Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cheese, Glorious Cheese!

Artisan cheeses from Souleio, Saskatoon

I spent 2 ½ years in France during my university years and fell in love with cheese – creamy, stinky, hard, soft – I love them all. It was really tough coming home to Saskatoon because, and I show my age, there was NOWHERE to buy good cheese in those days.

A friend and I tried aging some goat cheese once to see if that would improve it. Nope! Of course, the cheap red wine was equally awful – we were young and broke!

The situation has certainly improved over the years, and there are now several places where I can buy good cheese in Saskatoon. But the one that excites me the most is Souleio, so I was really happy to sit down with Cathy Engel and learn more about Souleio’s selection of cheeses.

Intellectual stimulation
Cathy is originally from the United States. As a stay-at-home Mum in small-town Texas, she appreciated the occasional intellectual challenge. She was delighted to start working in a high-end wine store. “I love languages, geography, culture – and all of that’s covered with wine,” she says.

A few years later, the family moved to North Carolina, and Cathy was responsible for the specialty foods at Whole Foods Market. Again, cheese covered the whole gamut – from geography and language to chemistry and biology. Cathy believes that there is always more to learn about cheese. “There’s no ceiling. You simply can’t get bored unless you’ve stopped trying,” she says.

The economic downturn hit the States hard, and Cathy’s husband was out of work. He came up to Saskatchewan for a family wedding, and Cathy encouraged him to job hunt. Architects are in demand in Saskatoon, and his parents had recently retired to Biggar, so Saskatoon was a good fit.

Cathy visited Souleio and immediately felt at home. Once they’d unpacked and settled into their new home, Cathy started working for Souleio where she looks after the cheese, organic and local produce, meats and seafood.

Collaborative decision-making
Choosing cheese is a collaborative process involving the chefs and other staff members. Souleio tries to cover all the different types of cheeses – soft, blue, cheddar, washed rind, gouda – but the soft cheeses sell fast and don’t have good staying power.

Almost 50% of Souleio’s cheeses are Canadian. Most of the cheeses are from small producers, although they also sell some from larger producers as this ensures a wider variety of prices. The top shelf holds the goat and sheep cheeses as some customers are allergic to cow’s milk.

Organic, Canadian cheeses
Souleio was selling three organic, Canadian cheeses when I visited.

La Station de Compton is a fourth-generation dairy farm in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. They sell Comtomme – “the tomme from Compton” – which is made from raw milk from their 50 Holstein dairy cows and ripened for 90 days.

Alpindon is a gruyere-style cheese made by the Kootenay Alpine Cheese Company near Creston, BC. They replenish the soil with composted manure and whey from the dairy, and solar power provides 70% of the cheese plant’s hot water.

Lighthall Tomme is a hard goat cheese from Fifth Town Artisan Cheese Company. Fifth Town is the only LEED-certified dairy in Canada. They try to respect the environment in every step of their operation – from solar panels and a wind turbine for energy, to a bio-wetland system for treating whey and waste water, to using recycled or bio plastics for packaging.

No shortage of choices
Several of the Canadian cheese companies are located on the Quebec-Maine border so they come with names like Clandestin and Le Douanier. Clandestin is made by Fromagerie Le Detour, which also makes Grey Owl, a soft goat cheese that avoids the bite of some goat cheeses. Le Douanier is from Fromagerie FritzKaiser.

Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar is from PEI and is made by COWS, the ice cream folks. This is cheddar made the way it would have been made in the day of Anne of Green Gables.

And I have to mention Chateau de Bourgogne, a triple-cream cheese from Burgundy, because it’s one of my all-time favourites. As Cathy says, “They must whip it. It’s so soft and fluffy.”

If you aren’t sure what kind of cheese you like, ask for a sample. Cathy and the other Souleio staff are really helpful and can give you lots of information.

A cheesey friendship
You know that friend who shared my awful goat cheese 30+ years ago? Well, we’re still sharing cheese and conversation, as you can see by the plate of cheeses in the photograph. Thanks, Karen.


Jen said...

Who are the parents in Biggar? I'm from Biggar and my parents still live there. The more you write, the smaller this world gets :o)

Lori-ann said...

Ted and Gloria Engel are the parents. They retired there two years ago and love it. They chose Biggar because they have family there.

Scott Bartlett said...

If you would like to talk to Cathy Engle about cheese, she has been employed by The Bulk Cheese Warehouse and is in her second year there.