December 20, 2010

the cold hard facts of eating locally

Fog, snow, ice. A recipe for a weekend inside of baking, oysters and wine...and reading. Although the flour from my pizza dough was Québecois, the olive oil is from Palestine, the wine, Chablis, and the anchovies, Morocco, oysters... PEI. So although eating locally in Québec is possible, when not an absolute purist, an imported wine is not a sin. La Via Campesina by Annette Aurélie Desmarais, a teacher at the University of Regina, has written a book about a peasant movement which now has 148 member organizations from 69 countries, including Québec's Union Paysanne, addresses in fact what local really means.

'La Via Campesina promotes a model of peasant or family-farm agriculture based on sustainable production with local resources and in harmony with local culture and traditions. Peasants and farmers rely on a long experience with their locallyavailable resources. We are capable of producing the optimal quantity and quality of food with few external inputs. Our production is mainly for family consumption and domestic markets.' Via Campesina website.

Anyone interested in eating from local farms is eventually going to realize how close Monsanto or Dupont really are, how restraining and sometimes corrupt government regulations really are, and how fragile the diversity of what we eat still is and probably will continue to be as long as these corporations continue to exploit local laws, ruin local peasants, as they forcefully create systems of dependency. Desmarais' book is a great read for the end the year, uplifting and dedicated, as we all should be. Happy New Year.

December 5, 2010

the world of the great storytelling miller Sylvain Lafortune

Snow everywhere. 4.30 pm and the sun has already disappeared. We stood in front of a huge square silo, a sole lonely light illuminating a part of its belly and part of a sign, Le Moulin Bleu. To the right the boutique is as dark as Jonah must have experienced a long time ago. We walk up to the door; Saturdays they close at noon. Next time. Turning around I see a man walking towards us, in overalls, a torn comfy looking sweater, wild salt and pepper hair and a big bushy mustache. Holy shit, it is George Brassens! Without hesitation he opens the shop telling us that exceptions are what keeps us young.

He excuses himself for his dusty, ragged appearance. The miller, owner Sylvain Lafortune asks us if we have ever visited a mill before. Nope. He turns and off we walk into something more complex than I expected from flour.

Sylvain is one of those very few animated, talkative individuals you meet who are a pleasure to listen to, like Brassens. Only here in the cold humid belly of the mill, which is built above the Saint Esprit river, we were given a history of milling in the world, a history of Lanaudière region, his genealogy and the complex process of making stone ground artisanal buckwheat, not to mention the history of near extinction of some South American wood (Guayacan?) and Hydro Québec. The mill was built around 1860. The mill is not blue but in fact red (there are 4 or 5 theories for that one). The process of séchage, dépoussiérage, cribblage, épièrage, the trillage of size, machine after machine in something as simple as flour, the storing and the series of tubes going just about everywhere makes for something wonderful. This huge complex processing tonnes of buckwheat to be ground by two stones more ancient than any of us or our memories. The mill has been indirectly in the family (St-André, Henri, Lafortune) passed on from the woman`s side since it's inception except for a brief problem with the Seigneur de St-Roch in what was then the Fief of Bailleul, but one has to relive it through the great storytelling miller.

Proud of his craft, deeply rooted in the region of Lanaudière along this tiny river, Sylvain tells us that buckwheat came as a response of massive industry takeovers of the flour industry, and with this love and respect of a more traditional approach and perseverance we are given the gift of buckwheat, which is neither grass nor a cereal but a plant first cultivated around 6000 years ago.....

185g buckwheat flour
185g whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon of salt
3 tbs brown sugar
2 tea baking soda
1 1/3 cup milk approx.
2 eggs
4 tbs of clarified butter for cooking the pancakes

mix all ingredients except for the butter. Let rise for 5 minutes. Cook in the clarified butter like any other pancake. Serve with maple syrup and butter.

November 28, 2010

a pleasure of something honest in this culture of crisis and obssesive trends

End of November. Patches of snow everywhere. I do not know about most people, but I begin to panic, my body begins to make reserves, I check my cupboards often. There is a sadness in watching this Québec land slowly being buried with the snow, the intense maniacal cold taking over. As most I am sure, I cannot help thinking about our ancestors who decided to make this place home. In 1985, Fabienne (Suisse) and Frédéric Guitel (Normand) did exactly that. There was practically no land available in Switzerland and land in France was beyond cost unless you had abundant riches stashed away. Québec had land and reasonably priced.

They bought a farm. Pigs. 4 years of injections and the strange business surrounding it and they quickly realized it was not them, it was not what they wanted, they were not happy. Land they had, but there was suddenly the internal dilemma about what direction to take. They met some people who wanted to make a fromagerie of goat cheese and needed milk. Fantastic. 180 goats later and the project never came to fruition. They struggled. For a while they dealt with Damafro but the demand for their milk was not consistent. Delivery of fresh milk was also expensive. Then the loss of of a huge batch of fresh milk from not being able to sell it. Enter the cheese. Frédéric took a course in Joliette in 1992 for cheese making, raved about it, and Fabienne followed. Cows also followed and in 1995 the fromagerie was born.

I listen to a few customers coming in. They each have different stories, but I realize that they are saying something very similar. They don't want to be lied to, they do not want to be cheated. And this space, this fromagerie in a sense, what it felt like was a space to be able to discuss what that meant. It felt like a space to criticize society while doing something about it.

