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Best Cheddar in Ontario?

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  • Snarf May 16, 2009 08:00 PM

It's spring, and the Leafs aren't in the playoffs yet again. Maybe we need something to cheer, or expound upon.

Despite the restrictions on milk marketing and the use of raw milk, we are seeing some pretty darned good cheddar cheeses in Ontario. I think we're at the point where most makers realize that it doesn't need to be orange (The Cheddar Gorge in the UK gave its name to the UK version, which is almost universally acknowledged to have been surpassed by Canadian versions), Which one is the best? In addition to Balderson's and Black River, there are many smaller producers emerging, and some which are sadly passing by the wayside due to retirement. I used to love the one that you had to request from 'under the table' from a vendor who stopped showing up at the North SLM a few years ago. What are your suggestions as to the best current version?

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  1. Our favourite cheddar is not from a small, artisanal operation, unfortunately, but from Ivanhoe Cheese just north of Belleville. This company's Extra Old Vintage Cheddar and Extra Old Reserve Cheddar are fabulous. We've only been able to find these, which come in black packaging (note that Ivanhoe's regular old cheddar is not as good as these) in a couple of stores in Parry Sound, including the farmers' market and Sobeys (sometimes) and at Nicholyn's Farm Market near Horseshoe Valley, north of Barrie.

    These cheeses have a wonderful, sharp flavour and a great creamy and not too crumbly texture, and lack the grittiness that one sometimes gets with aged cheddars (these are aged 3 and 5 years, I believe).

    If you can find these, give them a try. We'd love to hear others' opinions.

    By the way, there are no restrictions to using raw milk in cheese in Ontario, so long as it's aged a minimum of 60 days prior to being sold to the public. It's the soft, runny non-aged raw-milk cheeses that are banned in Ontario. A number of raw-milk cheddars, mostly from Quebec, are available in Ontario; some are quite good.

    8 Replies
    1. re: Tatai

      I shall set cat among pigeons. The four and five year old PC cheddars are delicious.

      1. re: embee

        I also find those PC cheddars pretty good. I also like Balderson's six-year-old, which I picked up at Costco last week. Even the three-year-old Balderson is pretty tasty,and certainly good value. Indeed, it's not hard at all to find a delicious mass-market cheddar in (and often from) Ontario. There's little need to seek out the smaller producers, unless you enjoy the thrill of the hunt. I've tried a few of them, and they usually seem no better or worse - just more expensive.

        1. re: juno

          I agree. The six year old Balderson is superb, and I paid as little as $22/kg when there was an instore coupon. I am starting to replace Reggiano ($27/kg at Costco) with the Balderson, as there is no edge waste.

          1. re: jayt90

            But there is a huge difference in flavour. Certainly you can't be grating Balderson cheddar over your pasta!

            1. re: Tatai

              No, but it's going into salads, souffle, and mornay more than ever. Also burgers, and even home made pizza. It is that versatile.

              1. re: jayt90

                Yeah I typically have the 2-year and 6-year Baldersons from Costco in the fridge. Best bang for the buck...my mother lived in Perth near the Balderson factory outlet, and the price at Costco is cheaper.

            2. re: jayt90

              I third these comments. Since I'm not heading up to these various small towns anytime soon, the PC six year is a great alternative. You won't be disappointed. I also find that it shares some taste profiles with the Reggiano (not saying it is as good), though not the texture.

              1. re: jayt90

                I was gonna say the Balderson's 6YO as well. Absolutely a fantastic cheese at a great price at Costco.

                DT

        2. "Artisanal" is becoming threadbare. Lots of great, small company cheddars around rural Ontario. Wilton Cheese near Odessa is among my favorites--killer fresh curd available daily, too.

          1. Empire Cheese in Campbellford has won best cheddar at the Royal Winter Fair and the British Empire Cheese Show. It really is a great cheese. The cheese entered in the competitions was the cheese taken off the shelf as if it were to be sold to regular customers.

            http://www.empirecheese.ca/

            4 Replies
            1. re: earthygoat

              Definitely Empire. I will drive out of my way if I'm anywhere near Campbellford to stop by their store. Their 4-, 5- and 6-year old Supreme cheddars are the standard by which I judge other Ontario cheddars. Nicely sharp with a great crumbly texture with those little parmesan-like crystals.

              1. re: tbonetak

                If you contact Empire Cheese they will email you a list of places that sell their cheese. This is an east end list they sent me:

                Also the following: Markham Fine Foods, 23 Wootten Way North and Hwy 7, Whittamores Market, 8100 Steeles Ave. East.  In Oshawa, Oke Produce, 111 Court St. and the three Halenda's on Taunton, Nelson, and King.

