still making great cheese in a stunning vineyard setting along the Naramata Bench overlooking Penticton. Tiger Blue is a very spicy cow's milk blue that's as intense as Valdeon or Cabrales, and thus not for the uninitiated, but all the better for that spark and complexity. Cheesemaker Gitta Sutherland told me that rather than piercing this blue (the traditional way cheesemakers introduce air into blue cheeses to stimulate mold growth), she crumbles the cheese curd by hand after it has been pressed, creating microscopic air pockets which enable the signature marble textured mold pattern of this cheese to take shape.

The Farm House Natural Cheeses Brie

One of British Columbia's most outstanding  cheesemakers, Debra Amrein-Boyes is making a spectacular array of cheeses at The Farm House Natural Cheeses in Agassiz, in BC's fertile Fraser Valley. If you look at the above photo, one thing that stands out right away is the gorgeous straw yellow color of this cow's milk cheese - that's pasture talking to you right there. Especially during this time of year, cheeses made from grass-fed milk will take on this gorgeous tint, the result of beta carotene in the milk of pasture grazing cows. This brie is everything you want a brie to be - gorgeously butter-rich, with earthy and mushroomy flavors that melt on your tongue. My feeling is, why buy the French stuff when you can get something as good as this, and support a local farmer in the process?

200 Easy Homemade Cheese Recipes by Debra Amrein-Boyes

200 Easy Homemade Cheese RecipesThe popularity of artisan cheese has spawned an ancillary movement: home cheesemaking. At least here in the Pacific Northwest, it seems that everywhere you turn someone is offering a home cheesemaking class (see my events calendar for a complete list of local events). And thus the proliferation of home cheesemaking books in the past several years, including this new one, 200 Easy Homemade Cheese Recipes by Debra Amrein-Boyes. What sets this book apart is that Amrein-Boyes is a professional cheesemaker - she's the genius behind The Farm House Natural Cheeses, one of British Columbia's most oustanding artisan cheesemakers. This is important information to know, because it tells you that the author knows what she's talking about...the recipes are written from a cheesemaker's perspective rather than a chef's or home cook's perspective. Indeed, this fact is evident right away, because Amrein-Boyes spends the first 40 pages of the book getting readers up to speed with background, a cheese style primer, equipment list and basic cheesemaking techniques.

The recipes, all 200 of them, run the gamut from fresh ricotta and mascarpone, to washed-rind Taleggio, to feta, to yogurt, buttermilk and kefir. Mixed in with cheesemaking recipes are accompanying recipes for dishes using the cheeses, like souffles and fondues. The recipes are presented concisely and simply with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of emphasis on technique, temperature and process, all elements crucial to successful cheesemaking. Helpful troubleshooting tips - something I've not seen before in a home cheesemaking book - will aid in the diagnosis of problems as they come up. This is critical because so often home cheesemakers run into troubles, somewhat mysterious in nature, and are left without resources to solve their problems.

This is one of the best cheesemaking books I've come across - Amrein-Boyes conveys the complexity and rigor of the practice of cheesemaking, while at the same time making the craft accessible to the masses. Where else to find recipes for cheeses like Ossau-Iraty or Stilton? Sure, some of the cheeses in this book will take time and dedicated practice to make, but as any cheese lover knows, a well made artisan cheese is a beautiful thing in its own right, and well worth the effort.

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200 Easy Homemade Cheese Recipes by Debra Amrein-Boyes Robert Rose/Firefly Books $24.95 US/ $27.95 CDN 380 pages, paperback