CHEESE CAVE

CHEESE CAVE AT THE RITZ CARLTON

TORONTO, Canada: Only a cheese lover like me would seek out a cheese cave in the midst of a film festival.

Affineur Tina Stapper introduces me to the cheese cave.

I was at the Toronto International Film Festival and upon visiting the newly opened Ritz Carlton Hotel there, I discovered the Cheese Cave (more like a glass cubicle) at the hotel’s TOCA restaurant.

As I step inside the cool cubicle (temperature set at 60 degrees), I am embraced by the earthy, pungent and briny aromas. I’m in heaven. The restaurant’s affineur, Tina Stapper is about to split the wheel of Cape Vessey cheese into half as she welcomes me.

Each night Stapper assembles a seletion of three cheeses for dinner guests. “I always focus on one Candian cheese,” she says. The selection has to be different enough so that there is a gradation and a contrast in texture and notes. “The range would always be mild to strong,” she adds. I taste the trio of this evenig’s menu – the wash rind Vessey from Prince Edward County is a firm goat cheese with briny notes; the Geai Bleu from Quebec City is deliciously creamy with a hint of earth and the Grand Pont l’evêque (like a brie) from Normandy is wickedly stinky, and would be a great match with a big red Rhône wine.

Stapper is passionate about cheese and admits that  “she got into it by fluke.” As an art student she took a job at an artisanal cheese shop and fell in love. “I found a parallel between art and cheese,” she says with a smile.

Stapper stocks a selection of some 50 cheeses, 50% of which is Candian and the rest international. The shelves along one wall hold ready to serve cheeses, among them, a creamy, smoky blue from Oregon; a firm, nutty Eweda Cru and a cumin flavored Glengarry Lankaster both from Ontario. Then there’s the tangy Guernsey cheddar from Isle of Mull and a couple of medium blue cheeses from Quebec, one called Fleuron and the other le Rassembleu.

The aging wall cradles large wheels and blocks. On the shelf is an 18-month old cloth-bound English cheddar and hanging in a corner is the $5,000 Ragusano, a sharp full bodied raw sheep’s mik cheese from Italy. “Its five years old and will age for another five years,” says Stapper.

Although most Canadians grew up with the traditional cheddar, Canada now is booming with artisanal dairies, notes Stapper. “This is a great place to expose people to small dairies, and my job is to get people out of their comfort zone and try new things.”

The affineur has a few cheese storing tips for me. “You have to treat ecah cheese individually,” she advises. For example, blue cheeses sweat, so don’t wrap in plastic, use foil. Use plastic wrap for hard cheese and parchment paper for softer cheese. “Raw milk cheese needs to breather, so wrap in parchment and perforate it with holes to let some air in.”

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