                1. re: Dflip

                  If you purchase cheese at their store, they have discounts for large orders. They will also make up trays but it's easy enough to make your own and spend what you save on a big bag of curds to squeak on for the drive home.

              2. re: earthygoat

                Definitely, definitely Empire ! Amazing Old, Extra Old, and I think the next oldest is a sharp crumbly 3 or 4 year. All have fantastic flavor and texture. If you're near the modest Peterborough Farmers market on a Saturday morning, you can buy directly from Empire at a fantastic price.

              3. This is why I'm cynical about "artisanal" cheddar--the great, long-established cheddar makers we're talking about scattered around Ontario. No pretense, no agenda, no conceits--just a consistent, quality product at a fair price.

                1. I know it's not Ontario, but I really like L'Ancetre extra old raw milk cheddar from Quebec. It's available at Fiesta Farms

                  1. Surprised by the comments so far. No one's mentioned Black River, or the extra old from New Hamburg.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Snarf

                      I found out the other week that the New Hamburg cheddar is made in Quebec and aged in New Hamburg.
                      Brights is decent, they package for the Sobey Compliments aged cheddar line. But my favrourite may be Maple Dale five or seven year.

                      1. re: The Boss

                        Well, aging makes quite a difference in cheddars.

                        1. re: The Boss

                          Brights was much better when it was an independent. I used to buy it on the market years ago. Now it's part of Argopur. Still decent cheese but nothing like having it cut to size off the big slabs. They had a great Colby style as well.

                        2. re: Snarf

                          I really like Black River's maple cheddar. I've been known to sit and eat an entire piece, slice by slice.....

                        3. I'm definitely not voting it as the best...but if you want some a surprisingly nice "cheese and crackers" cheddar, try out the No Name extra old. I'm afraid this suggestion will cost me whatever CH cred I've gained, but for real, I like it.

                          For a nice, nice Cheddard, I have to agree with several who have mentioned the 6-yr old Balderson.

                          1. If your from Bruce County it's Pine River Cheese, which has been around for over 100 years which in itself is a testament. If your ever in the area, it's worth stopping in as they have a very nice factory.

                            http://www.pinerivercheese.com/

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Lefty

                              Pine River is a farmers' co-op so they use only whole milk from members' herds. Other than same-day curds, my favourites are extra old cheddar trimmings which are pressed into a block and sold at a discount - very sharp with pronounced, crunchy calcium bits. They're fun to eat as the layers separate and the texture and flavour are are more interesting to me than the packaged item (also excellent) because the trimmings are from the outer cheese. Available only at their shop.

                              That's our go-to cheese. Their Premium is my favourite - a yellow cheddar aged at least 5 years. The taste is intense - past sharp into a sweet wine spectrum with bare lactic traces - it's almost creamy with little crumble.

                              If you visit, go first to the cash at the back where they havee samples. With luck, premium, extra old and maybe mild samples will be there for a fascinating comparison.

                              I don't say it's the best, and would hesitate to label it as such even if I thought so. Expensive foreign cheeses can't shame it though.

                            2. i wasn't very happy with the balderson's that i've had though i can't recall the number of years it was aged.

                              but if you're interested in a raw milk suggestion, you might want to check out the "low-temp" cheddar they've got at pasquale's. i believe they have another cheese producer make it for them and then they might age it themselves.. but low temp virtually equals raw milk. very interesting, good sharpness though i can't give any other details other than that since it's been a while.

                              the only other thing i know is that if you ever want a "cheese and crackers" type of suggestion grandgourmand gave above.... i cannot get enough of the wisecrackers rosemary crackers from costco. they elevate every cheddar i've ever had and make good crumblies to put in chili too! cheapie no frills cheddar included!

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: pinstripeprincess

                                I love the Wisecrackers as well. I had an addiction to them dipped into some warmed jalapeno artichoke dip (from the deli section) last summer. Since then the dip has gone up in price by almost $3..... I stick to the Wisecrackers however!

                              2. We used to go to a really small producer north of Kingston call Forfar Dairy...I just looked it up on-line and I think they now only do internet ordering or supply other retailers. I remember the cheese as being lovely.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: tochowchick

                                  Forfar was also long one of my favourites but unfortunately they stopped producing their own cheese last year. My understanding is that they outsource to St. Albert Cheese. If you're buying their aged cheese, I suppose you're still getting the real thing but time is running out.

                                  1. re: PaulV

                                    That's sad Paul...I have fond memories of them...my Mum's father was born/raised in Westport and we used to go down that way many years ago and loved going to Forfar...end of an era...