Last weekend, over 40 chefs escaped the Sunday afternoon rain to attend a Raw Milk Cheese Taste Workshop in the beautiful St. Anne’s Garden Club at Providence Farm, located on Vancouver Island in the Cowichan Valley. The workshop was part of the second bi-annual Canadian Chef’s Congress, brainchild of Ontario Chef Michael Stadtländer, who was inspired by attending the 2006 edition of Terra Madre event in Turin, the first edition to include chefs.
The workshop, moderated by cheese vendor Andrew Moyer of Ottavio Italian Bakery in Victoria featured both raw milk and heat treated cheese from Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia and a panel which included cheesemakers David Wood from Saltspring Island Cheese Company and Susan and Julia Grace from Moonstruck Cheese, Chef Chris McDonald of Cava restaurant in Toronto and former Slow Food Calgary leader Janice Beaton, of Janice Beaton Fine Cheese who guided the tasting portion of the workshop.
Chef’s heard from Moonstruck’s Julia Grace, maker of several aged raw milk cheeses from their own Jersey herd and David Wood, who has chosen not to produce raw milk cheese, but has participated in a study of pathogen survival in both raw and pasturized cheese. Both explained the procedures and temperatures required as well as discussing the pros and cons of making raw milk cheese in Canada. Chris McDonald added to the discussion of flavour and animal health, by sharing the results of a “Tale of Two Calves” http://thebovine.wordpress.com/2010/06/08/tale-of-two-calves-taste-test/an experiment to raise two of Michael Schmidt’s Canadian calves born on the same day, one raised on raw milk and one raised on pasteurized milk from the grocery store. After slaughter, cuts of the calves meat and organs were prepared and compared by chef McDonald and his guests with some surprising results at a special dinner at his Toronto restaurant Cava.
The second part of the workshop was a tasting of 6 cheeses, which included two raw milk cheeses made from the milk of Canadian cows ( La Vache Canadienne), a breed which is on the Slow Food Canadian Ark of Taste. From Quebec, 1608 from the Laiterie Charlevoix and from Ontario, a washed rind cheese from Michael Schmidt’s Glencolton farm herd of Canadian Cows.
Slow Food International first drafted a manifesto in support of raw milk cheese in 2001, to help protect small scale, traditional artisan cheese production in Italy and the rest of Europe. During the weekend long congress, over 200 Canadian chefs attending the signed the manifesto in support of raw milk cheese. While not all the panelists agreed that raw milk cheese is superior in flavour or can provide a level of safety that they all feel comfortable with, perhaps Chris McDonald summed it up best by saying that 20 years ago a tasting of such high quality Canadian artisan cheese would not have been possible. However, if the support of the chefs at the Canadian Chef’s Congress is any indication, defending the right to produce raw milk cheese in Canada is a tasty cause worth fighting for.