Two of their cheeses, Grand Manitou and Funambule were recipes purchased from the now non existent fromagerie La Voie Lactée, which was in Assomption, shortly after the whole listeria fiasco in Québec. There are a few such who disappear, but Fabienne and Frédéric bought these two recipes from La Voie Lactée in a sort of solidarity.

Funambule-goat cheese. nice runny insides. strong smell of goat, roasted butter, floral. taste a little acidity, butter, hazelnuts....really amazing with a 2002 Tannat wine from Uruguay (go figure the odds of that one).

Freddo-pale yellow to orange crust. smell of fresh paris mushrooms, cheddar, fresh milk, taste smoothe, butter, fatty. 60 days washed rind, semi ferme presée.

Le Sabot de Blanchette-fresh goat cheese in pyramid form, taste of hay, chives, floral, very creamy, amazing mouthfeel. Great with 2008 vin de glace Riesling from Cote d`Ardoise.

Grand Manitou-goat, cow, ewe cheese. smell of hay, goat, fresh mushrooms and nuts. Soft taste, toasted cereal, mushrooms.

Le Petit Poitou-lobster, umami, mushroom soup, wet hay. taste of mushrooms, good length, almost leaning of truffles, duxelles. type of camembert.

In 1985, when they arrived farmers were seen as, well, uneducated shit. Thirty years later a different mood has settled. There is more respect for them as artisans contrasted with the wealthy multinational farmer non farmer.

North America. Welcome to the land of endless diets, fads, endless new foods, endless identity crisis' where tradition has always been pierced, beaten, violated and killed. Talking with Fabienne I realize they are descendants of a long line of agriculturalists who have been there longer than the obsessive, demented trends America is capable of, and I am happy for it, because here are people who have something more to share than artisanal cheese, and that is the pleasure of something honest.

November 24, 2010

for those about to revolt, we salute you.

It was between making a film or becoming a terrorist" Hugo Latulippe explains in his documentary: Bacon Le Film. Although the theme is that greed begets greed and the big only get bigger there was another message, more heartening and assuring; that by creating coalitions of the smaller, something much stronger is founded than the big multinational standing alone. In short, it is also a documentary of hope.

The issue? Mega pork farms which have been popping up everywhere in Québec. With the mirage of having to compete in a global market, but in the end, as so often, making a very few individuals very wealthy whose byproduct of pollution is out of control. And again who is paying to clean up the mess of these mega mono pork farms? Us. The citizen's taxes who pay. We subsidize the profits they pocket. Old hat. This by now is standard policy in North America. But not everyone accepts this with a shrug and defeatist libertarian's approach.

Enter Roméo Bouchard. Québec's José Bové, ex-farmer, writer, militant against the UPA monopoly, founder of Sauver les Campagne and co-founder of Union Paysanne. This is someone who understands the ridiculous nature of efficiency and profit driven business. "The world cannot support infinite growth." But this is exactly the image we are presented with by most leaders, multinational CEO's and rationalists. Absurd. This documentary is about that meeting point of the absurd logic behind mega farms and monocultures, and the real family farms and citizens of the countryside. We are taken through the strange world of pigs in cages no bigger than themselves so that they do not get too much exercise (food costs money), injections, no sex, no natural expression, live castrations, tail cuttings, under water pollution, abuse, government turned mafia (read Fast Food Nation). We are taken to the frontier where the mind of man thinks that it can turn the whole of nature into a laboratory, where the farm simply becomes another meat shop with no link to life, hostile to nature...the balance heavily upset.

Another issue is that the UPA, Union des Producteurs Agricoles, without forcing farmers to sign on as a member, nonetheless forces on each a payment annually varying between 300 and 600 dollars. Even if you refuse to pay on principle they dock it off your milk production, your meat, your land. More than 5000 farmers have been legally pursued by UPA for refusing to pay on the basis of principal. Québec is the only place in the western world to still maintain this sort of monopoly. Autonomy? This issue is so deep that I have yet to meet a farmer who has had anything good to say about the UPA. Stories I have heard included some subtle tactics and threats towards certain people concerning their future and the future of their kids. Shit, if that is not a mafia....

November 20, 2010

Under the counter meat. friends of the people and well being, Mont St-Hilaire

On the summit of Mont St-Hilaire with my good friend Marie Josée we looked out over a strange landscape. There was farm land; some of it industrial, some small scale, probably not much artisanal. There was the Richelieu river swerving through it all, probably a little polluted. And then Beloeil. Not much to say, except surreal. Mid november at 15 degrees we could not be happier. Our bellies were full of fresh apple juice, goat cheese and a local bread. Before climbing the mountain we had just witnessed the short zany copulation of a billygoat and his mate. After strange tongue movements reminiscent of 80`s rock band members and a shuffle and a dance, BAM! One swift shot which took, 2 seconds. We were stunned. No pleasure there. I can see how being called a buck could perhaps be insulting. I asked what they did with the meat. They don`t advertise their meat, and keep it for those who....well, all I can say is that the trunk of my car began quickly filling up. One thing I could not help noticing was that most of the goats had their horns. Delicate, since they do fight quite a bit, and regularily impale one another. They find it a tough moral decision. Instead of burning off the horns though he is experimenting with a pretty innovative trick. A tight rubber band around the base of the horn. Blood is cut off, the horn falls. That is it. And they respect the natural cycle of their animals, no artificial lighting, no artificial nothing. How simple is that. No compromise. A lot less cheese in the winter but a little time of rest. That is that. It does not get more normal than that.

Coming down the mountain we were ready to visit the ice cider Cryo.

