In our series on Canadian Cheese, cheese lover Ashley Linkletter explores why now's the time to get excited about Canadian cheeses. Today Ashley discusses how to enjoy Canadian washed-rind cheeses and shares Canadian beer pairings for some notable examples.
What's a Washed-Rind Cheese?
When it comes to cheese, the term “washed-rind” refers to any rind that's been rubbed and washed with a brine that encourages the growth of friendly bacteria. As the cheese is washed, it begins to develop a pungent smell and the rind takes on a reddish-orange colour.
Soft, semi-soft, and firm cheeses can all fall under the washed-rind category, as can cow, goat, sheep, and water buffalo milk cheeses. Washed-rind cheeses tend to fall on the stronger side of the spectrum, although most people find that the smell is often more intense than the actual taste of the cheese.
Thanks to Trappist monastic communities in Quebec and Eastern Canada, washed-rind cheeses are an important part of our cheesemaking heritage (cheese was often used as a main source of protein for monks in Canada, France, and Belgium).
Canada’s biggest washed-rind superstar is Oka, a cheese that's closely intertwined with Quebecois culinary and religious history.
How to Enjoy Washed-Rind Cheeses
First of all, yes, you can eat the rind (although it might be best to stick to the soft cheeses; firm washed-rinds tend to become chewy and unpleasant to eat).
Serve washed-rind cheeses (and all other cheeses) at room temperature — a good 30 minutes out of the fridge and they’ll be perfect for eating. Washed-rind cheeses are right at home with your favourite beer (some washed-rind cheeses have even been brushed with beer-spiked brine).
The suggestions below are great starting points for cheese tasting adventures but feel free to experiment with whatever you have on hand. Semi-soft and firm washed-rind cheeses can also be sliced and used as raclette (raclette itself is a washed-rind cheese) or tucked into ultra-melty grilled cheese sandwiches.
Considered one of Canada’s many culinary claims to fame, Oka is a semi-soft washed-rind cheese made in Oka, Quebec. Originally made by Trappist monks, the recipe for Oka was sold to cheese cooperative Agropur in 1981 for mass production.
Made from pasteurized cow’s milk, Oka’s flavour is mild and nutty when young and grows increasingly pungent as it ages. Oka is a workhorse in the kitchen; it can be served as part of a cheese tray, sliced for sandwiches and raclette, or stirred into pasta dishes and creamy sauces.
- Beer Pairing — Serve Oka with an equally nutty and not-too-potent red ale such as Griffon Red from Montreal, QB’s McAuslan Brewery.
Fuoco is one of the more interesting washed-rind cheeses currently being made in Quebec and it’s also relatively hard to find, so make sure you grab a small wheel or slice if you can find it.
Made from pasteurized water buffalo milk (a very rare feat in the world of Canadian cheese-making), Fuoco is made by Fromagerie Fuoco in Quebec’s Laurentides region. When Fuoco is still young it has a pleasantly sweet flavour, the cheese itself is semi-firm and the rind still mild.
- Beer Pairing — As Fuoco ages it develops rich salty butterscotch notes, making it an ideal pairing with a robust ale such as Holy Smoke Scotch Ale from the Church Key Brewing Company in Cambellford, Ontario.
Beloved by cheese fans and foodies across Canada, La Sauvagine is a decadent washed-rind cheese triple cream cheese (yes, you read that right!). Scarcely an inch in height, La Sauvagine is an award-winning cheese made from pasteurized cow’s milk by Quebec’s La Maison Alexis de Portneuf and is best enjoyed right at its best before date (or even a week after).
La Sauvagine has an intensely buttery flavour with just the right amount of lactic tang and notes of woodsy mushroom to cut through some of the richness.
- Beer Pairing — The intense creaminess of La Sauvagine can stand up to a hoppy IPA such as Vancouver, BC’s Strange Fellows Guardian White IPA.
Pikauba is an accessible, thermalized* cow’s milk washed-rind cheese made by La Fromagerie Lehmann in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, Quebec. Smooth and buttery, Pikauba is a great stepping stone into the world of washed-rind cheeses if you’re already a fan of Oka.
* Thermalized (or thermized) milk refers to milk that's been heat-treated to prevent the growth of bacteria, but at a lower temperature than fully pasteurized milk. This process allows the terroir of the region to shine through while reducing the number of potentially harmful micro-organisms which naturally occur in milk. In Canada, cheeses made from thermalized milk must be aged for a minimum of 60 days.
Pikauba has a limited production and is most often found in Quebec or Ontario cheese shops (although some specialty stores in Western Canada are able to keep Pikauba in stock in very small amounts).
- Beer Pairing — Pikauba is just as at home tucked into a ham sandwich as it is on a cheese and charcuterie plate, especially if it’s accompanied by 33 Acres of Euphoria, a Belgian Triple-style beer from Vancouver, BC.
Other Notable Canadian Washed-Rind Cheeses
Check websites for regional availability:
- Romelia, a washed-rind soft pasteurized goat’s cheese from Salt Spring Island Cheese Company
- Zacharie Cloutier, thermalized firm washed-rind sheep’s milk cheese from Fromagerie Nouvelle France
- Louis D‘Or, raw washed-rind cow’s milk cheese from Fromagerie du Presbytère (Grand Champion at the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix in 2011)
- Canotier de l’Isle, firm washed-rind cheese made from thermalized cow’s milk made by Fromagerie de l’Île-aux-Grues
- Le Baluchon, a semi-firm washed-rind cheese made from thermalized cow’s milk by Fromagerie F.X. Pichet
- Alpindon, a raw cow’s milk firm washed-rind cheese made Kootenay Alpine Cheese Co.
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