An Emporium of Goodness
Mickey McGuire’s Cheese | Dundas, Ontario
This article also appears on Urbanicity.
If you look for the origins of the first cheese and how it was made, all you will find is speculation: it may have started 4000 or 5000 years ago, but who knows exactly the process? Many have assumed it was by accident in a way very similar to winemaking. Recently found carbon dating evidence shows that cheese was made in ancient Egypt somewhere between 2500 and 3000 BC.
The truth is that most of the cheeses we are familiar with and consume may date back to 500 years at most except for simple unripened cow and goat cheeses.
It is interesting to note that Canadian cheesemaking benefited from two founding cultures. 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, next to all the mass produced cheeses, Mickey McGuire’s Cheese shop in Dundas has become an institution for unique regionally defined products often made by smaller producers according to old traditions. I didn’t mean Institution in a fossilized sort of way but rather as an honorific recognition for a family that has worked hard, smartly and never gave up their beliefs and dreams to share their love of food and most of all cheese. They have one thing going for them and that 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, the Dad helps and advises when needed.
Lead by Mickey, the family operated a farm from 1953 until 1979. Their main activity was naturally raising Chickens for processing by food companies.
Along the way, they had a spot at the St. Jacobs and Waterloo markets (midday in Waterloo on Wednesday and Thursdays and Saturdays in St Jacobs) where 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 Linderberger. 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 the customer. 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 Wine. 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 where a fraternity named after the cheese organizes the festivities and he 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, Switzerland as well as 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 what you need they have, whether made of sheep, goat or cow’s milk.
The key to the McGuire’s approach is an intense interest, a profound passion for the food chain. The shop allows for a sustained daily interaction with customers and when you give them a slice of cheese to taste, wait for the spark when you witness that genuine pleasant smile acquiescing with the great taste and flavours they are experiencing at that very moment.
They reach other people through the restaurants they supply regularly. The list read like the who’s who of great eateries that have made it their business models to go for authenticity and quality; we are talking Quatrefoil, Cambridge Mill, Spencer’s, Mezcal and Toast Wine Bar, among others.
Let’s have a look at a couple of the cheeses they carry – Manchego and Roquefort. Two different traditions yet the same starting ingredient: sheep’s milk. Roquefore is made with raw sheep’s milk and feature mould on its surface and is quite salty. Manchego is a Spanish sheep’s milk produced in La Mancha, a very dry area. It can be aged from 3 to 12 months delivering a more pungent strong taste the longer it ages.
Make it a point to visit the shop to sample, enjoy, ask questions, learn, and buy some to take home and share. This what food culture is about.