Quebec is producing many great cheeses these days, including a wider variety of raw milk cheeses thanks to provincial laws that are closer to those of Europe. I tasted some great ones at last year’s ACS Conference in Raleigh, and Quebec makers took home multiple ribbons. The Boston Globe went on a driving tour of the Quebec Cheese trail:
In Saint-Lambert, a Montreal suburb, Max Dubois runs L’Échoppe des Fromages, the back full of mix-matched chairs and tables. Cappuccinos come with a tower of foam mounded several inches high.
Trained in theater and sociology, Dubois sang loudly and well as he chose a record for the stereo, and before joining us greeted his early morning customers by name. “Always we had a mission,” he said, “to educate everybody … and explain the importance of eating true cheese.”
“A true cheese for me, it’s a farmer cheese … when the same producers control the cow, the goat or the sheep, the milk, and the production of cheese, and the affinage, the old-fashioned aging. And they control the market.”
Dubois is known as a proponent of Quebec’s raw milk cheeses, a position of politics as much as taste. Raw milk cheeses are favorites in Quebec, but with two listeria outbreaks (one tied directly to Quebec-made cheese) in the past five years, they’ve come under significant scrutiny.
Dubois is still a champion. “It’s better for everything,” he said. “For the economy, for the family, for society, and for the heart. We have true bacterias. For me it’s the taste of terroir. Of the country. We could have a cheese in each place in the country, and each cheese would be different.”
Fromageries are plotted as points on the map, but there is no one road that connects them. Some points denote shops, others factories. We planned for trial and error.
Our first day we made three stops: a highly-regarded organic creamery, a monastery that sold cheese out of the basement, and the home of a bemused homesteader who told us, from his front porch, that he’d given up cheese making years ago. “These days I make beer,” he said.
The second day, we managed six, starting with Fromagerie La Station. La Station is one of the best known creameries in the province. Though chiefly involved in wholesaling, the farm has a nice roomy shop with its cheeses and other local goods for sale.
Driving to each cheese maker is an incredibly inefficient way to taste cheeses. En route, we pulled up to an enormous factory and into the headquarters of a local producer that was also, inexplicably, a poutine-pedaling fast food establishment. If it were just cheese we had wanted, we could have stayed in the city. At the cheese shops in Montreal and Quebec City we met many helpful, friendly, and generous cheesemongers happy to share their wares and their knowledge.
But visiting the cheese makers added a dimension beyond nose or texture. Dubois had said that cheese was an expression of identity in Quebec, but the reverse was also true. Driving the lanes, watching the land change from hills to pastures, turning around in lakeside driveways, pointing out houses of unbelievably perfect proportions, all of this mattered. Even metal-clad barns standing almost like sculpture in the fields can be thought of as elements of terroir, and these made the drive all the more worthwhile.