Urban Diner Cheese Safari

by Lauren Mote

Cheese

Vancouverites never had it so good. Between the eclectic dining scene and all the new specialty food shops popping up all over the city, it is easier than ever to find unique, quality food products for entertaining folks with discerning palates. This week’s culinary safari has us hunting for cheese…

Over the years, I have spent countless waking and dreaming hours devoted to the study and love of cheese and we are very fortunate to have several individuals in the city that share that same passion and obsession.

First stop. I made my way up to the Benton Brothers Fine Cheese shop in Kerrisdale. Andrew and Jonah Benton, the boys behind the cheese, are reformed academics; mechanical engineers that traded in their textbooks for the trade secrets of small artisanal cheese-makers both local and abroad.  Their focus is on specialty European cheeses, like Cantal Fermier, one of the oldest cheeses in France. Being made from succulent raw cow’s milk, this cheese is the base for the Benton Brothers’ signature home-cooked cheese-filled meal – Aligot (pretty much the most intense mashed potatoes with cheese, garlic and sometimes bacon).

Benton Bros.

The Brothers also have a wide range of sheep, goat and cow’s milk cheeses, along with locally made confitures, like Lemon Tomato Brio, from Vancouver’s Chef Taryn Wa of “Savoury Chef”, dry-cured Spanish Serrano ham, venison sausages from Oyama meats on Granville Island, and the coarse, chunky “country pâtés” from Quebec City. Besides the home catering with their brilliant “butcher block” food presentations, Benton Brothers is also the cheese supplier for the new Steveston restaurant Gudrun, but no word yet on when those doors will swing open. Until then, both Andrew and Johan continue to drive their cheese education, passion and business and frequently entertain at home with their favourite wedges with friends and family.

Next, I made my way down to Les Amis du Fromage, owned by mother and daughter team Alice and Allison Spurrell. I am excited to learn more about their new wine and cheese joint called Au Petit Chavignol, “… a 40 seat restaurant opening in 2009, next to the Astoria Hotel on East Hastings,” according to manager, Robert Young.

Les Amis du Fromage

Today, there is a steadily growing list of clients that Les Amis has been supplying. From restaurants, executive clubs and private functions, Les Amis specializes in anything that the “the Vancouver eating public is ready for,” says Robert. “Finally Vancouver has left the cans of ‘Kraft’ parmesan behind; they’re starting to buy the real thing…we have a demand for different cheeses now. People love to try new things; new tourism has helped out too,” he continues.  With a special fridge dedicated to BC cheese, Natural Pastures’ Comox double-cream Camembert, Poplar Grove’s mild Naramata Bench Blue, and that beautiful organic goat cheese from Goat’s Pride in Abbottsford often make it to the register in large quantities.

Les Amis du Fromage

The newest cheese shop to open, just shy of 6 months old, is Mt. Pleasant Cheese on Cambie St. Owner, Peter Davidson, originally wanted to open a specialty Italian wine shop, but after much research decided that a cheese shop would be a much better choice. Cambie was beginning to come back to life after the 2 years of disruptive construction of Vancouver’s Canada Line. Without a stitch of marketing, the Mt. Pleasant community has welcomed and supported this Canadian-only dairy showroom. Cheeses Riopelle and L’Hercule de Charlevoix (both from Quebec) join a British Columbian favourite, Alpine Gold (Farmhouse at Agassiz), in the display case seducing customers one by one.

Mount Pleasant Cheese Shop

Peter’s dedication to Canadian cheese and education sees him hosting and participating in some upcoming events designed to get the locals involved: Wine on the Mountain, sponsored by a number of businesses including Mt. Pleasant Cheese, Whole Foods and Stile Wines; Cheese 101: a free educational event on November 8, hosted by Mt. Pleasant Cheese and Pacific Northwest Cheese Project owner Tami Parr at Pied-à-Terre Bistro – 2 seminars, 1pm & 3pm. For the future, Peter hopes to join up with a local Chef to design a line of “semi-prepared” foods like fondue mix, for customers to easily recreate at home.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from all of this is, it’s that there is no lack of great food products in this city.  When it comes to fine cheese, whether local or imported, our cheese shops are doing most of the hard work for us, so we can just simply eat and enjoy.

Benton Brothers Fine Cheese

2104 W 41st Ave. | Vancouver

(604) 261-5813

Les Amis du Fromage

1752 West 2nd Avenue | Vancouver

(604) 732-4218

Les Amis du Fromage

#518 Park Royal South | West Vancouver

604-925-4218

Mt. Pleasant Cheese

3432 Cambie Street | Vancouver

(604) 875-6363

Story and photos by: Lauren Mote | Urban Diner

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About Lauren Mote

Lauren has been an intricate part of the food industry for many years. Whether it’s behind the bar, in the kitchen, tasting and learning about wine, or sitting with her laptop writing food stories and reviews at the local coffee house, it was clear at an early age that Lauren’s professional and personal life would be completely consumed by the joy and passion of edibles.
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