Remember that film The Notebook? The one starring Ryan Gosling that’s about a monk who made washed-rind cheeses and kept secret notebook of brining techniques?
That version of the film is actually an NFB doc called A Monks’ Secret. (You won’t recognize Ryan Gosling–he plays the actual notebook. Amazing immersion into a role.) The doc is a story of Fromage de la Trappe, the cheese you see above.
Fromage de la Trappe comes from Manitoba and is made by Brother Alberic at the Cistercian Abbey Our Lady of the Praires. The old recipe was passed to him by the Trappist monks in Quebec (at Oka Abbey de Notre-Dame-du-Lac).
The original Oka recipe was sold to Agropur in the 1981 when the Oka Abbey in Quebec could no longer sustain the demand for the cheese. The factors may have been more than economical–monks do not want to be known as cheese makers, cheese making is simply a means to an end so perhaps the business was in conflict with their values. It may have also been hard to find people to keep making cheese in general as they got older and their numbers got smaller.
One of the original Oka cheesemakers, Father Oswald had kept a notebook that was passed on to the Manitoba monastery when they started to make cheese as a source of income. The caveat that came with the hand-written notes was that should the Monks ever go out of the cheese business or the Abbyy close, that notebook would be destroyed (never to fall into a non-religious hand). This cheese is God’s business and no one else’s..Due to the craft secrets in notebook, what started out as a mediocore cheese, became something unique and flavourful.
And I cannot sign off before leaving you with a picture of Jean Morin, celebrating after his raw, organic milk cheese Louise D’Or received 3rd place in the Best of Show category. And we’re looking at over 1600 cheeses entered. That’s right he’s feeling smug. He damn well should!