Easter today is a little different from its origins. After all, we’re not sure how many Catholics in the 14th century would have celebrated the resurrection of Christ with a bunny hiding chocolate and candy for children. However, few holidays are more tied to tradition and old-fashioned charm than Easter. It’s an all-important holiday time for many families to reunite in celebration over good food and drink. And for many it all begins with the cheese board. “A cheese appetizer is a work up to the meal,” says Jane Kemp, owner of La Jolie Cheese Shop in Aurora. “You don’t want to overwhelm if it’s pre-meal, so three to four cheeses is ideal.” If you’re unsure of group preference, stay neutral and family-friendly with a middle-zone flavour profile, she adds. “We would suggest offering a soft, a semi-soft, and a harder cheese.” Kemp notes Easter is the perfect time to indulge in a spread of artisanal sheep and goat cheeses. “It’s reflective of the season,” she says, noting sheep cheese is easier to digest than any other, while goat cheese is an option for anyone who is lactose-intolerant. She suggests a combination of soft Madawaska cheese, Manchego for the semi-soft, with Lindsay Clothbound Goat Cheddar for the hard option. There are endless options of artisanal cheese to choose from for the perfect first impression.
Of course, when it comes to traditional Easter meals, there’s no messing around with the traditional ham. Ham is the hind leg of a pig that has been cured by salting and drying and usually smoking. Smoking is a method of preserving that predates ancient Egyptian times. Granted, with modern refrigeration it’s no longer necessary to preserve ham this way, but those delicious smoky flavours have become so popular that it remains today.
There are many different types of ham to choose from, but for Easter, the most popular are the cooked, smoked boneless or bone-in ham. Tim Maunder, owner of Maunder’s Food Shop in Aurora, sells two types of ham at Easter. The first is sweet-pickled, baked ham, which he buys raw, simmers for four hours, then skins and rolls into a cinnamon sugar glaze. The second is a smoked ham, bone-in. “We sell them either just smoked or I skin them, glaze them, and hand-slice them down to the bone,” he says. “So it’s like a spiral ham, but with a more personal touch to it.” Some prefer boneless for easier slicing; others prefer the bone in for a more succulent flavour. Both are fully cooked, cured, smoked and can be served just as is from the refrigerator or heated through.
The real trick to serving an Easter ham that stands out is in the shopping. There are many benefits to buying locally. The key is to pay attention to ingredients and preparation details. You really do get what you pay for. “Smoked ham varies greatly from producer to producer,” Maunder says. “To make a smoked ham cheaper, they will add more salt cure so it absorbs more water.” Maunder buys his smoked ham out of Dundas. “It’s lower in salt, and a shade more expensive, but a much better ham,” he says.
Salt isn’t the only ingredient health-conscious shoppers should be mindful of. If your ham turns slightly grey in colour when cooked, that’s a good sign, says Maunder. It means there are less nitrates. “The baked, boneless ham we do is lower in nitrates than a black forest ham,” he says. “The easiest rule of thumb is if it doesn’t keep its pink colour as long, it’s going to have lower nitrates.” From our Easter table to yours this year, may you begin a culinary tradition of your own this Easter Sunday.
Written by Lynn Ogryzlo & Charlotte Ottaway
La Jolie Cheese Shop, Aurora
Maunder’s Food Shop, Aurora
Kloster’s Butcher Shop, Newmarket
Nature’s Emporium, Newmarket
Vince’s Market, Newmarket