Canadian Grilled Cheese, Hay Ice Cream


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves


    : You will Need to Begin this Recipe 1 Day Ahead

Appears in


By Ben Shewry

Published 2012

  • About

On a trip to south-western Ontario I was privileged to meet some wonderful farmers, Max and Vicki Lass of Church Hill Farm, who raise a small number of organic, free-range animals. The care that they take in the husbandry of their farm is really something to behold. They plant, harvest and mill their own organic crops to meet their animals’ feeding needs over the harsh Canadian winter, and carefully maintain and control every aspect of their animals’ lives in a most humane, loving and ethical way.

Through meeting this generous couple I was able to better understand maple syrup. Canada produces more than 80 per cent of the world’s maple syrup and given my family history (my grandmother Elaine was Canadian) I thought the Lass’s would be the best place to begin my maple syrup education. While the majority of syrup is made in Quebec, Elaine was from Ontario and I wanted to taste the maple syrup she would have grown up with. The Lass family has a maple forest, also known as sugar bush, on their property and until recently had an old-fashioned ‘sugar shack’, which burnt down during a maple-syrup making session — not an uncommon fate, I’m told.

Historically, maple syrup was almost always made by small self-sufficient dairy farmers for their own consumption, and any leftover syrup was sold at the local market or at a roadside stall as a way of supplementing their income.

The time-honoured way of gathering the maple sap is to bore a hole into the trunk and hang a small tin underneath it to collect the precious nectar. Nowadays sap is mostly gathered through tubing systems running through the forest from tree to tree using a gravity feed or vacuum to draw the sap through the line back to the ‘shack’.

Once collected the sap must be carefully boiled down without chemicals or additives to the desired consistency. This is traditionally done in a large steel pan over an open fire inside the ‘shack’ and takes many hours of constant attention. The reduction process of maple syrup involves boiling 160 litres (5,600 fl oz) of raw sap until it evaporates down to just 4 litres (140 fl oz) of finished product known as maple syrup.

After a tour of the farm and neighbouring maple syrup production I enjoyed a truly fantastic lunch with Max and Vicki and their children, Owen and Ava, in their home. The dish I was most taken with was one they called ‘Canadian grilled cheese’. It consisted of plenty of piquant farmhouse cheddar that they had made themselves, which was utterly delicious, layered between thick slices of quality white bread that Owen had made, and then pan-fried in plenty of freshly churned butter until golden and crispy. As soon as it was removed from the pan it was smothered in maple syrup until it was literally swimming. This simple sandwich is easily one of the best things I’ve eaten.

On my return home, I began to think about the flavours of agriculture in cooking and this pleasant memory sprung into mind. For our Tuesday night Chef’s Table I recreated ‘Canadian grilled cheese’ with maple syrup and paired it with an ice cream flavoured with toasted hay. One customer told me the taste took them back to a childhood of happy summers spent with family harvesting bales of hay. What a great memory of farming life.

To Finish

  • 50 g ( oz) clarified butter
  • 20 g (¾ oz) grated walnut
  • 100 ml ( fl oz) pure maple syrup, gently warmed

Warm serving bowls in the oven.

Divide the clarified butter between two non-stick frying pans. Add a sandwich to each and gently cook until golden and crisp on both sides. Check that the cheese is melted before removing from the pans. Slice each sandwich into 2 fingers, discarding the crusts.

Place the grilled cheese in the middle of each bowl. Place ½ teaspoon of grated walnut alongside, then place a scoop of hay ice cream on top of the grated walnut (the walnut will prevent the ice cream from melting in the hot bowl). Pour the maple syrup over the grilled cheese, finish with a grating of walnut and eat immediately. The grilled cheese must be very hot for the dish to work successfully. If allowed to cool down before serving, the cheese will become rubbery and unpalatable.

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