Cocktails are “easy”, but cheese takes a bit of time

This year’s Cornucopia boasted a variety of events including some that you could learn a thing or two from, such as seminars and cooking demonstrations. I have a love for soft cheese, and a love for cocktails, so I attended a seminar on each.

My first seminar was about making cocktails at home, and it was essentially set-up to take the fear away from crafting the libation at home and to eliminate the notion that certain tools are necessary.

Our host, Mark Sexauer, began the seminar by explaining the history of the cocktail, bringing us back to the roots of the libation. “There was no craft at the end of prohibition. It was just a matter of getting liquor into the body,” he explained. “In the 50s and 60s the craft of cocktails increased, but in the 80s and 90s it was mostly just a bunch of colourful crap.”

Classic Cocktail


The Old Fashioned is arguably the oldest cocktail for it is truly the definition of one and acts as the foundation for all others. Experiment with variations of the aforementioned essentials of a cocktail and you will find yourself whipping up unique beverages that are fairly balanced. Keep in mind that some will be good, and others will be horrendous. Bartending is seemingly a matter of trial and error, but once you develop your palate and get a sense of which flavours work with others the sky is the limit.

“When I go out for a drink, I expect a good cocktail; it’s not pretentious it’s just how times have adapted,” expressed Sexauer. “More and more people are drinking for taste. We appreciate the effects, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not solely about getting drunk.”


  • When you shake your ingredients you get 1 – 1.5 oz of water from the ice
  • Simple sugar = 1 part water 1 part sugar
  • “Sugar” can be honey, cointreau, triple sec, orange cordial, etc..
  • The ideal ABV for aromatics to be released optimally is 20%.
  • It’s illegal to infuse liquors in Canada – infuse simple syrup instead
  • For fast infusions try chillies, garlic, tea or rosemary
  • Don’t freeze your vodka!
  • There is no “best” recipe because everyone’s palate is so different. Everything is simply a range. One’s best recipe, may be another’s worst recipe.
  • Blind tasting removes the preconceived notion of what something tastes like. Plug your nose and taste your concoction, spirit or ingredients because up to 70% of your taste can be olfactory.
  • Your tongue has zero receptors for vanilla. It will taste bland (or like dirty water) until you unplug your nose. Try it.


  • No shaker needed – use a mason jar. You’re mixing ice and liquid together.
  • Fancy mixing spoon? Not necessary. Use a knife, chopstick or your finger.
  • Hawthorne strainers are superfluous, use a pasta strainer or your fingers.
  • Need a muddler? Use the back of a wooden spoon.
  • Who needs a juicer? Not you. Roll your lemon, cut it in half and squeeze it with your hands.
  • Special glassware doesn’t matter; check out good will or estate sales.

“It’s the oldest vice, our bodies are used to it.”

The second seminar that I attended was on how to make camembert. This deliciously smooth and flavourful cheese was first made in the late 18th century in Camembert, Normandy. It’s been a favourite of mine since 2010 when I spent five weeks cycling around France with my father. As you can imagine, we ate a lot of cheese and baguettes and we drank a lot of wine. The buttery consistency and the rich flavours of this cheese always tasted delightful with red wine so we often swapped Brie for Camembert and vice versa since they have a similar makeup. The main differences between the two is that Camembert ripens quicker, has a thicker rind and has a stronger flavour, while Brie is larger, ripens slower and has a thinner rind.

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The flavour of European Brie and Camembert will vary by region, season and even time of day due to being produced with unpasteurized milk. However, in Canada, where it is illegal to use unpasteruized milk, you will find that the East Coast Camembert or Brie will taste virtually the same as it does from the West Coast.

After learning about and tasting Camembert, we were schooled on how to make the cheese. Melanie Browne of The Cheesemaking Workshop lead the seminar in an interactive manner by involving two of the audience members.

How to: Make Camembert

Rather than running through the process of making cheese (Camembert and Ricotta), I’ll share some interesting facts about the milk-based food product:

  • It takes four weeks to make camembert.
  • You only need to use 1/10th of the starter culture per batch.
  • Making cheese creates the perfect environment for bacteria to grow so ensure that it is relatively sterile. However, milk maids made it for hundreds of years and didn’t know about (or have) antibacterial soap.
  • Flavour camembert after cooking but before “hooping” – putting in cheese baskets
  • If you make your Camembert too hard (heat it above 35 degrees) don’t chuck it, bake it, the taste remains.
  • Each starter culture has a slightly different strain of lacto-bacteria so each result will be unique.
  • Start cheese-making with ricotta. It’s easy and quick (takes one hour).
  • The fat percentage of milk determines the yield for ricotta – a higher percentage equals more.
  • Use 50ml of vinegar for every litre of milk in ricotta.
  • Whey is extracted by the “turning of the curd” and is great in baking, cooking, drinking, gardening, etc…
  • Milk is one of the purest forms of food we eat.

“Blesse’d are the cheese makers.” – Monty Python


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