Pretty much everything I know about cheese I have learnt in the past year from an exceptionally hilarious and kind Fromager named Cecilia. This former nurse turned committed cheese expert has helped to create a cheese revolution in Uxbridge, Ontario. From behind her fully-stocked 7 foot long cheese fridge at the Passionate Cook’s Essentials (a fine food, fine cheese, kitchenware supply store and culinary studio), she has become an icon in this bustling foodie hub.
I sat down with Cecilia to talk about (what else) cheese.
Kirsty: How did you get to be here, the Fromager at The Passionate Cook’s Essentials? Cecilia: (Laughing) That’s a really good question. I had a friend who owned a farm and was making cheese from her goat’s [milk] for her own family and I became fascinated. I had always been interested in cheese, but after seeing this I bought a cheese recipe book and actually started making it. Cheese making became a bit of a hobby for me when we left Uxbridge for my husband’s job for a few months. While in Atlanta, I started buying different cheeses, doing my own cheese tastings and keeping notes on what I liked. When we came back to Canada 6 months later, one of my friends was doing a culinary course at George Brown College in Toronto and I started looking into courses; 4 years ago I enrolled in the fromagere program.
So how did you acquire your throne as ‘Queen of Cheese’ in Uxbridge? I became immersed in the foodie world in Toronto with chefs, sommeliers and restaurant staff throughout Toronto. I met Ruth from Montfort Dairy who is a mentor to me and I thought to myself, ‘I’d really like to do this cheese thing on the side!’ I wasn’t yet done my program when my good friend mentioned that Lisa, Owner at The Passionate Cook had just started ordering in cheeses from Monforte Dairy in her small fridge in the store and I went in and gave Lisa some suggestion on which cheeses to buy. Lisa asked me to do a cheese-tasting at the store, but I didn’t feel ready at that point.
But, you do cheese-tastings at the store now? Yes, finally around Christmas 2011 I said “Yes” to Lisa and starting working doing cheese tastings, but also I became the Fromager, taking care of all the cheese. Once a month I lead a class of 12-16 people on a cheese-tasting! We choose 5-7 cheeses, usually based on a country, and we go through each cheese and pair with wine, spirits or beer. These nights really are a fantastic night out and we have a group of people that come out to every single one!
The success of the cheese section at The Passionate Cook is remarkable and I know from working there and being a customer that the small fridge has now tripled in size. What do you attribute it to? Uxbridge is a town that really takes its food seriously. Lots of people would make the trek down to the St. Lawrence Market for their cheese, but now they don’t have to as we have much of the same cheeses available. Also, the slow food movement is big in Uxbridge, as are CSA programs, and many people are just more conscious about what they are eating. I have people who come in only to buy Ontario or Canadian cheeses and we accommodate that here.
For the newbie cheese person it can be overwhelming to be greeted by a fridge full of 50 cheese wheels, not knowing what they would like. How do you handle that? Cheese is like scotch. Some cheeses are easier than others, like our Aged Farmhouse Cheddar. It’s a really popular cheese, because it’s easy. I would say not to be intimidated and start somewhere. Like when drinking scotch, you start single malt and work your way up to the harder ones.
What’s in your fridge right now? I am loving Caerphilly cheese from Neil’s Cheese Yard, Ramabert, and Harbour Blue is am-ma-zing! Also loving Thornbury Cider with brebus fresh.
Where did this passion for good food come? I have always cooked. As a little girl growing up in England, I fondly remember getting my first cookbook when I was 9. I still love cooking and food and a lot of our travel around the world is based upon that.
What’s the next big thing in cheese for Canada? Water Buffalo Cheese.
For someone just beginning to discover the different types/textures/flavours of cheese, is there a book you recommend? The World Cheese Book edited by Juliet Harriet is fab, it’s user friendly and full of pictures as well and recipes.
I have had the pleasure of working with Cecilia for the past year and fortunate enough to taste her homemade cheese, like ricotta and feta – so divine! She is gifted at making cheese and keen on educating the masses with her many cheese-making classes at The Passionate Cook’s Essentials.
Cecilia & Lisa welcome everyone to visit them at The Passionate Cook’s Essentials, located at 68 Brock Street West in Uxbridge, and ask questions, share their pairing thoughts and take a tour around the world in cheese. Check out the website for information on upcoming cooking classes, wine tastings, and celebrity chef hosted events. www.thepassionatecook.caAdd to favorites