Although Hugo, the owner of Cryo, was not there we were nonetheless given the grand tour. She explains the two different types of ice cider: Cryo concentration which represents about 90 percent of the production which is essentially apples picked in autumn, frozen out doors and then slowly pressed for the concentrated juice. The second method is cryo extraction which is when the apple is frozen on the tree itself, picked weather and wind beaten on a crazy minus too many degrees Québec winter day and then pressed frozen. Courtland is usually the apple for this. For both of these methods the essential characteristic is that the process of freezing is completely natural. We talked about how the Chinese have understood this method and are trying to do the same but by using freezers. Enter industrialization. This led once again to the talk of AOC`s in Québec to protect products which are pure in their approach and definite in the character of the terroir. Put this way, winter looks a little different.

mi Cryo-Spartan, Mcintosh and Empire. 8.7% nice balance between sugar and acidity giving way to apple. Fresh.

Cryo cidre de glace-11% soft, spices, honey. Not too sweat leading to apricots, with subtle oxidation, buttery with a nice apple finish.

Prestige-2008 10%-apples picked in mid-january. Crazy irony that the immediate fruit on the nose is litchi with a little pineapple with toasted nuts. Excellent big taste of compoted Courtland.

The trunk full again with meat, drink, apples, blue squash....I could only be thankful for my friends and the artisans who are holding on to values which hopefully will multiply in their intensity and respect not only for the nature but for each of us.

November 7, 2010

picnic of raw milk cheese on the summit of the mini mountain St-Grégoire (a reprieve from douche bags)

Upon waking I wanted to climb a mountain. A nice steep hike to work off last nights oyster's and wine, and 5 course meal and beer....I also needed cheese for the restaurant. I looked at a map and without hesitation I knew it was going to be the Mont St-Grégoire area. I have always drove past it, always admiring its bulk among the flat farm lands.

I can see the mountain as I drive down rang Saint Édouard, a powerful presence, an unmistakable point of reference. The plan was to buy some cheese at Au Gré des Champs and then picnic on the peak of that powerful bulk. Some cattle are indoors an open barn where the chew and wait, some are outside just standing around, almost as if scheming, occasionally taking a dump. Behind them about 5 km away I can see Mont St Grégoire's lonely presence rising out of the flat land. A dog starts barking, a protetive natural warning. Daniel Gosselin sticks his head out of the door, says hi, asking if I needed anything. Just watching the cows. He understands, waves and I continue. How ingenious that the sun should burst into plants and grass, these enormous beasts should eat them, we milk them and with the magic of a little salt, cheese. A way to preserve the otherwise quickly spoiling milk (unless pasteurized). Here no. This is straight up organic raw milk. Fromage fermier. Auto-sufficient farmer's cheese, meaning that they control all levels of production. Inside, the boutique is represented a dozen or so other artisans, mostly organic, and even a dozen or so cheeses from other fromageries around Québec, a good reminder of solidarity. Also one can observe through a window into the production room where there is about 20 plastic rounds slowly dripping. I am told that this is a mix of last night and this morning's milking and will end up becoming three months from now their famous Gré des Champs cheese. One meule per cow. The farm was taken over by Daniel from his father who also operated a dairy farm, and with his wife Suzanne Dufresne decided who used to work for the commission scholaire they slowly replaced the Holsteins with the Suisse Brunes, replanted the land with many varieties of flowers, studied, learnt and pushed towards their first two cheeses, Gré des Champs and Iberville in 2000. Monnoir followed and now two fresh raw milk cheeses unheard of before. Most raw milk cheese by law has to be aged for a minimum of 60 days. Not these. With another permit they are able to produce a 5 day fresh cheese and a 15 day one. Each with incredible intensity. Au Gré de Champs work on this level is to be admired.

Along the way on chemin de la Montagne I see a little kiosk selling apples and other things. Last chance. I am greeted by a guy with a big hunting gun. Hello. I oddly felt like I was back in Lebanon for a second. He goes and gets a woman who is responsible for the kiosk. He disappears. I buy some apples and a jar of apple jelly she makes which I think will go great with the younger floral cheeses.

Not far from there is the entrence to the mini moutain. I pay the three dollars to the Non profit organization CIME who protects the place and its wildlife. I walk up the steep flank of the mountain, ok, 251 meters. This is not Everest at 8848 meters, but nonetheless this mini mountain delivers an impressive view and a solid donkey kick to the heart. Along with Mont Yamaska, Shefford, Mont Rougemont, Saint Hillaire and Saint Bruno they all represent the same event when the North American Plate moved westward 124 million years ago. I sat down on something millions of years old, looking at what was once an immense wild forest below. All this dense forest in such a short time has become the clean cut ownership lines of farm land spreading out as far as the naked eye can see. Grey rectangles, rust coloured orchards, beige rectangles, off green rectangles. The mini mountain was once named Mount Johnson after John Johnson owner of the monnoir and Seigneurie in 1795. The named changed in 1923 after Grégoire le Grand (540-604). I can only imagine why. I watch the movement of the passing clouds' shadows over the fields below and pull out the cheese, the apple jelly and the bread.

Pont Blanc. 15 days, raw milk organic. Along with the Peningouin it is the first raw milk cheese under sixty days in Canada. Pungent, very floral, creamy. Excellent with the apple jelly I bought from that little kiosk.

Gré des Champs. 3 months and up. Rotten oatmeal looking crust, smell of a damp cave, orangish tint. Soft taste of mushrooms, hazelnuts, flowers, cooked butter.

Iberville-2 month old. semi firm, light orange crust, very floral, herbal, creamy, toasted notes with a slight bite.

