For this TOQUE assignment, I was tasked with searching out a few of our region’s great fromageries. While we all know that boutique grocers like Vincenzo’s (Waterloo), Market Fresh (Guelph) and Elora Mercantile (yep, Elora) have fantastic selections, there’s always time and place for dedicated cheese shops. Need proof? Look no further:

447 Elizabeth St, Guelph

There are few things we can all agree on – that is, except for cheese. Everyone (well, almost everyone) loves cheese. Even if traditional dairy varieties aren’t our thing, cheese, for many of us, tends to evoke feelings of comfort, nostalgia, and lavishness. Recently I took a break from my obsessive pursuit of Guelph’s best oat milk latte and ventured to the edge of The Ward (the Royal City’s eccentric old neighbourhood cradled between the Speed and Eramosa Rivers) to find something equally luxurious: vegan cheese. 

A bit of an oxymoron, no? Believe me when I tell you – this cheese is absolutely nuts. (Literally.)

Three years in the making and under a year in its flagship store, Green Goddess Fromagerie is causing a major shift in the gourmet cheese market. Fromagiers Morgan and Danielle have created a welcoming space in their bright east end shop, which doubles as their kitchen. Using traditional methods and not-so-traditional ingredients, Green Goddess is crafting melty, crumbly, and buttery cheeses that appeal to vegans and omnivores alike. Their cashew-based creations are cultured and aged just like conventional dairy cheeses – familiar in quality, and yet something entirely new. 

Each of Green Goddess’ twenty-seven (and growing) cheese varieties have a distinct personality. Firm, nutty, and perfectly smokey Irish cheddar. Crumbly, salty chevre. Mozzarella that melts, bubbles, and browns. Squeaky halloumi – ready to be fried to perfection. And marble cheddar: a classic that just begs to be reinvented. All dairy-free. All with their own distinct texture and flavour. All made in-house. And all delicious.

While Green Goddess is based in Guelph, you can find these delectable products across the region in gourmet shops like Goodness Me and Vincenzo’s – as well as on the menus of Shorty’s Pizza, Mijidaa, Elora Brewing Company, and other ingredient-driven haunts. Even better, you can drop in to their charming shop on Elizabeth Street and find pleasure in the enticing display of cheeses and rotating items like plant-based eggs and cheesecakes. Daniella and Morgan, clearly passionate about their craft, will gladly guide you through their products – whether you’re new to vegan cheeses or in search of a new favourite.

And not that you need another reason to plan a visit to the shop, but you should know that Green Goddess is hosting rotating pop-ups on Saturdays through the summer. You can get your fix of plant-based deli sandwiches, croissants, barbeque, shawarma, and more every weekend. Check out their Instagram to see what’s coming next. 

You Should Know:

• all the cheeses are made in-house
• the shop’s vegan halloumi is to die for
• there’s also a selection of killer cheese cakes

209 Lexington Rd, Waterloo

If you ask someone their favourite thing about Paris, they probably won’t say the Eiffel Tower (unless they love the combination of cardio and queues – in which case I recommend they visit Guelph’s ‘100 Steps’). Instead, the beauty of Paris is in its abundant tiny joys. Petite shops populated with an endless array of high-quality goods arranged in compact, elegant displays. Now imagine if a Parisian shop fell in love with a 1950s diner and settled down in Waterloo’s east side. You’d get La Fromagerie on Lex – a darling little cheese shop where the experience of shopping for a friend feels like a gift in itself.

Opened by shop owner Cindy in March of 2020, this fromagerie has become a slice of Europe (or home) for her loyal customers over the past year. The selection of sumptuous cheeses and lavish spreads – almost all of them imported – won’t be found anywhere else you can reach in an afternoon. What’s more, the passion and generosity of Cindy and her staff shine through in their thoughtful and attentive recommendations. During my last visit, as if on cue, a patron walked into the shop, perused the cases for a moment, and then turned to Cindy. ‘What is it that I came in for?,’ the patron asked. Cindy laughed and directed him to a Truffle Manchego. I get the sense that this was not a rare interaction.

