The Big Cheese: Mountain due

Kootenay's Alpindon pays homage to fromage

Cheese tastes best when eaten close to home. Shipping cheese adds a hefty price to the bottom line while subtracting a certain amount of flavour. Cheese is a dairy product after all, fragile and not very happy traveling. Yet much of the cheese we buy has spent weeks in cargo freighters or in warehouses awaiting air travel. Either way, the cheese and the consumer both suffer.

Accordingly, its a great idea to try local versions of your favourite cheese. Alpindon is an excellent example of a local cheese with a European flair. Its a British Columbian homage to that great French mountain cheese Beaufort dalpage. Beaufort is a firm, cows-milk cheese made from whole raw summer milk in the mountains of France. Alpindon uses this same approach. Its also made from raw, summer milk, by the Kootenay Alpine Cheese Company. It was a second place finisher in the 2010 American Cheese Society awards in its category, which is big news for a little cheese.

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The Kootenay Alpine Cheese Company is located just outside of Creston and operated by Denise and Wayne Harris and their grown children, who bought the dairy farm 20 years ago.

Farming is in Waynes blood; his grandparents were dairy farmers in Creston. Before becoming committed cheese-makers, the family looked carefully at the cheese scene in B.C. and determined there was a lack of mountain cheeses. After several years of preparation, the Harris family is in their fifth year of making cheese.

Their family-run farm and fromagerie is certified organic, a rare and a special status in the world of cheese. They maintain a herd of 80 cows that produce all of the milk for their cheese, in what cheesemaker (and Harris daughter) Nadine Ben Rabha calls a closed loop.

Given that the farmstead produces the feed for the cows as well, Ben Rabha proudly points out that in the end, the cheese is a concentration of our whole farm.

Ben Rabha adds that they try to run the cheese-making facility in an environmentally sound way. This includes geo-thermal cooling in their aging caves, solar power for most of their hot water needs, and gravity-fed piping that runs from the milking house straight into the fromagerie every day.

Alpindon is only made with the best summer milk, so its a very limited run of cheese. After the cheese is formed, the Harrises wash and smear the product with a ripening bacterial culture. As it ages, the Alpindon is flipped regularly, spending about six months in custom-made caves before being readied for sale.

My small slice of Alpindon really does look like Beaufort. Its a creamy, yellow, semi-firm cheese with a thin, naturally orange rind. Cheesemaker Ben Rabha has assured me this rind is edible, so I resolve to try it. The aroma is mild, not unpleasantly reminiscent of feet.

As for the taste: Yummy! This is a delicious cheese. Its a classic mountain cheese in flavour profile: firm and chewy interior paste, releasing a nicely astringent nuttiness that is warm, round and complex. Theres a good balance of sweet, salt and mystery dank umami, all in savoury harmony.

Im impressed, Alpindon! Its organic, made with raw milk and from B.C. whats not to love? I found my Alpindon at Marketplace IGA for $6.29/100grams, but its also available at Benton Brothers Fine Cheese, Les Amis du Fromage, Choices Markets, Stongs and Urban Fare.

Food columnist Willow Yamauchi tried 100 cheeses over the course of 100 days and lived to write about it. Follow more of her cheesy exploits at myblogofcheese.wordpress.com or contact her at willow72@telus.net or twitter.com/willow72.

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