Tag Archives: Baluchon

Curds and Eh: Kelsie Parsons Reports on The Canadian Cheese Awards

Le Baluchon displayed at the Canadian Cheese Awards

Very happy to be able to get the scoop (below) on the new Canadian Cheese Awards from cheese monger and cheese writer Kelsie Parsons—  he is in the last legs of finishing his Canadian Cheese Book and I look forward to having more on that down the road.

There’s a new champion in the Canadian cheese world – Le Baluchon, an organic washed rind cheese made in Quebec by Marie-Claude Harvey and her team at Fromagerie F.X. Pichet. It was named cheese of the year at the first-ever Canadian Cheese Awards held April 7 at St. Lawrence Market in Toronto.

Three awards in total were handed out for Le Baluchon – best semi-soft cheese, best organic cheese, and cheese of the year. Each award is well deserved.

Cheese of the Year - Le Baluchon

Le Baluchon was first made in 2004 in a partnership between Fromagerie F.X. Pichet and Fromagerie Jonathan. At the time, Fromagerie F.X. Pichet produced cheese milk from their own herd of cows and then sold their young cheeses to Fromagerie Jonathan, which ripened, promoted, and sold local farmstead cheeses. This arrangement is much more common in Europe and allows farmstead producers to focus on farming and cheesemaking. Unfortunately, Fromagerie Jonathan went bankrupt. By that time, Le Baluchon had made a name for itself in Quebec so Marie-Claude Harvey and her husband Michel Pichet purchased Fromagerie Jonathan’s building and the rights to the name Le Baluchon and continued its production.

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Fromagerie F.X. Pichet’s ripening room with bowls of brine and brushes in the foreground.

Washed rind cheeses, such as Le Baluchon, are frequently rubbed with a brush that is dipped in brine. This technique adds salt to the cheese, keeps its exterior moist, and creates the proper environment for the growth of Brevibacterium linens (or B. linens for short) which creates the pinkish orange rind typical of this style.

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The name Le Baluchon refers a hobo’s bundle of possessions tied to a stick.

What I love about Le Baluchon is its complexity and depth of flavour. There’s so much happening in every bite – flavours of nuts, butter, a slight bitterness to the rind, and a subtle pungency. Although the judging was blind (they could see the cheeses but weren’t told the names), the judges picked a cheese that is consistent in quality from batch to batch. I have never had a wedge of this cheese that was less than excellent.

Marie-Claude Harvey and Art Hill

Marie-Claude Harvey displays her award for Cheese of the Year with Professor Art Hill

Marie-Claude was instrumental in changing regulations in Quebec to allow for certain fromageries to legally produce unpasteurized cheese aged less than 60 days. She has been inducted into the prestigious Guilde de Fromagers for her contributions to the cheese industry.

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Marie-Claude Harvey and Michel Pichet pose with dry grass grown on their farm.

Michel Pichet restarted his family farm in 1989 with a focus on producing high quality organic milk and keeping his cows healthy and happy. He now has a mixed herd of 90 Brown Swiss, Holstein, and Ayershire cows of which he milks 50 twice a day.

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A curious Brown Swiss cow on the Pichet family farm.

The cows have access to the outdoors all year round and their feed is free of genetically modified organisms and pesticides. Michel is proud that his cows live much longer than the average dairy cow and they have more offspring. He explains that most cows have 2 or 3 calves in their lifetime but on his farm they give upwards of 12 calves which are never killed for veal. Producing certified organic cheese costs Fromagerie F.X. Pichet an extra $75,000 per year but as Marie-Claude says, it’s “the price of respecting the environment.”

An amazing amount of cheese was entered into the competition; 291 cheeses from 76 cheese companies were entered.  They competed in 30 categories. There were 16 categories based on cheese style, 5 regional awards, and 9 special categories including milk type, farmstead, organic, and new cheese.

Raclette de Compton au Poivre

Raclette de Compton au Poivre produced by Fromagerie La Station – winner of the Best Flavoured Cheese award

 

Farm House Clothbound Cheddar

Farm House Traditional Clothbound Cheddar produced by Farm House Natural Cheese – winner of Best Aged Cheddar (1 to 3 years) and Best British Columbia Cheese.

Le Porto Bleu

Porto Bleu, a new blue cheese mixed with Port made by Fromagerie du Charme.

An all-star lineup of cheese experts gathered at the University of Guelph at the end of February to judge the cheeses. Professor Art Hill, a respected expert on dairy and cheese science, led the judging. The group did a terrific job narrowing down the entrants and every finalist is worth seeking out.

Georgs and Anita

Georgs Kolesnikovs and Anita Stewart speak at the 2014 Canadian Cheese Awards

Georgs Kolesnikovs is the creator of the Canadian Cheese Awards and the Great Canadian Cheese Festival (the third annual festival will be held June 7-8 in Picton, ON). Kudos to Georgs for his hard work creating these two terrific events. After the Ontario Cheese Society crumbled a few years ago, Georgs stepped up and sought to unite Canadian cheesemakers and promote their products in new ways. I’m excited to see what he has planned next though I’m sure we’ll continue to see greater unity within the Canadian cheese industry especially with the looming increase in the specialty cheese import quota proposed in the CETA agreement.

The crowd of cheese industry professionals watches as category champions are announced

The crowd of cheese industry professionals watches as category champions are announced

At the end of the award ceremony, Georgs challenged cheesemakers to submit better quality cheeses for the next competition. Apparently, some entrants were inferior in quality to what they are known for. It was a rather solemn end to the awards ceremony but I’m confident it’s not a sign that the quality of Canadian cheese as a whole is slipping. Regardless, the bar has been raised and I know cheesemaker are already planning which cheeses they’ll send to the next Canadian Cheese Awards which will be hosted in Montreal in 2016 followed by Vancouver in 2018.

Once again, congratulations to all the finalists and category champions. There are many world class cheeses made in Canada and Georgs’ events are wonderful opportunities to recognize and celebrate the work of our talented cheese producers.

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Curds and Eh eps 2: Quebec (get ready to change your summer vacation plans)

To read and introduction about this guest blog series by Kelsie Parsons click here.  For Eps 1, click here.

Hi Everyone,

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).

Caseus Award for Le Baluchon

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.

The raclette grill of my dreams (Sue)

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”)

l’Abbaye-Saint-Benoit-du-Lac

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).

Unpasteurized (less than 60 days) Le Pont Blanc, Fromagerie au Gré des Champs

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.

Sheep at La Moutonniere

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.

Ma Maniere (My Way)

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).

Working hard to make fresh cheese at Fromagerie Presbytere

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.

Zacharie Cloutier, sheep’s milk

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

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