I was very excited to receive an invitation to the Guernsey Girl Cheese Chef “Cook Off” on Monday night at The Cheese Boutique in Toronto. Upper Canada Cheese Company recently launched a new cheese – Guernsey Girl – and held a competition for 14 Toronto chefs to use the cheese in the most creative way possible. Preliminary voting was done online to to choose the top 3 and Monday night was a “cook off” between the three finalists. Neil and I were invited to the launch where we would get the opportunity to taste their dishes. Eat cheese? Cooked in creative ways by big name Toronto chefs? Oh, we were so there! The Cheese Boutique, for those who are not familiar with it, is a treasure trove of not just cheese but other culinary delights. A true foodie’s paradise.
The Upper Canada Cheese Company already has a range of fabulous cheeses. Descriptions taken from their website.
Comfort Cream is a camembert-style soft, white bloomy rind cheese with a silky, creamy, golden interior. Rich flavours of fresh truffles prevail with an intense, buttery palate and a long, tangy finish. This delicate and luscious artisanal cheese is hand salted, hand turned and hand wrapped. We store Comfort Cream in our temperature and humidity-controlled cellars for at least 4 weeks before sale. An additional few weeks of aging will see the cheese ripen and mature in flavour, texture and colour.
Niagara Gold is an Oka-style semi-soft, washed rind cheese fashioned after recipes developed by the Trappist Monks of the Loire Valley. This is a cheese with nutty, earthy overtones and mellow, buttery flavours. This luscious cheese is delicately mild and sweet when young and gains pungency and piquant qualities with age. The rind may be eaten or trimmed depending on your taste. We begin to sell Niagara Gold after 5 months of careful aging in our cellars. Under good conditions, it ages well for months and continues to develop unique flavours over time.
The new cheese from Upper Canada Cheese Company is Guernsey Girl. According to the UCCC website, Toronto-based cheese sommelier Julia Rogers at Cheese Culture notes that Guernsey Girl holds its shape when fried or grilled, the surface caramelizes evenly and quickly, and the interior becomes wonderfully supple. The following are some of tasting notes as experienced by Rogers.
• Guernsey Girl is a delicate shade of ivory, with a pale lemon undertone. (Its colour will vary with the seasons as the herd’s diet changes.)
• The surface has a slightly porous texture, while the interior is dense and completely smooth.
• Muted on the nose, but with aromatic interest on the palate, Guernsey Girl expresses savoury, herbaceous and mineral notes, and a subtle melted butter finish.
• Acidity is low. Salt is in balance, adding zest but not dominating the flavour profile.
• The curd is squeakily resilient, but not rubbery, and leaves the palate clean.
My impressions? Very much like halloumi which is an excellent cooking cheese as it holds its shape and doesn’t melt all over the place. Guernsey Girl is slightly more tasty than the halloumi that I have eaten which can sometimes be a little bland (which works for many dishes because it doesn’t overpower other flavours) – it has hints of sweetness that worked really well with many of the dishes’ saltier notes. It does have that “squeaky” texture characteristic of halloumi but I happen to quite like that!
Here’s the Guernsey Girl herself, Lauren Arsenault, serving tastings of the three cheeses.
Lauren spoke briefly about the cheese and how it’s based on Scandinavian-style bread cheese (here’s an interesting discussion on Chowhound about bread cheese) influenced by her Norwegian origins (though you wouldn’t know it to look at her!) and explained that the name “Guernsey Girl” comes from the fact that the milk is produced by one of the last three Guernsey cow milking herds left in Ontario.
You can view recipes as submitted by the 14 chefs here (note: voting has closed). First up in Monday evening’s event was Andrea Damon Gibson (from Fred’s Bread)’s Guernsey Girl goes Mediterranean – grilled Guernsey Girl cheese on green olive bread:
The slight sweetness of the cheese worked well with the saltiness of the olive bread. Of the three dishes we tasted, this is the one most likely to end up on the table for most people. A simple dish made elegant by the bread and interesting texture of the cheese, this would be a hit for an hors d’oeuvre.
Next up, Laura Kirk’s Slow Braised Short Ribs and Guernsey Girl poutine. Laura is the head chef at Lynn Crawford’s soon to open Ruby Watcho.
Now, don’t take my Canadian citizenship away yet but here’s a confession – I have never eaten poutine before because I just thought it was a goopy mess of soggy fries, squeaky cheese and bland gravy. This was nothing like what I expected poutine to taste like. It was tender, fall apart on your fork and melt in your mouth beef short-ribs in a rich gravy served over crispy fries and (admittedly) squeaky cheese “fries”. Unbelievable. If every poutine tasted like this I would be in trouble!
Last but certainly not least and my favourite of the evening, Jason Bangerter of Auberge du Pommier‘s Artichoke and Guernsey Girl Terrine.
Simply put this was incredible. Sunchokes (you could use Jerusalem artichokes too) marinated in white wine, layered with the cheese and “royal” (eggs, cream and nutmeg) and wrapped in buttery proscuitto. Baked, then fried in a pan just before serving with some micro greens and drizzled with a muscat-vinegar reduction and a garlic-infused oil. Heaven on a breakfast, lunch or dinner plate! Chef explained that the inspiration for this dish came from his time working in Switzerland where he made the dish using cave-aged Gruyere cheese but proclaimed the Guernsey Girl a better match for the dish, and expalined that cooking the cheese really brings out the flavour.
Chef Bangerter was also the crowd favourite and recipient of the Golden Cow award:
Congratulations to all three finalists for really thinking outside the box to showcase the flavour and texture of this unique cheese. Those of you in Toronto should check out the Cheese Boutique’s Blog to read about upcoming cheese and fine food-related events.
Thanks Mary Luz Meija for the invite and for organising this wonderful launch. We’re dreaming up ways to use Guernsey Girl on the grill this summer already!