At the Cooks & Curds Cheese Gala at the first Great Canadian Cheese Festival in Picton, Ontario today, the 400 some guests were asked to pick their favourite dish from among the 8 creations by top Canadian chefs representing many regions across the country.

My poll is only anecdotal, as we chatted it up with many of the gala goers. But it seems there was strong support for Jamie Kennedy’s Braised Oxtail Poutine with Two Black River Cheddars. I look forward to hearing the real final tally as the details of the event settle out over the next few days.

This moveable feast of 8 tasting dishes showcased some of the 2011 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix winners and each dish was paired with an Ontario wine.

What I can say about the fries is that they delivered the quality that Jamie has become known for with his frites. The meaty braised oxtail ragu was full of depth and flavour. My only complaint is that there was not enough of that great Black River cheddar.

We tend to steer clear of cooking events that bring too large of a crowd together in a short period of time to enjoy top food and wines. Our style is to linger over fine morsels in the refined setting of tables with chairs and lovely linens.

We heard a few times through the evening that 400 tickets were sold for the gala. A manageable crowd and a size that suits us. The setup in the Crystal Palace allowed for ease of movement from station to station with some spots to sit and relax and some bar stations to stand and enjoy food and drink. We were never stuck for a spot to eat free from the complication of camera, purse and gala check-off ticket.

Organizers were extremely sensitive about cleaning up dirty plates and glasses. So keen, that I lost my wine glass when I turned away for a moment. My fault, not theirs, as I was already a few steps away. Often I see this issue mentioned with big food events.

My favourite drink was the Sparking Rosé from The Grange of Prince Edward Vineyards & Estate Wines. A winery that we had visited earlier in the day for tastings.

Most tasting plates were easy to handle but Anthony Rose’s Fifth Town Counting Sheep Cheese with Cranberry Beans & Tomato Jam on Red Fife Bread was hard for me to handle. My Danish heritage says that anything like an open-faced sandwich must be approached with a knife and fork. I felt a betrayal to my culture! Not to mention worried about a potential dry cleaning bill. Thankfully, every bite was worth the struggle.

Some plate presentations were highly photogenic. For those less so, they were still delicious. Although it is often said that we eat with our eyes, flavour and taste counts most in my books.

The dessert tent was set up outside the Palace. Bless the good weather. It meant that we could enjoy the sweets and coffee sitting at one of the number of picnic tables decorating the grounds. The rain held off and so did the uncomfortable heat. I don’t like to ‘glow’ in uncomfortable heat. But more importantly, that usually spells disaster for desserts. Organizers must have been breathing a sigh of relief.

We felt the gala was a resounding success and kudos to all involved working this event first time out of the gate. The devil is in the detail.

Now on to the delicious tastes, great chefs and wonderful wines.

***

Dragon’s Breath Blue Cheese Mousse Bruschetta
Smoked Beef + Wild Rhubarb Jam
Chervil + Maple Candied Walnuts (V)
Chef Craig Flinn, Chives Canadian Bistro, Halifax, Nova Scotia
Quintus 2009, Karlo Estates

The vegetarian option swapped in asparagus for the beef.
(The blue cheese mousse was spectacular.)

***
Clarmell Feta Cheese Pistachio Crusted Sphere
Pulled Lip Sticky
Chipotle-Saskatoonberry Elk
Chef Michael Blackie, National Arts Centre, Ottawa, Ontario
St. Laurent 2007, Harwood Estates Vineyard & Winery

***
Braised Oxtail Poutine with Two Black River Cheddars
Chef Jamie Kennedy, Gilead Cafe, Toronto, Ontario
Cold Creek Cabernet Franc 2007, Rosehall Run Vineyards

***
Manitoba Trappist Cheese with Rabbit & Fennel Rillettes
Coriander-Orange Mustard + Pickled Celery
on a Fennel & Black Pepper Cracker (V)
Alexander Svenne, Bistro 7 1/4, Winnipeg, Manitoba
Pinot Noir 2009, Redtail Vineyard

***

Fifth Town Counting Sheep Cheese with Cranberry Beans
& Tomato Jam on Red Fife Bread (V)
Chef Anthony Rose, The Drake Hotel, Toronto, Ontario
Sparkling Rosé, The Grange of Prince Edward Vineyards & Estate Wines

***

Tequila and Lime splashed B.C. Spot Prawns
with Little Qualicum Bleu Claire in a Lettuce Leaf (V)
Lisa Ahier, Sobo, Tofino, British Columbia
Riesling Off Dry 2010, Lacey Estates Vineyard & Winery

***

Moose burgers:
Homemade Kaiser + Newfoundland Moose
Tomato Confit + House Pickle
Fromagerie du Presbytère Le Bleu d’Elizabeth
Jeremy Charles, Raymonds, St. John’s, Newfoundland
Foch Reserve 2009, Sandbanks Estate Winery

***
Fromagerie du Presbytère Louis D’Or
Oulton’s Smoked Bacon | Apple Chutney Panini (V)
Chef Michael Howell, Tempest Restaurant, Wolfville, Nova Scotia
Hillier Blanc 2009, Keint-he Winery & Vineyards

***

Beer also available:
Mill St. Brewery
Beau’s All Natural Brewing
Barley Days Brewery

***

Desserts starting on the left going clockwise:
Mercury Chocolates‘ dessert chocolate
Gazebo Restaurant‘s apple & cheddar fritter with caramel sauce
East & Main Bistro‘s chevre cheesecake with blueberry compote
Just Sweets Retro Bakery‘s chocolate cupcake
Sprucewood Handmade Cookie Company‘s shortbreads (raspberry + lemon)
Devonshire Inn‘s s’more

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