Le Monnoir-good hard rotten crust, damp forest floor speckled with penicilium candium. This one from a winter milk, slightly drying, not as fatty. Light tasting, hazelnuts, butter, herbal. 6 months.

I was happy to be able to appreciate all this beauty, great cheese, good health. I thought of all the farms below that I do business with, all part of this fragile fabric in the face of multinationals, yet still persevering. I wanted everyone to be here with me suddenly, including my late father, brother, grandfather, grandmother and uncle. I was grateful to my mom's efforts, my stepfather's love and patience, and somewhere the God we all refer to even if divided. I was happy, and yet knew that in about 30 minutes driving back to Montréal I would be angrily cursing humanity and stupidity again.

October 26, 2010

the strange world of the elk, turtle blood and deer penis

I was invited by a friend to visit an elk farm in southern Québec. Fantastic I thought. It was my birthday and that seemed perfect. Turning off the 202 (note previous blogs), we head down the old Dutch. A beautiful winding country road threading through wild and cultivated landscapes. Arriving at Wapitis Val-Grand-Bois the first thing we see are those wild turkeys. Out of the car we quietly follow them for a short distance, observing their nervy little hyper walk maneuvers. All I could think was I wish I had a sling shot or a gun. (I was later informed that it takes not only one permit but two, and that you are allowed one day and one bird.). We return back to the house, which is pretty secluded. Across the country road is the huge area for the elks, and from where we stand we can count 8. We are greeted by a tiny woman Francine, with, something I would call, curious, kind energy. Inside the boutique which is tiny room off the living and dinning room, the first thing I see is a bottle of Wapifor pills. I was in backwoods Québec, but also suddenly confronted with the intense and barely understood world of Chinese medicine. Before coming I was reading about Elk antler velvet which is said to relieve symptoms of arthritis, increase's blood flood and also said to have good results for men who lack the confidence of a firm sex drive. In traditional Chinese medicine it is only second to ginseng in importance. This naturally led to reading about even Hippocrates having recommended deer penis. Then deer penis wine. Then turtle blood. Then a ban of these products in the 2008 Summer Olympics. I thought, there must be some truth to this if they are being banned! Already, deer penis wine sounds a lot better than Coca Cola (let us think origins). And given the Chinese the benefit of the doubt with 2000 years of experience.....

But here I was in Québec. We went through the usual introductions and then instead of getting to `business' we sat down in a sort of sun room and began to talk. She and her husband Raymond bought this property 23 years ago, which in its origin was a little run down and abandoned. They took another couple of years to try to decide what it was that they would do. 16 years ago Elk came into the picture. They began with two females (with the aid of ever present Mark Hebert who was the model for all subsequent elk farmers). They built the area all the while taking their needs into consideration. Even the large forest area at the back was planned for the winter months when the elk like to huddle in the thick of the wild. The goal, she admitted was obviously less the meat than for the antlers which fetched extremely high prices from China and Korea. They slowly built their troop, cautiously because all the while they were learning what it meant to live with elks. They learnt slowly through observation, and the occasional help of veterinarians, and other members of the Association des Éleveurs de Wapiti du Québec. Raymond kept working at what is referred to as Le Shoppe but I did ask any specifics. Then came the infamous 2001, mad cow disaster. This changed everything. The borders closed. The market became difficult. There was a commercial 'antler dryer' in Gaspésie that was supposed to pan out but took a lot of time, and there is some non payment gossip surround this too. I am sure given also the lucrative nature of this kind of enterprise there is another story behind all this. So now they concentrate their energies on all the foires, marchés and artisanal markets. But at 60 years of age, they are finding this difficult. In 23 years they have never taken a vacation and were now thinking of Italy. We then moved to the products, and while describing the rillettes and terrines and elk meat I realized that I was more than famished. I really had something like an urge to run out in the field and grab one of those wild turkeys and take a bite out of one. I told her what I was going to do, and instead, telling me that she was also hungry that she had soup, some cheese (Fritz Kaiser), elk charcuterie (Saucisson Vaudois) and some raw sliced garden peppers. Ten minutes later inside of her house we are eating, talking about the pleasures of Italy, her son, Olivier who took photos for a book on beer which was to be out the next day. Then the talk of regrets. They wonder if they have failed doing what they did because nothing really seems to some of it. They had a plan and it never really materialized. This final note affected me. And at 60, they wondered was it worth continuing. I could not answer, rather thinking that it seemed that this was the essential question at all periods of our lives. We talked. (I will edit that part). There was something more profound here than what I came for. I found something more than elk meat and pills.... No marketing, no bullshit. But questions, yes. A desire to do things correctly, yes. Conscience, yes. Living correctly. Without hesitation I bought huge quantities of elk meat for the restaurant and will be back for as long as they are there. I asked about the pills but she laughed saying that I was still young and instead offered me a jar of her home made fir extract jelly (amazing with elk rillettes!) And if they really decide to go to Italy, I am more than happy for them and will definitely expect a postcard. And as a birthday it will be one of the more memorable.

October 18, 2010

the buried lambs head that was not to be

I was watching workers in the Kawa Ijen region of east Java in Indonesia ceremoniously carry a lamb head to bury in the accumulated sulfur deposits on the side of the volcano. Once a year they performed this ritual to avoid unwanted accidents. I was impressed by the act. I understood it as something like a physical prayer. The ritual began because a friend of one of the workers had a dream which scared him, with many omens and demanded of him somewhere in the waking hours the need to bury the head. There was a meeting. They decided. One day, before the incredibly difficult labour of carrying kilos of sulfur stones in baskets balanced on their shoulders down the side of the volcano, they buried the head of a lamb and the rest they ate.

