TORONTO — Scott McKenzie, who runs the professional fromager certificate at George Brown College, answers to the nickname Dragon’s Breath.
It’s the name of his favourite cheese, an intense and runny Nova Scotia blue with a cult following.
It’s considered “contraband” of sorts in other provinces.
A rare tasting of Dragon’s Breath, made by That Dutchman’s Farm, was one highlight of the Ontario Cheese Society conference this week.
Too bad the spunky, rich blue cheese — which intensifies once unpacked from its black wax — can’t be sold in Ontario.
In fact, half of the eight cheeses that Cheese Culture’s Julia Rogers put on her cross-Canadian tasting plate can only be sold in stores in their own provinces because the cheesemakers aren’t licensed for federal distribution.
They can, however, be sold (in modest amounts) directly to cheeseheads across the country and shipped by mail for personal use. And they can be sampled during an educational tasting at a conference.
The irony isn’t lost on the six-year-old Ontario Cheese Society, which voted Monday to move ahead with plans to transition into a national organization and change its name.
Its 130 members include cheesemakers, cheesemongers, milk producers, chefs, writers and enthusiasts.
“We need to raise our voice more,” said president Gurth Pretty, noting that Ontario and Quebec are the only provinces with cheese societies.
“For us to go national is going to take the effort of a lot of people. We must have voices from every province.”
Cheeses from British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island made it into the cross-Canada tasting, led by Rogers who runs an education, event planning and consulting business in Toronto.
“It was a great opportunity to taste cheeses from coast to coast and it’s really unfortunate that we have internal trade barriers that make it difficult for consumers in one province to experience the scope that conference-goers got to try,” Rogers said later.
Another that made it into her sampling of cow, goat and sheep’s milk cheeses was Avonlea Cloth-Bound Cheddar, made by Cows Creamery in Prince Edward Island.
That facility is federally inspected and so you’ll find Cows Creamery cheddar in stores outside the province.
An aged goat gouda from The Farm House Natural Cheeses in British Columbia made it into the tasting. Cheesemaker Debra Amrein-Boyes doesn’t make enough cheese to supply other provinces and isn’t interested in mass production.
She is, however, thrilled that the society is going national.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction to elevate the position of local, good food,” she said.
Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver all have strong cheese cultures, “but if there’s some way for all of Canada to become more excited about handmade cheese, I think that’s a good thing.”
As for McKenzie, he approaches the intricacies of cheese distribution as a consumer and simply wishes Canadians could get their hands on every available cheese.
“Cheese is not decadence,” he said.
“So much of the public thinks it’s a treat. Cheese is mandatory. It’s a necessary part of our diet. We should be starting our day with it and ending our day with it.”