Saucisse Aligot with Pomme Aligot at Au Comptoir, 2278 West 4th Avenue
Tucked away on West 4th, there’s nothing I don’t love about Au Comptoir, and the discovery of their Pomme Aligot (in the Saucisse Aligot dish) is a new source of delight for my cheese-loving heart. Imagine the creamiest, butter-kissed potatoes, pushed through a ricer to make them extra smooth and comforting. Now picture almost equal amounts of Tomme de Savoie cheese folded into those potatoes until they form the perfect carby-fatty union of deep, rich mash with a whisper of something wonderful and cheesy. Now add house-made sausages and the perfect meaty gravy. And if that’s not wonderful enough, they also have a Cheese Night on Thursdays, where two people can feast on six kinds of cheese for just $30. Cheesegasm guaranteed.
Take-home Raclette from Les Amis du Fromage, 1752 West 2nd Avenue and 843 East Hastings Street
The best damn cheese shop in the city has endless ways of helping you enjoy cheese in its multitude of deliciousness. I was thrilled to discover that they loan out fondue and raclette sets so you can bring a slice of Alpine-style dining to your home for just the price of some cheese (and a deposit)! This is such a fun dinner party for friends, plug the machine in to heat and leave on the table, then pop the cheese into the little pans or coupelles and let it melt. Serve by pouring the molten cheese over little boiled potatoes and enjoy with pickled gherkins, pickled onions and Charcuterie for an ooey-gooey super-fun cheese-fest.
Blistered Wood Stone Flatbread at Café Medina, 780 Richards Street
I dream of this side dish from Café Medina; its beauty lies in its simplicity (that and its big ol’ fat scoop of heavenly mascarpone cheese). Hot and fresh from the oven, the flatbread is puffy on the inside and crisp on the outside, spiced with a sprinkle of Maldon sea salt, Aleppo chili pepper, za’atar and a splash of good olive oil. The secret lies in waiting just a minute or two so the creamy cheese doesn’t melt, just wait till that fragrant bread cools and then slather it in the sweetly-milky cheese and drizzle it with the peppered honey. The spices on the bread sing through the honey and cheese to create the perfect start to day no matter what time you eat it. Divine.
Cheesemonger Plate at Salt Tasting Room, 45 Blood Alley
Sure, you can’t shake a stick nowadays for people doing cheese and charcuterie tasting plates, but Sean Heather’s Salt Tasting Room led the way, and for nine years this little room in Gastown has been blowing visitors’ minds (whaaaaat? Canada has wine and cheese and charcuterie and it’s this damn good?!) and delighting locals with their pick ‘n’ mix tasting plates and thoughtful wine pairings. Salt’s one of the very first restaurants I ever went to in the city and I’ll always have a soft spot for its communal benches, excellent choice in artisan cheeses and, FYI, their Guinness mustard is to die for. Head back for a cheesemonger plate, pair it with a flight of wine and discover your new favourite cheese.
Queso Fundido at La Mezcaleria, 1622 Commercial Drive
Once it was known that I was on the hunt for amazing cheese dishes, I found myself on the receiving end of several emails from chefs swooning over this "always on point" dish at Commercial Drive's La Mezcaleria, and oh man, they did not over-sell this molten cheese marvel. It comes steaming and bubbling in a molcajate, a volcanic rock bowl which is heated under a grill to ‘dear lord, don’t touch’ temperatures and then filled with a blend of gruyere and mozzarella with sautéed onions coating the base. You can have it topped with spicy choritzo, mushrooms or green salsa and it’s served with warm corn tortillas. The volcanic rock keeps the cheese hot and wonderfully stringy with a charred crust of cheese and onions on the base that’s well worth fighting over. Stir through your topping, and then slather a thick ooze of it on a tortilla, roll and then bite into one of the city’s most fantastic indulgent dishes. So, so good.
Ricotta Pizza at Nook, 781 Denman Street and 1525 Yew Street
Not one, not two, but three kinds of wonderful Italian cheese grace this locals’ favourite at Nook. Mozzarella is scattered on the olive oil-drizzled base along with plump roast garlic, young spinach, olives, and creamy ricotta cut with a little lemon zest. The resulting pizza is about as close to perfection on the plate as possible: a blistered crust, wilted spinach and oh, that lemon-ricotta! It’s finished with a grating of fresh nutty Parmesan. Again, absolutely not a dish to be shared... it’s far too delicious.
If you’ve ever had the cheese toast at Hy’s, then you know that yes, this is one of the most delicious things available in the city regardless of whether that’s cheese-based or any other criteria. If you’ve never had the cheese toast at Hy’s, then oh boy, are you in for a treat. It’s likely the fanciest toast presentation you’ve ever seen, arriving hot and fragrant in a silver bowl under a wrap of foil to keep it warm. A thick, browned wedge of Grano Padano, Swiss and cheddar cheese whipped in with butter, pepper and Worcestershire sauce tops six slices of warm soft white bread. Incredibly, this is on offer at their weekday happy hour (3 to 6 p.m.), at Hy’s Upstairs for just $5. And yes, my friends and I did order a portion each there last week. Some things are not made for sharing...
'Fields and Forage' Beet and Burrata Salad at Juniper, 185 Keefer Street
Burrata may play a supporting role in this dish over at hot new Chinatown restaurant, Juniper, but it’s still the break-out star. Here, this creamy silky salty-sweet slick of a cheese is paired with the earthiness of beets and carrots that have been grilled to bring out their natural sweetness. Add in brightness and crunch from a few raw veggie slices and you have the most marvellous multi-textured dish.
Queso & Salsa at Dixie’s BBQ, 337 East Hastings
Texas queso? What’s that, I wondered? But always thrilled to discover a new way to eat cheese, I hotfooted it over to new Downtown Eastside BBQ joint, Dixie’s to find out more. Let’s be honest: this is bowl of spicy cheese sauce. Melting, smooth, creamy, delicious cheesy-cheese sauce. Imagine deconstructed next-level nachos, so instead of the cheese sprinkled over the chips, this comes in a pot so you can dip your chips in ooey-gooey cheesy sauce that’s got a judicious kick of spice in it instead. And for just $6 on the snacks menu, it’s got to be one of the best cheese deals in the city.
Saganaki at The Greek by Anatoli, 1043 Mainland Street
Huh. So I always assumed that saganaki was the name of the actual dish, but it turns out that a "saganaki" is the pan that the dish comes in. Head on down to The Greek by Anatoli in Yaletown and dive right into their delicious take on cheese saganaki which comes bubbling from the oven all toasty and tempting. I loved the slight crunch in this which comes from an eggwash and breading, and there’s just the right hit of lemon juice to cut through the saltiness, leaving you with a slightly sweet, gooey-on-the-outside and firm-in-the-centre dish. You call it saganaki; I call it heaven on a plate.
Treat your taste buds to cheese 10 different ways
Cheese, glorious cheese! It’s my absolute favourite thing to eat. There is so much variety: from milky sweet Buffalo mozzarella to salty firm feta and that whole gloriously stinky world of fabulous French cheeses to discover. Vancouver has any amount of excellent cheese-based dishes to offer and although it’s been a tough call, we’ve decided that these are our 10 current favourites.
From burrata with beets to a take-home Swiss raclette feast, make sure you try these out soon.
Nikki Bayley is an award-winning travel writer, guide book author and spirits and cocktail journalist whose work appears in National Geographic Traveller, The Globe and Mail and the Difford’s Guide. A cheese fan, hula hooper and all-round word nerd, she writes regularly for BCLiving about food, drink, spas and everything else that makes life worth living.