Being inside La Fromagerie feels like stepping inside an elaborately-appointed pantry. Armoires and bookshelves are stacked with decadent chutneys, oils & vinegars, and mustards. On display also are gorgeous wooden charcuterie boards handcrafted by a local woodworker. (Why wrap a hostess gift in paper, when you can cover it with cheese?) There are dreamy gelatos, best enjoyed on the stylish patio seats out front. And, of course, cases filled with judiciously-curated cheeses. 

On the advice of one of the spot’s savvy young fromagiers, I taste the coveted Grey Owl – a delicately tart goat cheese with subtle notes of lemon and a curious rind like scrunched, ash grey velvet. Silky and delightful. I sample the fan favourite – a dreamy triple cream brie, Chateau de Bourgogne. Voluptuous. I settle, finally, on a Raspberry Ale Bellavitano – nutty and ever-so-slightly crystalized with a kiss of bright, juicy raspberries. It evokes rosé-inspired picnics on the Seine. 

On the way out, I scoop up a bottle of my favourite Heartbeat habanero hot sauce, too. And then I fly – er, drive – home, ecstatic about the souvenirs of my little getaway. 

You Should Know:

• the shop’s hot sauce selection is on fire
• there’s customized charcuterie boards available
• and there’s gelato, too

34 Carden St, Guelph

Whenever I decide to treat myself for no particular reason, which is increasingly often, I head to Carden Street in the heart of downtown Guelph. Here, I revel in an afternoon spent popping in and out shops – gathering dreamy lattes, fresh bouquets, and buttery pastries as I wander. My favourite stop, though, is a downtown staple, and the paragon of indulgence: TOMME Cheese Shop. 

Located directly across from City Hall, the place envelopes you as you step inside. A stunning blue wall foregrounds shelves of ornate jars; the rich wood counter feel warms and luxurious. Swoon. I’d love to host a dinner party here (and shop proprietor Andrew assures me this is an option, in the future). 

While TOMME’s selection of Quebec blues, UK bries, and locally-sourced chevres are certainly the stars of the show, the non-dairy supporting cast and crew pull the whole act together. I browse the shelves for local favourites (I adore Rootham’s Red Pepper Jelly and The Ketchup Project) and discover new gems like Provision’s Rose Petal Jam and Soma chocolates. As for liquid appurtenances, although I’m prone to reach for a selection of staple brews and ciders from across the region plus a collection of exclusive wines you won’t find in the LCBO, I am always open to suggestion. When Andrew guides me through some of his current muses, I catch a glimpse of the hand-scrawled tasting notes on a small tag – evidence of their collaboration with a local wine connoisseur. 

The secret to TOMME is truly in the marriage of their exceptional offerings. Andrew and his talented team’s willingness to get to know your tastes results in a spread of flavour combinations that is nothing short of magic. My suggestion for a divine grazing experience: provide your budget, palate, and libation of choice, and let them build you a sumptuous charcuterie spread. All you have to do is decide with whom to share it.

While I hold that some things are better left to the experts, Andrew assures me that any combination you enjoy is the perfect pairing. ‘A pairing is more in the heart than the head,’ he offers, and I can’t help but agree. There’s such joy in the exploration of new flavours and textures – especially with the generous guidance of the TOMME folks. 

Before I leave the shop, Andrew slices me a wedge of our mutual favourite, mimolette (a salty, crystalized flavour bomb with a shocking orange hue and cannonball black rind), plus something new: the 5 Brothers from Woodstock’s Gunn’s Hill, a blend of creamy gouda and a nutty Swiss Appenzeller. I pop next door for a fresh baguette from Eric the Baker, then head to the park to meet some friends and share my treasures. 

A great way to spend any day.

You Should Know:

• TOMME sells wine and craft beer
• there’s a cheese of the month club here
• when in doubt, choose the mimolette