Driving up the Saint Joseph du Lac mountain I was wondering if I would bury my own lamb`s head. I received a call from Brigitte, one of the owners of Fromages Du Verger telling me that this years animals were ready. Last year I had put my name down in a waiting list for the yearly slaughter. The orchards are all empty and closed. A sure sign that winter is coming. I turn onto rue de la Pommeraie, a quite, rural road with a few bungalows and much bigger homes, and after a minutes drive pulled into their driveway. The one thing I note is that there already a 6 degree difference between here and the town of St Joseph du Lac. Instead of going into the boutique I decide to walk around their land first. The orchard is quiet. The whole land is surround by woods which has cut the strong wind to a whisper. The sun is intense and hot here. Beside the orchard there is the barn where the sheep are divided by age with an exit which gives onto a large pasture. A few apples are half eaten here and there. Their myriad faces stare at me with those curious eyes, ears punching out like wings. Here are a cross breed of East Friesian and Lacaune sheep. The first from Northern Germany with an extremely high yield of milk and the second from the south of France which is predominately used for the famous Roquefort cheese. The crossbreed favoured in these parts of North America. The collective murmur of burping, bleating, grunting, snorting, scratching against the wooden fences, farting and pissing takes on its momentum again. I watch them feeling somewhat intense about the fact that I was going to eat on of them. And one of them really was staring at me so intensely that I almost told him 'sorry'. Following a group of them to open pasture I notice that most of the trees have lost their leaves but there still remain a few lone apples clinging to the bare branches.

I found it incredible that when Brigitte told me that she and her husband Michel worked in the pharmaceutical industry...this was something happening more and more. Like most, they wanted to start off on their own. But the idea of continuing in their own trade exhausted them. They thought of making pret a manger meals but neither of them were cooks, they also considered wild mushrooms, but that was too much for them. Cheese on the other hand seemed to be a natural transition. They took a cheese making course at the Institut de Technologie Agroalimentaire in Saint Hyacinthe. What kind of cheese they hand to decide. They found goats too nervous and enervating, but sheep were calm and quiet, essential with very little maintenance. After having searched for 9 months for a location they had found this orchard which at that time was called Le Verger de la Tentation. They purchased it in 2007. They bought 60 head from M. Goyette in Cantons de l'Est and built a barn next to the orchard, which for two ex-pharma heads was as one can imagine quite the undertaking. Then they had to build the fromagerie. In the meantime they were able to rent a space at the ITA in order to develop their style of cheese. I listened, amazed at the sudden and so recent transition that these two have went through. The conversation veered into all the strange ingredients one finds in food. Milk powder especially. A lot of cheeses out there use it, she tells me. At 1/3 the price. More profit. Instead they took the ethical stance many are taking. She shows me the ingredient label of her yogurt-Pasteurized sheep's milk and bacterial culture. That is it. No ultra filtered milk or milk powder with how many vitamins and pro-biotic additions or whatever the trends are now. This is a solid 6% fat content yogurt. More or less the real thing.

le Pommé-firm cheese with a wax rind to remind one of the apple used in the recipe. Taste of toasted butter, subtle in taste with hints of apples and pears.

Le Bohème-firm cheese with herbal and good acid accents reminding one of a good aged cheddar. Subtle hints of pear, hazelnuts.

Le Louché-like a faisel, thicker than yogurt, less salty than labne, less acid. Perfect with some fresh fruit.

Brebichon-winner of 2010 Caseus award. Soft apple washed rind, strong mushroom and toasted nuts on the nose, creamy floral almost roasted chestnut tart shell taste-pretty tasty with a Saint André de Figuière Cote de Provence Rosé 2009.

There were more and more clients coming in wanting to taste their cheeses. I could feel a bit of stress. It is only the two of them running the show. Time to go. I quickly paid for my 62lbs of lamb as they quickly described all the cuts that were already prepared for me...neck, rack, belly, testicles, but no tongue, meaning no head. Maybe it was processed somewhere into cat food or something. Walking to the car I thought how stupid it was to bury the head anyway, one could make a wonderful roast with it or stock. We all have our priorities, and I suppose mine was that I felt safer eating their cheese and meat knowing it was virtually free of anything than what it was. As for the world of the spirit, I suppose it was enough to know that they cared that much to have chosen their new profession with less greed and avarice than many other do.

October 17, 2010

highway 202, sculptures in the autumn vineyard

Like probably most Quebecois there is a strange affinity to highway 202. I realize that over the years I have travelled this 150 km stretch in bits and pieces, ever returning, ever enjoying, if not the landscapes, than the incredible amounts of artisans who line it. I was not exactly in the mood to visit much this sunday; the grey sky, dramatically windy, half of the leaves fallen off the trees, but a tiny sense of solidarity pushed me off. One does not really have to plan visits when on 202. This time I limited myself to the tiny area close to Dunham. Orpailleur, Cidrerie fleurs de pommiers and Domaine des Cotes d'Ardoise.

