To introduce their new Guernsey Girl cheese the Upper Canada Cheese Company found fourteen Toronto area chefs who put together recipes using the cheese. The three favourites of a preliminary online poll were invited to showcase their product for the public and invited media at the Cheese Boutique.
The quickest and most-recognisable comparison to Guernsey Girl is Greece’s (update: it’s been pointed out to me that while halloumi is popular in Greece it actually is of Cypriot origin) well-known halloumi. Upper Canada’s head cheese-maker Lauren Arsenault stresses that it is actually based on the Bread Cheese of Scandinavia but recognises that Guernsey Girl does share characteristics with halloumi. The name fits Upper Canada’s tradition of naming their products after an important attribute of their company. The Comfort Cream is named as an homage to the Comfort Farm which was the first source of milk for Upper Canada Cheese. Niagara Gold reflects both the company’s location in Jordan Station, Niagara and the gold colour of Guernsey milk. Finally, the Guernsey Girl moniker is a nod to the fact that Upper Canada gets its milk from one of only three Guernsey milking herds left in Ontario.
Setting out through the labyrinthine culinary wonderland that is Cheese Boutique I came first to the Fred’s Bread station featuring Andrea Damon Gibson’s “Guernsey Girl Goes Mediterranean” creation. This offering showcased Guernsey Girl melted on slices of Fred’s Bread’s excellent Green Olive with Chipotle loaf and came accompanied by orange-flavoured olives. Of the three entrants this recipe is easily the one most likely to be used at home.
Next up was Lora Kirk’s “Slow Braised Short Ribs and Guernsey Girl Poutine”. Chef Kirk is the head chef to-be at Lynn Crawford’s Ruby Watchco and her recipe bested her boss’s “Chicken Cutlet Milanese with Lynn’s Crunchy Vegetable Salada and Guernsey Girl” with preliminary voters. The short rib based gravy was amazing and this recipe was probably the best showcase for the cheese’s texture but the fries in the poutine seemed a little off. Probably another victim of on-site event cooking without a deep fryer.
The final station offered the most formal presentation of the night in Jason Bangerter’s “Artichoke and Guernsey Girl Terrine”. Marinated artichokes (in Stratus White) were layered with the Guernsey Girl cheese and surrounded by a custard royal (fancy French for eggs, cream and nutmeg) and wrapped in prosciutto. The pan seared slices of terrine were dressed with thyme leaves, aged balsamic, and extra virgin olive oil. If the terrine presentation wasn’t enough, Chef Bangerter’s white clogs and his saucier’s high toque were ample reminders that he is the chef at O&B’s upscale French restaurant Auberge du Pommier. The interesting creamy flavour of the cheese really worked in this preparation and I’m always a sucker for a terrine.
The professional recipes were delicious but the beauty of a grill-friendly cheese at home is that it is so simple to prepare that it doesn’t really need a recipe. To test the cheese in my own kitchen I devised this quick little salad of torn baby spinach, diced red peppers (roasted would be even better if you have some), caper berries, and a lemony vinaigrette. The key point for me is that the fat in the cheese can stand up to a lot of other flavours so be generous with the lemon (or other acid) in your dressing and choose a green with lots of flavour–arugula would work even better than spinach. Also, the browning of the cheese goes very quickly (about a minute a side) so it’s important to have everything else prepared before you put the slices of Guernsey Girl into a moderately hot, dry cast iron pan.
The caper berries for my salad came from the absolutely massive selection at Cheese Boutique. This was my first visit and I was really impressed by the variety of selection of fresh and prepared products and also by the high level of service on display at the family-run (the Pristine family resemblance is obvious) cheese counter.
The squeak of this cheese is striking both raw and cooked. I can really see how it made Chef Kirk think “poutine”. Chef Bangerter says that he and his team tasted salt and milk when they tried Guernsey Girl. It reminds me more of the richer, deeper flavours of butter and heavy cream without the grassiness of milk but either way I can see how he was naturally led to pair this cheese with artichokes and prosciutto in an egg-enriched terrine. Chef Bangerter’s terrine was both my favourite and the favourite of the night’s voters.