C’estBon Cheese: Artisan Cheese In Your Backyard
The weather was beyond perfect, especially considering the time of year. The drive from London to St Mary’s was enjoyable and we were in high spirits. Little did we know that upon meeting the mastermind behind C’estBon Cheese that we’d be on cloud nine.
C’estBon Cheese is a local cheese producer, nestled 20 minutes north of London and a mere 15 minutes from Stratford. We discovered the outfit at Cilantro’s Fine Foods in London, having purchased their Caprea to top fried eggs and salsa verde. In this day in age it’s challenging to find food producers that honor old world quality, while providing a distinctly new world flair. George Taylor, owner of C’estBon Cheese, and his products embody these very qualities.
Upon being greeted and entering the cheese factory, we knew George was a kindred spirit. His attention to detail, infallible sense of ownership, and love for fine food was on display and our mouths dropped instantly when we realized the feast George had prepared for us.
George held nothing back in telling us how he got into the dairy industry (post retirement love for the art of cheese making), why he chose goat’s milk exclusively (many reasons, one of which is the initial investment) and his successes (goat milk jack cheese) and flops (cheese experiments unfit for human eyes). The pride George talked about throughout the afternoon shone brightly in his finished product. George personally touches every piece of cheese that leaves the factory. He is the reason for the company’s high standard of quality and his uncanny ability to reproduce quality time over time is second to none in the artisan cheese world.
We discovered that many of his cheeses never find themselves in retail environments, instead they are funneled into the hands of some of the province’s finest chefs (Paul & Jason @ The Only On King have been known to bake up a goat’s cheesecake). Cheeses like the Billy Jack are used nearly exclusively in restaurants for grating atop salads, as is done by Josh & Chad at Garlic’s of London.
The very fact these cheeses are ‘hoarded’, for lack of a better word, by Ontario’s finest chefs speaks tomes about the quality of products that are shipped weekly from the C’estBon Cheese factory. The factory is small by many standards. With two 500L vats, the cheese process is controlled by George so that quality is never compromised, ensuring only the finest cheese and reducing the volume available for circulation.
As we started to sample the array of cheeses before us we were shocked at the delicate and contrasting flavors, aromas and textures provided by the many cheeses. I’m sure you’ll agree with us that when you hear ‘goat cheese’, you instantly think of soft, pungent cheese in a tube. It turns out, as we discovered, that this does not have to be the case; And it isn’t when you’re eating C’estBon Cheese. C’estBon Cheese was the very first to package Chèvre cheese in a durable plastic container, doing away with the horribly messy and unsealable plastic tube packaging.
We tasted a more traditional Chèvre and a wonderful Greek Feta. Both were nothing like what we would have purchased at a local grocery store. The Chèvre was wonderfully balanced, with just the perfect touch of creaminess and flavor. It was mild, very mild compared to our expectations (again, we’ve been polluted with far too much bad Chèvre) and Melanie couldn’t hold back her enthusiasm at the warm cheese covered in Herbes de Provence. My oh my did she devour it.
As for my favorite cheese of the day, without a doubt in my mind, was the Billy Jack. George informed us that Jack cheese was Canada’s response to embargoed Parmesan and Romano cheeses from Italy during the World War. And let me tell you, this cheese is as Canadian as it is Italian in it’s roots. C’estBon Cheese‘s version is a rather spectacular cheese that is bold and biting on the outside, crumbly and moist on the inside. It presented a wonderful vision for the eater, and I simply couldn’t bring myself to stop eating it.
We left with more than we came with. George was a speaker of such eloquence that it felt like we were being draped in knowledge, knowledge carefully filtered through the years. We spoke with George for hours. We felt an honest connection, one that can only be shared between those who truly enjoy local artisan food and the commitment it requires.
George, you are a true artisan. You possess the curiosity of a child weaved with the knowledge of an old soul. What you create in your ‘lab’ is of the utmost quality, and it showed in many ways on Saturday. We hope, and know, this will continue for many years.
To all those interested, you can find George’s C’estBon Cheese products in many fine establishments, including Cilantro’s Fine Foods, Remark’s and Sunripe in London. You can also find his products used in many fine restaurants around town. The Only on King and Garlic’s of London jump to mind.