Afrim Pristine, owner of Toronto’s Cheese Boutique, trained in the art of cheesemaking around the world before being granted the prestigious French distinction of maitre fromager in 2013. According to him, though, you don’t need to cross any borders to find some of the best product there is: “Canadian cheese is world-class, and it’s just getting better and better,” he says. “There’s amazing variety.”
From Charlevoix to Salt Spring Island, here are six artisanal Canadian cheesemakers that Pristine says are in a league of their own.
Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese, Ont.
“Gunn’s Hill Dairy is at the top of the list in Canada, in my opinion,” says Pristine. Owners Shep Ysselstein and Colleen Bator started operating in Woodstock, Ont., in 2011, producing Swiss-inspired cheeses with milk from a neighbouring family-run dairy farm. “For a while they had this cult following, but now it’s blown up. You can find it across Canada,” says Pristine. The standout? 5 Brothers, a washed-rind cow’s milk cheese that combines traits from Gouda and another Swiss variety called Appenzeller. “It just has an awesome texture and a beautiful nuttiness,” he says.
Laiterie Charlevoix, Que.
The Labbé family has been selling cheese curds at Quebec’s Laiterie Charlevoix since 1948, their cheesemakers producing them fresh every single day of the year except for Christmas and New Year’s. It’s that kind of dedication that Pristine says distinguishes them from the abundant competition in Charlevoix. “They make world-class stuff,” he says. “Amazing, fresh cheese curds, and they also do some really creamy-but-funky French-style cheeses.”
Natural Pastures Cheese Company, BC
Vancouver Island’s Natural Pastures Cheese Company has a unique specialty that sets them apart from Canada’s other cheesemakers. “They make a fresh buffalo mozzarella, which is very rare here,” says Pristine. “There are only like 3 or 4 dairies in the country who are producing buffalo mozzarella cheeses, and these ones are amazing.” Paul Sutter started the business in the early 2000s, supplied by his family farm – Natural Pastures has since grown in popularity, and now sources milk from local cow and water buffalo farms on the island.
Mountainoak Cheese, Ont.
Mountainoak Cheese was started by Adam van Bergeijk and his wife Hannie, who trained at the renowned Dutch cheesemaking school in Gouda before bringing their talents to New Hamburg, Ont., in the ’90s. “I’ve also trained making cheese all over the world, but I spent a lot of time in Holland, and the stuff they make in New Hamburg at that dairy is on par with some of the best Goudas I’ve ever had,” says Pristine. It’s the Mountainoak Gold you need to try: “It’s just amazing,” he says.
The Farm House Natural Cheeses, BC
In BC’s Fraser Valley, The Farm House Natural Cheeses produce a range of varieties using milk from their farm’s dairy cows and goats. “They do a good cross-section of cheeses – a gouda, a cheddar, a Swiss, everything,” says Pristine. “Very old-school, very traditional flavours. They’re awesome.” At the on-site farm shop, you’ll also find a collection of yogurt, buttermilk and freshly bottled cow’s and goat’s milk.
Salt Spring Island Cheese, BC
Founder David Wood first started selling his handmade cheese in 1996, after six years of working on finding the perfect recipe. Now, almost three decades later, these award-winning goat cheeses are still made using traditional methods and natural ingredients. “These cheeses – they’re incredible,” says Pristine. “They use a lot of local, fresh flavours. I’ve been to the dairy and it’s amazing.” In addition to the quality, the packaging – with flowers placed in the clear plastic package before the goat cheese is added – sets Salt Spring Island Cheese apart.