A new, wine-infused, artisan cheese by Natural Pastures Cheese has made a surprising sweep as finalist in three categories at the initial round of judging for the 2016 Canadian Cheese Awards.
Natural Pastures’ new Vin d’ici Chardonnay specialty cheese (pronounced van-dee-see) is a finalist in the Best Semi-Soft Cheese, Best New Cheese and Best B.C. Cheese categories. Natural Pastures’ fresh Cherry Cow Bocconcini and Water Buffalo Paneer have also been listed as finalists in their respective categories.
“We’re delighted with the results,” said Natural Pastures master cheesemaker Paul Sutter. “I knew it was a good cheese when I submitted it to the contest, and I was keen to hear what the judges thought. The texture is so smooth and it has a complex and savoury flavour.”
Vin d’ici (meaning ‘wine from here’) is a washed rind cheese using a Chardonnay from 40 Knots Vineyard and Estate Winery, a prominent wine producer operating in the Comox Valley.
“Working with a local winery that makes a superb wine – it was a perfect combination,” said Sutter. “We sat down and tasted the cheese with their various wines and were very pleased with the outcome.”
Natural Pastures operations manager Doug Smith agreed that it is satisfying to work with such a high quality product. “Comox Valley is fast becoming a recognized area of innovation and expertise for artisan food and wine,” he said. “We have high hopes and expectations that this pairing with 40 Knots Winery will make this specialty cheese a customer favourite.”
40 Knots owners Brenda Hetman-Craig and Layne Robert Craig were thrilled to hear of the strong showing. “This is most deserving,” said Hetman-Craig. “Wine and cheese have always been a natural pairing and when an expert cheesemaker can bring those together, the flavour becomes greater than the sum of the two.”
The Canadian Cheese Awards are open to cheese produced in Canada using milk of Canadian cows, goats, sheep and water buffalo—with no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives, and no modified milk ingredients. Winners, chosen from the three finalists in each category, will be announced at the awards ceremony in Montreal on April 14.
“We’re also really pleased with the performance of our other cheeses,” said Smith. “Our Buffalo Paneer has been winning awards since we first started production, and the Cherry Bocconcini made with cow milk has just received a gold medal at the Canadian Grand Prix cheese awards. It’s very rewarding to be getting this level of recognition for our team’s efforts.”
Smith said the fresh mozzarella and paneer are still relatively unknown cheese types to many Canadians. Mozzarella is a soft, mild unripened cheese, best eaten within a week of production and delicious in a fresh caprese salad with tomatoes and fresh basil. Paneer is an unaged, non-melting, unsalted cheese used in cooking that is often added to produce richer, more flavourful curries and casseroles.
Smith emphasized that local producers in the Comox Valley are looking to work together and to support each other. He has spent countless hours meeting with various producers and discussing new product possibilities.
“Not every idea works—we’ve gone through many that haven’t. But,” he smiled, “when it works, it works very well.”
Smith also remarked that there are some amazing new cheeses being developed by cheesemakers across Canada. With free trade deals threatening to flood the market with less expensive imports, Smith has no doubt that Canadian cheese can stand up on the international market. “We’re excited to be amongst such a high calibre of cheesemakers,” he said.