Illicit cheese tasting in Toronto
A Taste of Quebec lies deep in the heart of the Distillery District, off a cobblestone lane and behind large green wooden doors. Lately, when the shop lights go out and the closed sign goes in the window, they've been inviting cheese lovers to sample some of the best (and often illicit) goods that Quebec artisan food makers have to offer in a cozy and intimate setting with 20 complete strangers.
Caroline Charest and co-manager/Fromagier Thom Sokoloski have been hosting cheese tasting parties for only a few weeks now. For $30 I was given instructions to arrive at 7:30, throw my coat on the sofa and write a name tag for my wineglass. I was then ushered past the kitchen and shop into a gorgeous rustic gallery space.
It's like stepping into old world Quebec, where everything is imported, "even the hosts!" says Caroline through a thick Francophone accent. Here, all the products on the shelves and in the cooler are made in Quebec, as is the art on the wall.
While Ontario has its fair share of artisan food, Quebec is able to offer something different. For example, it's unique landscape supports old breeds of cattle that arrived on its shores back in 1608, and water with a higher salt content produces a different cheese than what might be made in other parts of the country.
Getting down to business, tonight's tasting was all about blue cheese. Thom and Caroline took us on a journey of six different varieties of blue cheese with wine, cider and spirits as pairings for each course, and salads in between to cleanse the palette. I have actively disliked blue cheese in the past, but by the time the fifth round made it's way to my plate, the aptly named Blue Elizabeth, I must admit that I had fallen in love with the salty, pungent stuff.
There was sheep cheese, raw cow's milk cheese, salty, creamy, blow-your-mind cheese paired with a delicious maple, elderberry and port jelly, and cheese served with homemade traditional Sucre a la Creme that melted in your mouth.
Each course came with a lengthy and entertaining explanation of the history and cheese-making process, along with anecdotes on Caroline's burgeoning "alcoholism," as she toils night after night and bottle after bottle to seek the perfect match for the presentation.
The setting is casual, and I wasn't out of place asking for seconds. By the end of the evening, guests were mingling about and picking over the crumbs on the table while Caroline and Thom casually chatted about the experience and served up the last drops of maple whiskey.
A Taste of Quebec actually offers the chance to try products that you simply cannot get anywhere else but in Quebec, due to stiff federal trade permit regulations. So long as they're not actually selling some of the products they serve, it's perfectly within the rules to host these parties, to give us cheese-deprived Ontarians a chance to sample some of the best that our neighbour to the east has to offer.
Visit the website for A Taste of Quebec for more information on upcoming tasting parties. They're also organizing an upcoming "summer camp" where they have plans to host tasting parties in locations outside of the shop (the Beaches was mentioned). Tickets can be purchased at the store, which is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays.
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