To read and introduction about this guest blog series by Kelsie Parsons click here. For Eps 1, click here.
I feel bad for telling you about my project and then disappearing for two weeks. Hopefully you can forgive me once you see how busy life on the road actually is.
Here’s a quick review of last week:
Sunday June 17th – I attended the Fine Cheese Festival in Victoriaville, Quebec, which was a great opportunity to meet cheese makers before I hit the road. I enjoyed meeting Michèle Foreman, author of the just released Fromages: Artisans du Quebec. La crème de la crème. It’s a beautifully photographed book with information on all the artisan cheese makers in Quebec. I’ve found the book to be incredibly helpful so far on my journey even though it is en français (and admittedly my French is limited).
A real highlight of the day was seeing Le Baluchon win the people’s choice Caseus award. Le Baluchon is an organic, unpasteurized cheese with a washed rind and is so deserving of the award.
On Monday I spent several hours at Fromagerie Fritz Kaiser near Noyan. Fritz Kaiser grew up in Switzerland and moved to Quebec at a young age where he began making cheese in 1981. He’s known for creating the first Canadian raclette cheese. What is raclette you ask? It’s the name of a cheese, the accompanying grill and the process of melting cheese and serving it on potatoes, meats and veggies. (ex. “Come on over to my raclette party and we’ll melt some Fritz raclette on my new raclette grill”)
A highlight of my adventures so far occurred last Tuesday when I finally took the pilgrimage to l’Abbaye-Saint-Benoit-du-Lac. In 1912 French monks settled on the banks of Lake Memphremagog and began a Trappist monastery. In the early 1940s a cheesemaker from Denmark visited the monastery and taught the monks how to make a blue cheese similar to the French Bleu d’Auvergne. Their unique blue is appropriately called Ermite (Hermit in English) and was the first cheese created at their factory in 1943. Now their most popular cheese is Bleu Bénédictin, an earthy flavoured blue that previously won as a Grand Champion of the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix (basically the Oscars of Canadian cheese).
Wednesday was a day full of new cheeses for me. Ruban Bleu, is a farmstead fromagerie located just outside of Montreal and it produces many sizes, shapes and varieties of goat cheese. There’s something for everyone here but my personal favourite was a fresh chevre mixed with caramelized onions. That day I also visited Fromagerie au Gré des Champs who produce unpasteurized, organic cheese made from the milk of their herd of Brown Swiss cows. Fromagerie au Gré des Champs is one of a handful of fromageries in Quebec that legally produce unpasteurized cheese aged for less than 60 days*. One of these cheeses is called Le Pont Blanc. It’s a small lactic cheese with a very thin rind, a yeasty aroma and a mild milky flavour.
There’s never time to rest when you’re on a cheese adventure so on Thursday I headed to St.-Hélène-de-Chester to visit La Moutonnière and l’Atelier. Lucille Giroux, the cheesemaker behind La Moutonnière, initially raised sheep for meat but realized that she needed to get another product out of them to make a decent living. At the time there was no sheep being milked in Quebec so she imported dairy sheep from Sweden. I love her Fleur de Monts, an aged sheep cheese with fragrant floral aromas.
Simon Hamel has 10 years of experience making cheese in Quebec and France and recently began creating his own cheeses under the name l’Atelier out of La Moutonnière. My new favourite cheese is one he creates called Ma Manière (the name roughly translates to ‘I’m doing it my way’). It’s a lactic goat cheese with a wrinkly rind and a flavour that will transport you to France. I’m willing to put money on Simon winning top awards with this cheese. Ma Manière has very limited production so it may be hard to get. (try Fromagerie Atwater in Montreal–Sue).
Nothing makes me happier than seeing communities come together over food. Every Friday in Sainte-Élizabeth-de-Warwick people gather in the front yard of Fromagerie du Presbytère for a picnic dinner and to enjoy fresh cheese served at three stages of the cheesemaking process. Around 4pm bowls of a cottage cheese like product are sold. Cheesemakers Jean Morin and Marie-Chantal let the fresh curds (no, not cheddar curds) knit together into a single mass, which is then cut, stacked, flipped and restacked. Slabs of this fresh cheese are then sold at the shop and customers sprinkle salt on top. Next, blocks of fresh cheese are milled and salted and turned into squeaky cheddar curds. This is what everyone waits for! Throughout the afternoon and evening, hundreds of people attend the picnic and enjoy wine as they listen to live music.
If you ever have the chance to try Zacharie Cloutier (produced by Fromagerie Nouvelle France at this facility), Louis d’Or, Laliberte, or Bleu d’Elizabeth, I highly recommend doing so. They are some of the finest cheeses in all of Canada.
(Kelsie is continuing on Quebec and will be posting again soon-Sue)
* The federal standard is all raw milk cheeses must be aged for 60 days before being sold. About 4 years ago, Quebec changed their regulations allowing for fresh unpasteurized cheeses to be sold but only if cheese makers met strict regulations