Artisanal raw-milk cheeses in Quebec

This is from a Globe and Mail story from October 1, 2008 by Sue Riedl about a wonderful artisanal Quebec cheese, Alfred le Fermier, the likes of which we don’t make here in Ontario. So what’s the matter? — are we all a bunch of philistines? Or is it the war on “terroir” claiming another victim? Read on:

“… Alfred is a washed-rind, raw milk cheese that delivers phenomenal flavour. Once you slice into it, a supple, dense paste with small pinholes is revealed. A fragrant, sweet, floral aroma beckons. The flavour base is buttery with sweet, nutty notes and a woodsy taste closer to the edible rind. The rich taste develops over eight months as the wheels are ripened on spruce planks sourced from the family land.

Using raw milk from organic pastures (the business was certified organic last year), the family makes two other cheeses: Comtomme and Raclette de Compton. Alfred Le Fermier not only bears the imprint of the family patriarch, but also carries his name.

Mr. Bolduc, the founder of the Bolduc farm, was the first of this family to settle in Compton, in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, four generations ago. Cheese maker Simon-Pierre Bolduc’s mother, Carole Routhier started the business in 2004 after experimenting with making cheese for herself and her family for many years.

Alfred qualifies as a true farmstead cheese, which means the milk comes from one herd of cows raised on the cheese makers’ farm. Their 50 Holsteins come from a herd that has had no outside animals added for the past 40 years. Every year on May 15, the cows are led outside to graze in organic pastures, which grow grasses such as white clover, wild clover and alfalfa. This terrain, part of the Appalachian plateau, endows Alfred Le Fermier with a flavour specific to this region of Quebec. Only organic green fertilizer and manure are used on the land, and crops are rotated to keep the soil healthy and fertile….”

And from the comments:

“Andrea Dufferin from Canada writes: What is with the Globe and Mail’s obsession with Quebec cheeses this past year?”

“Roderic E. from Canada writes: Andrea, you obviously haven’t tried Quebec cheese, give them a try and you will understand the Globe’s obsession.”

“noneof yerbeezwax from Toronto, Canada writes: Quebec has a much longer history of producing artisan cheese than Ontario or any other province for that matter. There is a lot of quantity and quality to choose from in Quebec cheese, hence the justified focus.”

“Murray Braithwaite from Canada writes: You do not see many Ontario artisanal cheeses because of the milk board. Cheesemakers have to buy pooled industrial milk, which promotes lowest common denominator quality. Plus the pooled milk sits for a few days. Exceptional cheesemakers are as meticuous about the herd, terroir and feed for the cows as winemakers are about grapes. Imagine if Ontario vitners had to use Welch’s grape juice. For this reason, most of the quality artisanl cheeses in Ontario are sheep and goat cheeses. The onlly exceptions I know of are cheesemakers who have their own herd of cows and have endured a terrific battle to be able to use their own milk rather than pooled industrial milk from the milk board.

Until Ontario sees the light, the best cow’s milk cheeses in Canada will continue to be dominated by Quebec.”

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