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Spicy, smoked or tropical? Find the perfect cheese for your burger

Kevin Van Paassen/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

I can't wait for you to have a cheeseburger. But steer your mind away from the typical cheddar for a moment. (And leave processed cheese out of it – unless you're having a quarter-pounder on the way home from the cottage, in which case it's essential.) I recently spent some serious grill-time melting different cheese onto beef patties. I opted for flavoured wedges, the ones I typically pass by, and was surprised at how many slices had my mouth watering, especially when oozing down a juicy burger. The best ones were like the plump cherry on a sundae – the perfect finishing touch.

I recommend going easy on the other toppings: Just let your burger and cheese do the talking. And be bold: Give stronger cheeses a chance – you may not like cumin Gouda on its own, but once melted it mellows and melds beautifully into the flavours of the burger. When feeding a crowd, keep the burgers simple and customize each one by having a few variations of cheese on hand.

The specific cheeses below were some of my favourites, but your local cheesemonger will carry variations on most of these suggestions.

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PIQUANT

Many spicy cheeses are milder than you might imagine. On a burger you might want to find something a little more intense .

Sylvan Star Cayenne and Green Peppercorn Gouda, Red Deer, Alta .

This cheese delivers on spice. The whole peppercorns give it great added texture. It's zesty enough that you might want to skip it if you 're a heat-wimp . www.sylvanstarcheesefarm.ca

Bothwell Horseradish Cheddar, New Bothwell, Man .

A great melting cheese that adds a horseradish hit to your beef. Add a little Dijon and you 've created a classic . Available in Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia.

Hot Chili Chèvre, Salt Spring Island, B.C.

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Salt Spring Island Cheese Company kicks up the heat with this Thai chili flavoured chèvre. The tangy, fresh goat cheese is topped with a spicy combo of chilies and olive oil which infuse the cheese, and your burger, as the creamy chèvre melts from its warmth . Available across Canada, excluding Quebec.

HERBAL

Milder herb-flavoured cheeses make great toppers for turkey burgers or portobello mushroom burgers.

Bear's Garlic Gouda, Chilliwack, B.C

Bear 's Garlic is a wild type of this plant whose leaves have a mild garlic flavour. Made by Smits and Co.w Farm Cheese, this Gouda brings the garlic notes as well as hints of spring onion. And no tears . Available in B.C.

Sage Derby, England

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The tradition of adding sage to Derby cheese dates back to the 17th century. The cheese itself is mild but the soft flavour of the sage comes through in the finish and is my choice on a lamb burger. Available at specialty cheese stores.

Purple Haze goat cheese, California

I love how the bright flavours of chèvre contrast with the juicy flavours of beef. This chèvre isn't shy; its lavender and fennel pollen flavours add zest throughout the rich, creamy texture of the cheese. Available in Ontario and B.C.

SPICED

There 's a lot of choice in this category, especially in the Gouda style cheeses among which you can also find caraway, fenugreek and black peppercorn flavours .

Cumin Gouda, Netherlands

This may have been my favourite match. Though cumin is a strong flavour, the spice is just so good with the beef. Bring on the ketchup. Available in Ontario and B.C.

Red Dragon, Wales

This British cheese contains whole mustard seeds, which provide the crunch and sharpness of whole grain mustard. Plus the cheese also benefits from the tangy addition of Welsh ale and will stand up to any double beef burger. Available at specialty cheese stores.

SMOKED

Look for smoked cheeses that have been cold smoked as opposed to those flavoured with liquid smoke. The flavour is far more authentic and nuanced .

Village Cheese Co.'s Smokehouse Cheddar, Armstrong, B.C .

The smoke and cheddar flavours are perfectly balanced in this ideal burger partner. Dill pickles seal the deal . Available in B.C. and Alberta or order at www.villagecheese.com.

Blue Haze, Quebec

The cheese is made by monks at the Abbaye de Saint-Benoît-du-Lac, Que., and smoked in Cayuga, Ont. It can be addictive. Available in Ontario and Quebec.

TROPICAL

Coconut Gouda, Netherlands

I have to thank the people at Charelli 's Cheese Shop in Victoria for my wedge. Imagine a mild Gouda with the long linger of fresh, unsweetened coconut milk. Add a little curry to your burger and melt this on top. It totally works.Ask at your specialty cheese store.



Sue Riedl blogs about cheese and other edibles at cheeseandtoast.com.

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About the Author

Sue Riedl worked for 12 years in the Toronto film industry where her culinary passion was ignited while consuming countless unhealthy snacks off the craft service table. More

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