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May 16, 2009 08:00 PM

Best Cheddar in Ontario?

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 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.


        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.


            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