Wednesday, 4 August 2010
A Visit to Upper Canada Cheese Company
Since we were in the Niagara area over the weekend, we decided to stop in at a place that I've been hearing about for a while: the Upper Canada Cheese Company, in Jordan Station, just off the QEW. Their sign just hints at how unique a place they really are.
Upper Canada Cheese Company make their cheese using the milk from a single herd of Guernsey cows, one of only 4 remaining herds in Ontario and 6 in all of Canada. (The other 2 are in New Brunswick.) Guernsey cows were once more common, valued for their rich and flavourful milk. Those were the exact qualities that caused it to fall from favour though; modern industrial dairy processing wants lower fat milk and lots of it, so Holsteins have come to predominate to the exclusion of everthing else.
The factory is in a small, neat building. Inside, at the front, is a roomy and elegant shop filled with gourmet delights, many if not most locally produced. The centrepiece though, is a counter staffed by two friendly and knowledgable women who pass out samples and answer questions about the cheeses.
Once you've tried the cheese and have an idea of what you want, you cross the room to their wall of refrigerators to pick out your purchases.
On the way you pass the shelves laden with all the other goodies, which can prove to be a considerable distraction.
You can also peer through a (somewhat steamy) window and see one of the cheese production areas.
Here's what we bought: at the centre-front applewood smoked Comfort Cream which is a camembert-style cheese, to the left is a halloumi-type grilling cheese, with 2 tubs of ricotta behind it, to the right of the ricotta is a tub of cheese curds, and finally to the far right there is a wedge of Niagara Gold, an Oka-style tangy semi-firm cheese. The Comfort Cream is named for the Comfort family, who are the farmers who own the herd of Geurnseys.
I haven't tried all of these cheeses yet, but I've been really impressed with the ones I have had, which include the Comfort Cream and the Niagara Gold. The Guernsey milk does lend a very distinctive flavour and texture to the cheeses; quite noticeably different from Holstein milk. There's also the colour, which is a lovely soft gold. I believe this is the colour that the annatto dye commonly used to colour cheeses orange aims for, and totally does not achieve. Good cheese is never cheap, but I thought prices were reasonable.
Right across the street is the Vineland Growers Co-operative, a name you will have seen on fruit baskets in Ontario grocery stores in season. Fruit packed on farms comes to their warehouse to be assembled into orders that go out to the stores. There's no fruit available there to the public, but there is a shop full of useful, specialized fruit growing equipment at reasonable prices, so if you have any fruit trees in your yard it's worth stopping in.
And of course, if you are in the Niagara area during fruit season, you will be sure to stop to buy some fruit to go with your fabulous, fabulous Upper Canada Cheese. (We bought a half-bushel of peach "seconds" for canning - couldn't see a thing wrong with them, other than that they were small, which is ideal for canning. What a bargain!)