Cheese Plates Around Town


Bar Volo 587 Yonge Street, Toronto 416 928 0008

This friendly little neighbourhood spot has been embarking on an ambitious Ontarianization of its wine, beer and food menus, and wooing customers to love what’s local by presenting great flavours at great prices. The cheese plate is no exception, a handpicked selection from among our province’s praise-worthy craft offerings.

A post-work visit for beer and a bite included one of the most creative and unstuffy cheese amuses I’ve seen in a long time. Breaking with convention, only two cheeses were on the plate, and they were both the same cheese! Well, not quite…. Eweda, the gouda-inspired sheep milk tomme from Elizabeth and Eric Bzikot of Conn, Ontario, is available in two formats: one young and pasteurized, the other aged well beyond 60 days, legally and proudly raw. This later variety is Eweda Cru. While both share a lacy sprinkling of eyes, there the similarity ends. Youthful Eweda is supple and ivory-hued, with fresh lemony and lanolic (wool sweater) aromas. It’s a “more-ish” mouthful delivering balanced salt, tang, and classic caramelized sweetness. Venerable Eweda Cru is the colour of a beeswax candle, and snappily resilient. Its complex aroma of chestnut honey and sour caraway rye – think Tokaji Aszu – follows through in the mouth, resolving bittersweet and gamey. Side by side the pair reveal the magic effects of time on flavour.

What could be more chez nous, yet utterly unexpected, than maple syrup as a gentling drizzle? Thick, sweet/sour grade B dark is going to enter my cheese accompaniment repertory from this day forward. That, some crisp red-skinned Macintosh slices and a few toasted nuts supported the cheese with wholesome sensibility. How very Canadian!

 

Oro 45 Elm Street, Toronto 416 597 0155

A recent dinner at Oro wound down with a competent and ambitious, though not quite perfect cheese plate. (Can there be such a thing? I’ll have to keep searching!)

The generous plate included Riopelle de L’Ile (Quebec), Tomme de Savoie (France), Pied-de-Vent (Quebec), Rassembleu (Quebec) and a mysterious semi-soft wedge the server tentatively called Capri-meule (never heard of it!) but which didn’t taste like goat. Maybe she was thinking of Fromagerie Champ a la Meule, in which case it was likely cow’s milk Victor et Berthold.

Top points for Canadian content! This could easily have been a 100% pur laine platter, and none but the most Europhilic would have protested. Truly local talent was unrepresented, suggesting a great opportunity for Ontario artisan cheese makers to send the chef some samples.

The cheeses were in peak condition, no easy feat, especially where the Pied-de-Vent and Rassembleu are concerned. Pied-de-Vent can be challengingly intense, with a washed rind ever so sticky and pungent. Any time in plastic pushes its powerful funk right over the edge. Luckily Oro’s kitchen seems to know this. Rassembleu has never been a favourite of mine. My first taste, a few years ago, was exactly like swallowing salt water at the beach, including a few gritty bits. The most positive tasting note I have heard since is “somewhat like dry leaves”. The wedge at Oro was slightly nondescript which, for this cheese, means not bad! As always, the Riopelle offered a stunningly rich hit of cultured butter. Tomme de Savoie and the unknown cheese delivered intentional bittersweet and slightly sour impressions, reminiscent of rye bread. These cool, austere flavours are classic, but not immediately appealing to North-American palates. Kudos to Oro for giving under-appreciated tastes pride of place.

Garnishing the plate were some dried apricots, a sprightly but out-of-place snippet of mint, and pools of a house-made conserve that seemed to be part mostarda, part apple butter. Dried fruit is an excellent accompaniment to strong cheeses, and it doesn’t fight with wine the way fresh fruit does. My only suggestion would be to substitute unsulphured apricots, as the lurid orange variety appears a bit ersatz beside subtle colours of rind and paste. The mostarda was divine, and contributed to the best mouthful of the evening: Pied-de-Vent cheese, a drizzle of condiment, and a sip of Banyuls. Rich, spicy, and musty, this combination seemed like something out of the souk.

Service was friendly and wine-smart, but less informed about cheese. Admittedly, five polysyllabic French names are hard to keep straight, but now that simple Brie and Cheddar just won’t cut it on a plateau des fromages, even scribbled crib notes would be fine.

This was a four-out-of-five-star performance, and at only $25, one to enjoy again.