Courtenay cheesemaker isn’t ‘grated’ by French concerns

Natural Pastures takes home bronze medal in world cheese championship

Natural Pastures Cheese Company is based in Courtenay and produces artisan cheeses using only local, island cow’s milk and water buffalo milk Natural Pastures Cheese Company is based in Courtenay and produces artisan cheeses using only local, Island cow’s milk and water buffalo milk.

It’s caused a stink in France, but Canadian cheeses — including one made in the Comox Valley — have taken some of the top spots at a world-renowned cheese competition.

Held every two years in Madison, Wisconsin, the World Championship Cheese Contest ranks the best cheeses in the world in 121 categories ranging from mild cheddar to cow’s milk yogurt.

It is the largest competition of its kind, with 3,400 cheeses from 26 countries competing.

While the 2018 World Champion award went to a USA/French team, the category which caused the most controversy — Camembert —awarded Best in Class to Quebec’s Agropur, with third place going to Natural Pastures Cheese Company in Courtenay. (Second place went to Lactalis from Wisconsin).

“A Norman Camembert dethroned by a Quebecois!” read a headline in the Paris-Normandie newspaper, the traditional home of the soft cheese.

“France insulted by a cheese from here,” read another headline in Le Journal de Montreal.

With North American cheesemakers dominating the category, Doug Smith, operations manager for Natural Pastures said they were grateful for the placing, and in true Canadian fashion, are “quietly beaming, but we’re humble.”

“I look at it as that Canada maybe doesn’t have the reputation (of other cheesemaking countries), but we’ve been in business for 18 years. Over that period, there’s been a lot of good cheesemakers (in the country) that do a good job.”

He credited the location of the Comox Valley — particularly the ‘terre noire’ that gives the cheese a distinct flavour compared to other places in North America.

While the competition was tight (Agropur received a score of 99.45, followed by Lactalis with 99.40, then Natural Pastures with 99.35) Smith noted, “it’s kind of like the Olympics; in two years they might have Australia or the French take (the top spots).”

Two Camemberts from France placed in the 10th and 12th spot.

While the French may be expressing their horror with the upset, Smith said there are a variety of factors when it comes to judging cheese, and could leave out-of-continent cheeses at a bit of disadvantage due to overseas shipping.

“A day or two of aging can affect the flavour and really make a difference, so it depends how the cheese was transported and when it was tasted.”

In addition to the Camembert category, Natural Pastures placed top 10 in a variety of other categories. This isn’t the first time the Comox Valley producer took home awards for their cheeses (they received the same placing in the category in 2016) but Smith added, “we will take it when it comes and enjoy it.”

“I’m sure (the French) will be coming at us next time,” he said with a laugh.

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