Legend has it that cheese was an accidental invention, made by an Arab trader who put some milk into a canteen made from animal’s stomach. What sounds icky to think of caused a delightful chemical reaction that curdled a portion of the milk and paved the way for the marvel of cheese making. The good stuff is now made all over the globe using a mix of innovative and ancient techniques. With endless thanks to a host of dedicated cheesemongers in Toronto, you can sample all types of cheese from practically anywhere in the world. Here’s a list of the best spots in the city to get your fromage fix.
While the specialty market closed the doors of their Queen West location a few years back, two outposts — one in Leslieville, the other in the Donlands — still stand strong. The original Leslieville location has celebrated a decade of treating the neighbourhood to delectable dairy from around the world. Charcuterie connoisseurs can pop by the shop for classes with expert Julia Rogers, who instructs on all things cheesy, including the best booze, cured meats, and condiments to pair with your favorite brie or béchamel. For $30 each month, you can also sign up for the club that lets you sample a total of 24 cheeses a year, packaged thoughtfully with the staff’s choice of a fresh baguette and a sample from the pantry.
This artisanal shop serves a selection of fine fromage from across Canada — the true north strong and brie. Descriptive place cards give patrons a run-down on the type, tasting notes and locality of each choice. Ontario favourites and Quebec staples dominate the scene, but a taste of the country’s coastal creameries are available too. Try the Aged Farmhouse from Vancouver Island, B.C. or the 2012 American Cheese Society award-winning Grey Owl from Quebec. The latter pairs well with a Belgian Wheat beer, so head down the street and grab a growler of Indie Ale House’s Broken Hipster.
Take care of all life’s necessities in one shot at this triple-threat shop. Using a curated blend of beans from Classic Gourmet Coffee, GCB makes delicious creations to fuel a hunt for the most succulent stilton. The curd collection is meticulously sourced and incorporates home grown cheddar as well as award winners from beyond Canada’s borders. If the generous samples don’t curb your appetite, indulge in a fresh cookie, bagel or bread from local bakeries like St. John’s Bakery and Epi Breads.
This small Roncesvalles boutique is chockfull of Canadian cheese. The multi-tiered glass counter stocks an assortment of smooth and sharp treats, mostly from Ontario and Quebec. The owner, Marc, is magnificently laid back and informative. He allows customers to browse quietly and deliberate between the selection of veiny blue’s that dominate the counter’s top shelf. If you can’t make up your mind, try the luxe and gooey Magie de Madwaska from the Fromagerie le Detour in Quebec. It’s as stinky as it is creamy, oozes over fresh baguette (also available in-store) and melts effortlessly in your mouth.
Nancy Peppler, the owner of this Annex store, started her notorious and unexpected love affair with cheese at a train station in Japan. The selection is more modest than most Toronto shops, but each cheese is hand chosen and approved by Peppler herself. While smaller than a lot of other city shops, it’s a neighbourhood favourite because of the owner’s passion for curd and customer service. Be sure to get her recommendation for the perfect drink pairing and head to the LCBO around the corner because every great cheese deserves a boozy best friend.
The Monforte dairy family is a regular vendor at a bevy of Toronto farmer’s markets, like The Stop’s Farmers’ Market at Whychwood Barns. The Stratford, Ontario farm is committed to using agriculture modestly. Owner Ruthe Klasen believes in keeping cheese making responsible and packing the most amount of flavour into each product while creating the smallest impact on animals and the environment. The Little Prince — a chevre rolled in balsam ash — is a gorgeous black cylinder that adds an edge to any cheese plate.
In the 70s, this mom-and-pop shop was true to its ‘boutique’ title, nestled in a quaint Toronto space. Today it’s expanded into a 10,000-square-foot coliseum of cheese with a vault of drool-worthy dairy, an entire wall of olive oil and a huge fridge full of fresh fruits and marvellous meats. Bow down to the worlds largest log of provolone, weighing in at 864 pounds. If you fall in love with a supple but young wheel of brie, you can put it on hold and pick it up when it’s properly aged. In the meantime, take home something to tide you over. Try the Local Bufala Mozzeralla from Ingersol, Ontario, made exclusively for the Cheese Boutique.
Rooted in the Annette village of Toronto’s West End, this sweet spot has a genuine neighbourhood ambiance. A passion for local and sustainable goods fills the space with delicious and feel-good aromas. From creamy cheeses to crusty breads with soft centres, you can pick up a variety of hand-picked goods from Ontario’s artisanal communities. Bring home something from the selection of farmstead goudas from Mountain Oak Cheese, in tasty flavours like black truffle, chilli and nettle. If you don’t trust yourself at home alone with a whole wedge, try something off the café menu like the Bunwich — a hearty bun, smeared with local cream cheese, cured meats and pickled greens.