Posted on January 3, 2013 by Marina

If you’re a cheese fanatic like us, you have probably heard of CHEESEWERKS™.

After all, it’s the first and only restaurant dedicated to making the cheese a centre of your meal.

They’ve got it all: mac + cheese, cheese fondue, artisan grilled cheese, fine cheese selections and charcuterie and other ooey gooey grub that can be enjoyed with wine or craft beer.

We have previously debunked the myth that wine goes better with cheese thanks to UCLA’s Dr. Hildegard Heymann who stated:

“Wine and cheese are incompatible since cheese dulls the taste of red wine making it difficult to discern different flavours…. after eating cheese, wine tasters could not tell the difference between expensive wine and cheap plonk.”

Why is beer better than wine in matching cheese exactly? It’s in the harmony:

“With wine, you are almost always working just with contrasts. That’s not as satisfying as combining beer and cheese where you are also working in some flavour harmonies.” (Janet Fletcher, San Francisco Chronicle)

We had the pleasure to meet the “Big Cheese” at Cheesewerks, Kevin Durkee, who started this local favourite. 

1. What is your background?

I’m a natural born foodie.  My mother ran a bakery, then a Tea Room in eastern Ontario from for over 25 years while I was growing up.  I was her “sous chef” helping out everywhere could.  It was my after school, summer and part-time job while I was at home.

Leaving for the big city, I entered into the marketing industry but quickly found myself marketing consumer packaged goods and lifestyle brands, many of them food brands.   Over the last few years, the restaurant foodie bug was back and I began to build the CHEESEWERKS brand.

2. What is CHEESEWERKS exactly?

CHEESEWERKS is Canada’s first-and-only restaurant totally dedicated to placing artisan cheese at the centre of every plate.  You’ve always been able to enjoy a great steakhouse or seafood house, now Toronto can enjoy a “cheese house”.  We joke that we’re Lactose-Intolerant Intolerant.

Our menu is anchored by our “legend dairy” Grilled Cheese, but we offer Mac + Cheese, Cheese Fondue, Cheese selections, Charcuterie, and most importantly artisan beer and wine.  Plus, look forward to CHEESEWERKS special events where items like Nachos and Racellete become the stars for the evening.

3. What is your philosophy when it comes to food?

Food is all about sharing.  Getting someone to try something for the first time.  Or reaching across the table to sneak something from a friends’ plate.  Food is what fundamentally connects us all.  The food at CHEESEWERKS is really about ‘comfort shared’.  Easy to understand, easy to enjoy and incredibility satisfying.

4. What do you want people who dine at CHEESEWERKS to take away?

We’d like all of our guests to say, “That was amazing – why hasn’t there been a place like this before?”.  We want them to indulge their passion for great artisan products, especially Cheese, Bread, Beer & Wine.  But most of all, we want each guest have a better appreciation for the amazing products crafted in our ‘national backyard’.

5. What cheese would we find in your fridge?

Before I started this business, I just couldn’t enjoy a good Blue cheese.  But, since tasting some of the best products in the Canada, I have a new appreciation for Canadian Blue.  So, you’ll see some Bleu Bénédictin for sure.  You’d also see some Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar, that’s our daughters favourite.

6. What role will Canadian cheese play in your operation?

The biggest role.  We support 100% Canadian cheese, using Canadian artisan products throughout our menu and retail offering. In fact, we are supported by the Dairy Farmers of Canada.  Canadian cheese is some of the best in the world, so why not celebrate it?

7. Who are CHEESEWERKS Board Members – and how can you become one?

Early on in the development of the restaurant, we were approached a lot by our Friends and Family on how they could help.  We had one answer – “come, eat and bring your friends”.  That idea grew into our Board Member Program, which allows Fans, Followers, Foodies and Friends to purchase a Membership which gives them “credit in the resturant” and perks throughout the year.

Anyone can become a member, and we have a lot of local businesses signing up as it’s a great tool for staff loyalty and rewards.  All the Board Member info is on our website.

8. Favourite event hosted at CHEESEWERKS?

Hands down, the best events at CHEESEWERKS are our Meet the Makers Series.  They are interactive foodie nights, where our guests meet, listen and learn from our favourite producers.  Plus, guests are treated to a 4 or 5 course meal using the products from that producers.  So whether you learn about Cheese in Southwestern Ontario from the Cheese Maker himself, or Wines from Prince Edward County.  People want to get close to their food – and nothing is closer than meeting and dinning with the producers themselves.

9. Favourite part of being an entrepreneur?

The cliché answer is being my own boss – and while that is incredibly satisfying and liberating, the real answer is hearing directly from our guests.  They opinions and feedback.  Nothing makes me happier than introducing someone new to the shop and watching their eyes open and mouth start to water when hear what we have in store for them.  Making people happy with food is the best reward.


Come visit our friends at CHEESEWERKS!