Save me, cheeses! While eating my way through the fromageries of Quebec, I became a godmother.
By Liz Fleming | March 09, 2021
Cheese is believed to have been invented by accident, when some early foodie used a pouch made from an animal’s stomach to store milk. Rennet in the stomach pouch would have caused curdling and, ultimately, cheese. Given the aroma that must have wafted from that bag, we’re grateful to our intrepid ancestor for daring to eat the contents.
Today, making cheese is an art form, and there’s no better place in Canada to experience the craft than at the dozens of fromageries in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. The Eastern Townships Cheesemakers Circuit provides a great list of 14 to get you started.
Many are small, family-owned operations where you’ll be warmly welcomed and offered endless samples. Show even the slightest interest in the cheese-making process and you’ll quickly find yourself touring the facilities.
One of our favourite stops was Fromagerie La Station, where three brothers—Simon, Vincent and Martin Bolduc—manage a large cow herd, tap more than 5,000 maple trees for maple syrup and make four delectable styles of cheese—Alfred Le Fermier, Comtomme, Chemin Hatley and Raclette—using organic milk.
The Bolducs believe kindly cow care makes their cheese taste better. “We let our cows roam our property and graze freely,” Simon explains, “and we leave a couple of calves with the mothers so they aren’t sad.”
In the La Station store, I had a sandwich to remember: sharp cheddar, crisply toasted bread and pear preserves. Absolutely delicious.
More than three-quarters of Canada's cheeses are produced in Quebec. Visiting is a good year-round activity and you are bound to find a new favourite.
At the Abbaye de Saint-Benoît-du-Lac, we found 27 monks led by Brother Patrick Flageolet, head cheese-maker, who welcomes guests for tours, prayer services, cheese tastings and shopping. The abbey shop whimsically mixes religious memorabilia with cider, jams, syrups, candies, chocolates and a wide variety of dairy delights.
At petite Fromagerie des Cantons, it’s not the size of the facility that counts, but the energy of the owners—Hugues Ouellet and family. The Ouellets create a delicious lineup of cheese that ranges from the tangy and best-selling El Niño to my favourite, the Anglais Cheddar—aged 10 months until sharp but creamy. Keeping up with the steady flow of cheese-loving customers is simple, Ouellet says: “We make one kind of cheese every day—but we make 113 kilos of it!”
The Ouellets and Bolducs have long experience in the cheese-making business, but that’s not true of all fromagerie owners on the circuit. At Fromagerie Cornes et Sabots, we met Jean-François Larche. He and partner Nicola Cunha are Vancouverites who recently moved east to embrace farming and are now creating very tasty goat cheese. I loved it, but what I’ll always remember has less to do with products and more with one particular producer.
We make one kind of cheese every day—but we make 113 kilos of it!
Walking past the barn, our feet crunching on the frozen ground, I asked if there were any baby goats.
“Not yet,” said Jean-François, “but you’re welcome to look at the herd.”
As we stepped into the shadows, a definite goat-in-labour bleat sent Jean-François rushing ahead. “I think you might just be lucky!”
In moments, Jean-François was in full midwife mode. The delivery was difficult, and it took heroic measures to convince a spindly legged baby goat to make her way into the world. While we stared, open-mouthed, Jean-François turned to me: “Hold her. I need to finish with the mother.” Suddenly, my arms were filled with a blanketed, seconds-old kid.
We huddled together to block the chill of the barn and carried her to a box of soft straw, warmed by a heat lamp. Tucking her in carefully, we stood, beaming like proud godparents.
There’s no guarantee of participating in a baby goat birth on the Eastern Townships Cheesemakers Circuit, but what you can be absolutely sure of is a delicious, artisanal experience of your own.