I have always resisted visiting the vingnoble Orpailleur, probably one of Québec's most popular wineries, but today I found myself in their large tasting room cum museum cluttered with the ABC's of wine. Out the corner of my ear I heard some people tasting, no, rather drinking. Looking around I realized that probably most of these people (a pitiful judgment based on half reliable experience) have a bottle or two of baby duck stashed in their fridges. (Baby Duck was a sparkling cheap product of the Canadian Andres vineyard which sold around 8 million bottles a year in the 70`s and 80's which was often described to please a wider range of people with relatively unsophisticated palates.) I suddenly felt surround by exactly that. I think the girls giving the tastings also, because they seemed a little broken and mechanical. In fact everyone seemed to be treated as some numbskull moronic tourist. I always found it strange when a business crosses that line of mass appeal. The one interesting product I tasted though was their Vin gris (a white made with the red grapes although Orpailleur uses Seyval, New York Muscat and Geissenheim (white). This is pale rosé wine, more pearl coloured, and described as a semi sweet grey wine. On the nose intense fruit (peaches, melons, apricots) and herbs, with a fairly round mouth feel, buttery and pleasant. Good for an apéro. The experience as in many places was equally frustrating because there are no spittoons.

Right next door was the Cidrerie Fleurs de Pommiers. This time I ask for a spittoon before any tasting started and she laughingly made the comment that she was up late too. Good start. I was taken through the tasting with La Réserve and Blanc de Pomme which were a dry and light cider which were fresh enough to drink with some raw scallops are some such thing. I was even told that I could warm it up like sake...well, sure, the low end kind! We blitzed through some fruit flavored ciders which I could tell were remnants of another age of approach to drinking(think Baby Duck) and then finally their Pommeau d'or. This is a sweet apple liqueur made in a similar way to maple syrup. An intense caramelized apple, baked pastry nose with a butter baked apple flavour without being too sweet makes for a very interesting product. They are one the few to use this method and I saw it marry well with some intense blue cheese. I am informed though that the business was sold and would be changing its names, although the Pommeau d'or would survive the purges. I spit, feeling awkward because so few do in Québec.

Not too far along route 202 I drive into Domaine des Côtes d'Ardoise. I sit there a moment not exactly certain that I want to taste anything. I notice though some sculptures in the vineyard and this motivates me. I take a quiet walk through supposedly Québec`s first vineyard. Exposed are the sculptures of some 50 artists. Walking along the tiny paths being introduced to these Québec artist is a pleasant surprise.

They are one of the few to use the Riesling grape in Québec and their white wine is exactly what this climate gives, something quite sec, acidic with little sweetness, and for a Riesling it is quite surprising. Their riesling ice wine with light tones of litchis, pears and floral, fairly sweet, lightly smoky, pears peaches and dead leaves is very good. I suddenly wished I had a spare piece of creamy blue cheese to taste it with, and as hunger imposed itself I decided to leave the rest of 202 to other hopefully many days to come.

October 14, 2010

Jean Francois Millet. A little cheese and a prayer.

All I could think about driving to La Chevriere de Monnoir was Millet. Jean Francois Millet, the famous french painter. Along the quiet morning roads in the countryside I watched the cows and sheep feeding in the fields, close to one another. I pulled over, got out of the car and listened to the strange sounds of them munching on the grass. Millet became one of the founders of the Barbizon school which was in a sort of defiance to the Romantic movement, opting more for what many saw as Realism. I stood there thinking about his paintings The Angelus and the Shepardess and her Flock which I had seen at the musée Orsay while doing culinary stages with Ducasse and El Bulli. Incredible paintings, often describing a universe in which man has a definite place. It was also a nature which was already heavily manipulated by human intervention by fraught with hardship. The Angelus, that early morning peace of prayer came back with especial intensity. That moment before intense toil which we all feel, before the difficult interaction with the free, seemingly wild motives of humanity. That particular painting seemed purged of greed and envy, or rather it captures that moment before they appear. I got back into the car and wondered at the fact that every generation has a dominant movement that we question and oppose. I started thinking of all the fast food restaurants out there and the motives behind them....

Driving into the La Chevriere de Monnoir I see a few rabbits in a large cage, some chickens, a lama in a fenced in area beyond, and a really strange looking goat. All this is a little staged, almost surreal. When I enter the fromagerie a woman is there. I ask her how is everything. Not so good she replies with a direct honesty. Why? Part of her dairy facilities burnt as well as part of the flock. She forced a smile. No one was hurt. She managed to explain to me that most of the cheese that she sells is made from the Chaput familly. She delivers her goat milk to them. This was more like a French system of fromagers.

Champagnole, good sharp taste with notes of hazelnuts, semi ferme, yet melts upon tasting. Washed rind, aged for 6 months.

Artisan Romantique, white croute, creamy to runny with a good dose of buttery bitter taste.

Prestige-goat cheese, not compact, good caprine notes with hints of pear. ashlike rind.

Fleurs des Monts-distinctly floral, Parmesan style.

There was also a smoked saucisson of chevre made by Saucisson Vaudois. A good solid smoky garlic sausage. Marie France Marchand also sells eggs from their chickens which takes the zoo like quality away from the area. Outside the crisp autumn air is chilly. I think of work, the stress of having to feed so many, to keep quality up, to worry about resto critics, the fierce competition, tense about food costs, to manage so many others with so many other interests and wandering attentions. I think of Millet's Angelus, and stand there with a little prayer, as if it were reminding me to be thankful to have tasted these cheeses, to be alive and a witness these autumnal colours, the pleasure of good crazy friends and an exceptional girlfriend.

October 2, 2010

Consumerism, what art thou?

