An Emporium of Goodness

If you look for the origins of the first cheese and how it was made, all you will come across is speculation: how it might have started 4000 or 5000 years ago…but who knows exactly? Many have assumed it was by accident in a way very similar to winemaking. Lately, carbon dating evidence has been found indicating that somewhere between 2500 and 3000 BC, cheese was made in ancient Egypt.

The truth is that most of the cheese we are familiar with may date back to 500 years at most, except for simple unripened cow and goat cheeses. It is interesting to note that Canadian cheese making benefited from the country’s two founding cultures. From the French, the tradition of soft ripened cheeses took hold in Quebec, (think Brie, Camembert) and from the English, part of the United Empire Loyalists pushed out by the revolution south of the border brought the art of making cheddar.

Fast forward to our times and our area. Mickey McGuire Cheese shop in Dundas has become an institution for unique regionally defined products often made by smaller producers according to old traditions. I don’t mean “institution” in an antiquated sort of way, but rather as an honorific recognition for a family that has worked hard, and never gave up their beliefs and dreams to share their love of food. If they have one thing going for them, it is a tradition in growing food for themselves and others going back to at least to the times of the namesake of the shop: Mickey McGuire. These days Paddy and his wife operate the store, and Dad helps and advises when needed.

Led by Mickey, the family operated a farm from 1953 until 1979. The main activity was naturally raised chickens for processing by food companies. Along the way, they had a spot at the St. Jacob’s and Waterloo markets. Mike and Paddy would sell their cheeses to appreciative customers. Those days the choices were limited to the prevailing tastes of the time: cheddars, Goudas, and the like. Then other cheese vendors prompted them to be more adventurous and try the “weird cheeses”; those that “stink” and those that have much texture. Paddy remembers that Brie De Meaux was really the first “exotic cheese” that captured his interest and subsequently that of their customers. It is a soft-ripened raw cow’s milk cheese. It has been an “AOC” since 1980. AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controllee in French) is an appellation in the same vein as wines. It tells you where the product was made and if the ingredients were from that same area. It is an indication of quality, but most of all authenticity. There is even a little celebration in Meaux. A fraternity named after the cheese organizes the festivities and the promotion of the product in France.

At the shop, a vast array of “weird cheeses” are now for sale. They come from all over Europe: England, Ireland, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland as well as from Canada: Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia.

From the Lombard Taleggio (one of the few that was known in Ancient Rome) or Napolitan Mozzarella Di Bufala to the Swiss Gruyere and from French Camembert to Roquefort, chances are that what you need they have, whether made of sheep, goat, or cow milk.

The key to the McGuire approach is an intense interest and a profound passion for the food chain. Their shop is always full of customers trying and conversing about the product. They reach even more people through the restaurants that they supply regularly. The list reads like the who’s who of great eateries known for authenticity and quality. The include Quatrefoil, Cambridge Mill, Spencer’s, Mezcal, and Toast Wine Bar among many others.

Make it a point to visit the shop, and to sample, enjoy, ask questions, learn and buy some cheese to take home and share. This what food culture is all about.

TRY IT YOURSELF!

Mickey McGuire’s Cheese
51 King Street West, Dundas
(905) 627-1004
http://mickeymcguirescheese.tumblr.com/