Fromagerie des Basques, Quebec
From along the lower St Lawrence comes this four-year-old cheddar. It never ceases to amaze me how much variety there is in the world of cheddars—the three in this month’s box, made from three different milks according to several different processes, are a small sampling of those available. There are reasons why it is the world’s most popular cheese—relative ease of creation and manifold ways to enjoy it being but two, one on each side of the cheesemaker/cheese-eater divide.
This particular cheddar has a tendency to crumble and a slightly sweet hint to its paste. My assistant described it as being almost Swiss-like; it does have a hint of that nutty-sweet-tang of the Alpine cheeses. Try it with a beer (I think it might go well with an IPA or American Pale Ale) or with the Rioja left over from the previous entry.
Fromagerie le Mouton Blanc, Bas-St-Laurent, Quebec
As befits a cheesemaker called ‘the White Sheep’, le Vlimeux is a sheep milk cheese. It’s made from raw (unpasteurized) milk produced on the farm—the makers describe their operation as the “marriage of the Shepherd and the Cheesemaker”—hard to go wrong there! They began as a sheep farm, which in the late 1990s was one of the biggest in Quebec. Increasing costs of shipping the milk to sell led them to develop the cheese-making side of the business, to our great benefit.
Le Vlimeux is a semi-firm pressed raw cheese. It is aged for four months, then smoked in the on-site smoker with maple wood. This gives an unusual maple-sweetness element to the flavour, which as the makers say makes it reminiscent of smoked trout. They suggest pairing it with Scotch or artisanal beer, or with Australian Chardonnay, Rioja, or Sancerre wines.
Alexis de Portneuf, Quebec
A hard washed-rind cheese from Quebec, named after the rugged West Coast, Pacific Rock has won several awards in the past few years, including Best Canadian Washed-Rind Cheese at the International Cheese Awards in 2014. It is an orange cheese with a darker orange rind, something like an aged Red Leicester. Pacific Rock is hard, crumbly, and full of complex nutty and caramel flavours. It is made from pasteurized cow’s milk and aged for a minimum of 6 months.
Try it with a brown ale or a full-bodied white such as Muscadet or Chenin Blanc.
Oka L’Artisan Smoke
In the early 1880s, five Trappist monks established a monastery in Oka, Quebec. They were supposed to be self-sufficient, but found this a struggle until their mother abbey sent Brother Alphonse Juin with a recipe for Port-Salut cheese. They adapted the recipe into what became known as Oka, and won a prize at the Montreal Exhibition that same year. While their fromagerie was bought by Agropur in the 1980s, the monks are still involved in supervising the process and keeping the traditions alive.
A fairly new addition to the Oka family of cheeses, Oka L’Artisan Smoked is a European-style firm cheese. You will notice the eyes (holes) in the paste of the cheese, which are almost the size you would expect in an Emmentaler. Albeit new, the cheese continues the tradition—it won first prize in the ‘flavoured firm cheese’ category at the British Empire Cheese Show in 2016.
Try it with apples, raisins, or a slightly bitter ale—or a Trappist beer, of course.
I have had a few of Fritz Kaiser’s cheeses through both my stall and the Cheese Club: Noyan, Mouton Noir, Le Douanier, and Le Clos St-Ambroise are all made by this cheesemaker. Like those others, Miranda is a washed-rind cheese, in this case a bit firmer in texture, with noticeable holes. It has a nutty, piquant flavour, with a certain edge to it from the rind.
Try pairing it with an ale, a robust red wine such as a Syrah or a Côtes-du-Rhône, or even a dessert wine such as the sherry you might have chosen to go with the Manchego.
Le Migneron de Charlevoix
Maison d’affinage Dufour, Charlevoix, Quebec
The mid-1990s saw a resurgence in artisanal cheese making in Quebec; Le Migneron de Charlevoix was one of the four that started the movement off, and much may we all be grateful to it for doing so! It was created by Maurice Dufour in 1994 and named after Anne Migneron, the first wife of the first Dufour to come to Quebec in the mid 17th century. It continues to be made by Laiterie Charlevoix, then aged by M. Dufour (“Maison d’Affinage” means ‘house of maturing’).
We do not always think about how much of an art properly aging a cheese is, but Le Migneron is an example of its importance. The management of the cultures, humidity, rind washes, salting, turning, and so on affect the development of flavours and textures quite considerably. It was M. Dufour’s idea to bring a de-centralized method of cheesemaking (the frutière method) to Quebec from the Jura, where he studied. This common-sense approach separates out the dairy from the cheesemaker and, in this case, from the aging rooms (caves). It is the opposite of the farmstead approach, where everything happens in one facility.
Le Migneron is a semi-firm washed-rind cheese, similar in appearance to Oka. Its rind is a rich peachy colour, with scents of straw and stable. The interior paste is creamy, delicate, and with a lingering flavour.
You can certainly cook with Le Migneron, but it would also be splendid with good bread, perhaps a little butter, and some fruit—grapes, perhaps. Try pairing it with a Pinot Noir or a fruity white. A lighter Belgian ale might be a nice accompaniment, too.
Marquis de Témiscouata
Fromagerie le Détour, Notre-Dame-du-Lac, Quebec
If you drive from New Brunswick towards Quebec City, before you reach Riviere-du-Loup you will see signs for the Fromagerie le Détour shop—which is only a very small detour from the highway; it’s in fact visible from the road (and well worth a visit)—and for Lake Témiscouata, from which this cheese takes its name. The ‘Marquis’ is not some ancient French or Quebecois title, but is the nickname of the cheesemaker, Mario Quirion.
Marquis de Témiscouata is a soft cheese with a bloomy white rind. It begins with a chalky dry texture that gradually ripens into an unctuously creamy paste. It is made with milk from the Jersey cows of the family farm (also called Marquis), whose milk reflects the particular qualities of the land—the terroir—of Témiscouata.
Pair with a Chardonnay or a sparkling wine.