I was reading an article about Brian Brett. Farmer. Salt Spring Island. Very small. Outspoken defender of terroir. I felt like taking an airplane right then from Montreal and meet him, roast some of his lamb and eat. In the end it seemed ridiculous to do such a thing. "You're such a fucking consumerist', my old punk rock roots were yelling at me. Yeah. Fuck. What is it? Can I help it that I want to know quality? 'Buy, buy, buy, fucking bourgeois scum!' It is true, I consume vast amounts of food, cheese, wine, beer, charcuterie, music, art etc....but, consumerism, what art thou?

I was suddenly very defensive. By myself in the car suddenly in the vast hinterland of inquiry. I mean I chase some odd shit at times, find myself with bizarre cravings and seek out with much means and energy in satisfying these whims, but I never saw these in terms of consumerism. Was the problem when it is something empty? Even the greatest products, the greatest masses may be attended, the greatest books read without any profound effect. But even so, this seems less a problem of 'consumerism' than being human, that slow, sometimes painful, act of getting it, of understanding even if a little after the fact?

I was on highway 251, which disappeared, as did the asphalt, and I slowed the car down to watch 20 odd wild turkeys doing who knows what on the dirt road. I turned the engine off. The smell of wood smoke was in the air. No signs, no billboards. The only sound were the turkeys and the leaves agitated by a small wind blowing through the area of Sainte-Edwidge-de-Clifton. Or is consumerism simply defined as everything we consume, or take, or have that is beyond our needs. The thing which remains is sorting out what we need. I watched the wild turkeys and wished I had a gun. What a meal I thought. They begun to slip into the woods. I was impressed by how incredibly camouflaged the suddenly became. Standing on the dirt road I looked around at the vast spaces, wild and cultivated which felt like the edge of humanity, the edge of civilization. Part wish I guess. I remember reading in Fast Food Nation how one soft drink firm 'needed' to sell 25% more drinks in order to meet sales projections. Projections! This feels like only part of it. In order to sell those drinks was more aggressive marketing so people drank more.

I continue down the road, and find myself at Fromagerie La Germaine. Well...less fromagerie and more farm. Réjean Theroux makes cheese yes, but there is not much of a boutique to speak of, there are none of the kitchy trapping of agrotourism here. A lot of bric a brac, paper with a futon in the entrance. No music, no young girl at the counter. No counter. No perfectly placed angled coloured something to influence my buying choices. No major highway, he tells me, so next to no one visits. Lots of land, his own hay, 30 odd cows and a desire which led to commercializing his first cheese in 2000. How did you get into the cheese I ask him? Do you have a formation? These questions are always slightly unfair because we can often find a disguised formulaic answer which fulfills our demands. Réjean loves cheese. He also knows as every other cheese maker that you make perhaps 4 times the money than your sale of milk. Like selling grapes and selling wine. He has a little formation, and made up the rest with conseillers which have helped him in producing his three cheeses (I purposely avoid saying perfecting because we all are in that state...) . When I asked about the choice to go with Raw milk cheese his answer summed everything up 'It just seems obvious.' That is the great thing about......there is little of the marketing, next to no bullshit. He is not 'selling' something. Humble? Honest? Simple? Innocent? He brings up some cheese and we do a tasting off a kind night stand. We start with the Caprice des saisons, his first cheese which is Camembert style. Rich, creamy, butter and butty notes, slightly woody, mushroom scents. All I could think of was that this was cheese. Straight, simple delicious cheese. The second was his Caprice des Cantons, a washed rind. A nice orange reddish rind with smell of hazelnuts and a complexity of sub herbal notes. He suggests trying a similar cheese but in his opinion a little dryer, in a sense a defect, but to compare. These are always the privileged moments, to share in the understanding of why one product is the way it is. The 'defectuous' one was less aromatic although the rind looked redder, more developed. He explains that humidity got to it too quickly, the time of aging was disturbed. Next, Réjean's Brie. It tasted just like that, a really good Brie. In large part this is because of the raw milk. When I think consumerism out here, on this farm, I thought of all the shit cheeses out there, all those overly manipulated, processed and reprocessed oblong shapes we find everywhere. A packaged yellow and orange kind of lie. I knew I was not going to define what consumerism meant but this was a beginning; to cherish something, like artisanal cheese, and then to protect it.

We do not do this alone. I thought of Brian Brett on the other side of the country, fighting to protect small farms versus factory farming. "It's a labour of love. I'm not even going to talk about making a living; I'm just talking about making real food. Let's start with that premise, and then worry about making a living!" Brett said in an interview by Joanne Will. Réjean takes me to see his cows, and especially the hay that they just finished harvesting and are storing for the winter. He talks about his father's farm which was near here, he talks about his mother who the Fromagerie is named after, he talks about his land, all of it excited, intense, which seemed to say, see if we all had the chance to do what we loved, imagine what we could do? We shook hands and I left remembering that all those years of punk rock were greater but we never ate very well, and now I do. I still express a certain anger towards the big corporations, but only this time I have the means to support the other side.

September 26, 2010

Picking your own. Garden of Eden or Avalon?

Mister Jason, this is Pierre from the Vergers Philion calling to tell you that your pear ice cider is ready. Last year I had left my coordinates with Pierre because their Poiré Gaia had sold out. It has already been a whole year already I thought. A whole year and now I can finally taste it. Outside is grey and wet. With motivation at a low I move sluggishly to the car and drive towards Hemmingford in Montérégie, the apple ice cider capital of Québec. Once I slip into the countryside on the 202, a tiny rolling highway hedged in by dense forests, orchards and farmland I feel more awakened. The colours of leaves are already changing, the balad of autumn begins.

