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Saturday, August 28, 2010

A trip to Quebec




This week, I visited three fromageries while travelling the back roads between Quebec City and Montreal.  Although the cities are fascinating, their hotels luxurious, and their restaurants marvelous, in many ways this was the highlight of the trip.  Quebec has some great cheesemakers, and is really moving forward with new and renewed facilities and government support of the industry.  We found some terrific cheeses out in the country that I'd like to tell you about.

I wasn't sure what we would find.  I had a 2008 map of the cheese route of Quebec, and a patient husband who drives fast, speaks some French and doesn't mind going into the Sept-Onze in some tiny, dusty ville to find out exactly where in town the Fromagerie might be.  But the day turned out very well, yielding some top-notch cheeses and interesting experiences.

Fromagerie des Grondines



First stop was the Fromagerie des Grondines, a very nice farm quite near the highway.  The proprietress was very helpful in describing the sheep, goat, and cow cheeses, as well as blends of sheep/goat and goat/cow cheese.  They were all very good, and I bought a half-round of Mascaret, which is an aged sheep's milk tomme.


This was lucky, because when we finally arrived at the Hotel Gault, we sliced into it.  This cheese is fantastic: mature but not overwhelming, very firm and even in texture, and perfectly balanced.



This fromagerie, established in 2006, is owned by Louis Arsenault, who is very active in the artisanal cheesemakers association.

We were able to observe some of the cow/goat cheeses draining, only under about 2 kilos of pressure.


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Southern Quebec (the St. Lawrence lowlands), is as flat as a pancake, and the corn fields go on forever.  Little signs invite you to drive up fresh tractor ruts between corn rows, to buy maïs sucre.  However, I never saw anyone eating it in a restaurant; it's extremely hard to eat sweet corn gracefully, and so I imagine that stylish Montrealers only do this in the privacy of their own maison.

And speaking of pancakes, we stopped for a smoked meat sandwich (hold the poutine) on the way from Quebec City to Montreal, at Restaurant Caillette, in Maskinonge.

 


The former dairy restaurant still sells fresh curds, as well as some cheeses.  A row of ex-cow heads were mounted along one wall, and were motorized, so they moved randomly.  Beneath this, there was a display of flours from the Gelinas farm in Yamachiche, and I bought a sack of buckwheat flour, and a bag of mixed-grain flours which was called a crepe mix.  (In Montreal, at the Jean-Talon market, you can buy these things, as well as unsweetened blueberry juice, crêpe pans and candles at the Ferme Jean-Marie Gélinas booth.)

There is a recipe on the side of the bag for "buckwheat cakes", which seemed to be quite different from our idea of a buckwheat pancake.  There are no eggs, and they are thin pancakes, like crepes.  Naturally, I can't wait to try them - I'll let you know.


FX Pichet


Next, we had a nice visit at  Fromagerie FX Pichet, in Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade.  A family business, the young man explained, as he showed us their cheeses:  Baluchon, an award-winning semi-firm cheese, Reserve la Perade, a hard cheese, Champlain, a Reblochon-type cheese, and Roy, a Parmesan-style cheese.

I liked them all, but the Champlain was a standout, and I bought a round.  This is my other top pick from the trip; it's smooth, mellow and absolutely pleasant to eat.  



I also bought a slice of Roy, which is similar in flavor to Parmesan, but much less hard.  It will be lovely to cook with:

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Il Etait Une Bergere


Finally, Il Etait Une Bergere, in Cuthbert, was our final fromagerie stop on this trip.  The name "Il Etait Une Bergere" (There was a little shepherdess) is a French nursery rhyme - words below:

There was a shepherdess.
Il etait une beregere,
et ron ron ron petit patapon,
Il etait une bergere,
qui gardait ses moutons ron ron,
qui gardait ses moutons,


Elle fit un fromage,
et ron ron ron petit patapon,
elle fit un fromage,
du lait de ses moutons ron ron,
du lait de ses moutons,


Le chat qui la regarde,
et ron ron ron petit patapon,
le chat qui la regarde,
a un p'tit air fripon ron ron,
a un p'tit air fripon,


si tu y met la patte,
et ron ron ron petit patapon,
si tu y met la patte,
tu auras du baton, ron ron
tu auras du baton,


Il n'y mit pas la patte,
et ron ron ron petit patapon,
il n'y mit pas la patte,
il y mit le menton, ron ron,
il y mit le menton,


La bergere en colere,
et ron ron ron petit patapon,
la bergere en colere,
battit son p'tit chaton, ron ron,
battit son p'tit chaton.
There was a little shepherdess,
And ron, ron, ron, little patapon
there was a little shepherdess,
who looked after her sheep.
who looked after her sheep.


She made cheese,
And ron, ron, ron, little patapon
She made cheese,
from the sheep's milk
from the sheep's milk


The cat watched her,
And ron, ron, ron, little patapon,
The cat watched her,
with a rougish air,
with a rougish air,


If you put the paw there,
And ron, ron, ron, little patapon,
If you put the paw there,
you will have the stick,
you will have the stick,


he did not put the paw there,
And ron, ron, ron, little patapon,
he did not put the paw there,
he put his chin there,
he put his chin there,


The shepherdess, very angry
And ron, ron, ron, little patapon,
The shepherdess, very angry
beats her little kitten.
beats her little kitten.





True to the name, the cheeses are all sheep's milk.  We were greeted by a charming woman in a sparkling white uniform, who showed us the offerings.  Although we could scarcely communicate, eventually I bought three: Douce Folie,  PetitRond, and Petit Peche.

First,  Douce Folie, a mild, semi-firm, very smooth cheese, about the same consistency as mozzarella.


This didn't last long once we got home, baked some bread, and layered this cheese with ripe tomatoes and basil from the garden.  

The PetitRond is a bloomy-rind, extremely mild cheese, quite young.  This cheese would be a rich backdrop for stronger flavors, like bacon or fruit.



Lastly,   I bought the tantalizing "Petit Peche",  little balls of fresh cheese in oil with herbs.  I'm not sure whether the name means "little peaches" or "little sins".  It depends on the accents and whatnot, which aren't shown on the label's typeface.  Canadians just know these things.  

These are available from several fromageries, flavored with everything from sundried tomatoes to vanilla.  I'm opening them tomorrow, and we'll see if they live up to expectations.

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