For the average eater of cheese, cheddar is cheddar and a gouda is indistinguishable from provolone. To the cheese lover, however, there are worlds of difference to be experienced even within the same variety of cheese. No two gorgonzolas or comtes are alike given the fact that everything from where the cheese was made to how long it was aged can all heavily influence a cheese’s outcome.
For a while now, the Niagara region has been a destination for oenophiles, but increasingly, cheese fans are finding the place a wealth of flavor as well. The artisanal cheese scene is flourishing in the Niagara Peninsula, and here is a look at one of the area’s crown jewels: the Upper Canada Cheese Company.
Founded and built by Wayne Philbrick, the Upper Canada Cheese Company got its start when Philbrick’s summer travels though Quebec awakened his interest in artisanal cheese. A construction contractor who had also tried his hand at winemaking, ever since that summer trip, Philbrick has been gung-ho over cheese. He has undergone extensive training as a cheesemaker, and, today, his cheese shop not only sells the two artisanal cheeses they produce in-house, but the Upper Canada Cheese Company’s store also features scores of products from local and international makers, making it a great stop for visitors to the Niagara region who want to know more about the foods, wares, and cheeses produced in Niagara and throughout Ontario.
The skilled and careful cheese makers at the Upper Canada Cheese Company make two types of cheese, and they are both of the semi-soft variety. One is called Comfort Cream, and it is remarkably similar to a French Camembert. The other is called Niagara Gold, and it is based on a type of cheese made by Trappist monks in France’s Loire Valley. Occasionally, a ricotta cheese is also made and sold.
Behind the excellent cheese and craftsmanship of the Upper Canada Cheese Company is the milk that’s used to make their cheeses. Only milk from Guernsey cows is used, and the ones that supply the Upper Canada Cheese Company come from the herd that resides at the Comfort Family Farm. Guernsey cows are rare — there are only six Guernsey herd in all of Canada — and they are known for producing a golden milk that’s higher in butterfat and, therefore, richer in flavor. They also enjoy a storied history that reaches back into the 10th century onto a small island in the English Channel called the Isle of Guernsey.
Bred there by militant monks charged with keeping pirates at bay, the Guernsey line developed from two French cattle breeds: Norman Brindles and Froment du Leons. First introduced to the Americas in 1840, the Guernsey line became a part of the Canadian landscape when a bull and two heifers were brought into the country in the middle of the 19th century.
For anyone who delights in cheese, a stop at the Upper Canada Cheese Company is a must. They are located in Jordan Station — just a short 20-minute drive from Niagara Falls — and are open seven days a week.