I realize that being a stranger in the country is always easier than in the city. I am greeted by 4 generations of the Philion family who are all together in front of their boutique either playing or talking with their neighbours. Hubert, Pierre's son, represents the fifth generation of the Vergers Philion and it is he who introduced the apple ice cider 5 years ago and the Poiré 4 years ago. Together these represent about 2500 half liter bottles a year. Tasting both, which are exceptional, I noted that neither was intense in sugar nor with that syrupy texture we often find with ice ciders. I ask him why this is. Method. His is juice extracted fresh from five apple varietals which he keeps separate, he then makes his blend and freezes the juice in containers outside during the cold months on the north side of his land, which remains the coldest. I ask him about purists who say that the only true ice cider is picked off the tree. By doing it his way, he explains, as opposed to either picking frozen apples, or freezing apples whole in crates in the winter, he obtains a purer taste of the juice and of course with something less sweet. Less decomposed, oxidized notes. As for the pear, they use only Beauté Flammande. This pear variety planted 25 years ago has proved to be the most cold resistant. Difficult to say what rules will be imposed on the fabrication of ice ciders, but for now taste I suppose will dictate the market.

It is early, the orchard is quiet. Walking through the wet grass the smell of fresh apples intermingles with the brown oxidized smell of the rotting ones. The final harvest period of the year begins. Part sleep, part death. I stood there in the orchard thinking that this all this life does end. Seasons, driving skills, belching and our appreciation of dew on a spider’s web. Some people may think that these are morbid thoughts, but death is far from that. I pull an apple off a tree, a Northern Spy, and eat. Poor apples, I think. How did they receive one of the most deranged symbols known to mankind? Pears on the other hand have remained essentially unscathed. In my bible there is no mention of apples as the forbidden fruit. All that is mentioned is fruit, point. Yet, most of us grew up knowing Adam and Eve’s act as gyrating around an apple. Any walk through any of the world’s museums would indicate similar evidence. The Garden of Eden would therefore have been found in Northern Hemisphere of apple growing cultures, and everywhere else was punishment. Maybe the garden was in Québec somewhere and not along the Oronoco river as Christopher Columbus once thought! Although who the hell would walk around naked in minus 40 weather? Ok, let us not question God’s ways, but rather the strange, ominous identity apples were given. Maybe it is an extension of the butter and olive oil debate.Or a propaganda campaign against the idea of Avalon. Oh well, I began filling my basket with different varieties amazed at how the fruit grows on a tree. I was awestruck by this complex structure, these mysterious oddly shaped trees with these bright balls stuck all over them. Nature at once bizarre and wonderful, and at that moment it struck me as most bizarre.

Lobo –nice texture, toothsome, mild sweetness and mild acidity. Balanced.

Red delicious-slightly bitter, herbal with less juice than the lobo with bright red skin and shape

Yellow delicious-honeyed, sweep, crisp, good structure.

Courtland-intense apple, sweet with a little acidity.

Northern Spy-fresh, juicy, good acidity and lightly starchy.

Spartan- really juicy, crisp, refreshing, low acidity

Back at the boutique they weigh my paper bag bulging with apples. Hubert and his family is busy greeting everyone. I can see now that after telling me that after having obtained his diploma in agricultural engineering and science he worked for two 'private' companies, and that was enough experience to convince him of where he really belongs. There are families everywhere, groups of friends, tasting, picking, talking in the dégustation room, in the orchards, something incredibly alive, closer to what sustains our lives, not to mention the reassuring, empowering satisfaction of picking something off a tree and eating it other than off of a supermarket shelf.

September 11, 2010

death to the generic! The subculture of honey where varieties abound

In the boutique of Miel Morand in Saint Thomas Québec I had a sort of flash, a sort of regret, and excitement all in one instant. Although Miel Morand is at much serious honey making as it is marketing, I was thinking about Le petit Jardin de l'abeille which I visited last summer in Maria Gaspésie. Only now I realized how intense and integrating their work is. My regret was that wished I would have stayed longer and learnt more. My excitement was that although it may take me longer than other people I sometime's get it, albeit in a delayed sort of way. Whereas Morand has three varieties of honey, Trèfle, Sarrasin and Fleurs Sauvage with no presence to really explain much, Le Petit Jardin known as Au Rucher des Framboisiers has 9 to 10 and a wealth of overwhelming information. I love Morand's honey, without a doubt, but at that moment I had an urge to be back in Maria close to the Baie des Chaleurs tasting each honey as one does a wine while listening to the owner John Forest tell us about the medicinal qualities of each varietal. Forest's raw, unpasteurized, certified organic honey was incredibly tasteful, each one with its distinct character and expression. I also remember as he explained each step of the season's floral production to us that there was something defiant in his approach. This subculture, I realized, was not about the mere act of producing honey, it was about a way of living, about a way of defying the generic.

Forest's varieties are bleuets, centaurée, épilobe, fleurs sauvages, framboise, pissenlit, sarrasin, trèfle, verge d'or with its taste between trèfle and sarrasin. These varietals each come with their distinctive nose, taste and colour. The reason for this control is in part the immense garden that John and his wife Panyong have been planting. This passion for horticulture has brought together one of the largest concentration of melliferous plants, which is obviously reflected in the honey, and the ability to have so many varietals. One is as important as the other, knowing the plant is knowing the honey. Then there was discussion of how honey was made with incredible statistics, such as for 1kg of honey, there is a traveled distance of about 40 000km and 5.5 million flowers involved. As with most things, a good local, unpasteurized honey is everything but generic.

I told him that my favorite honey was the intensely dark sarrasin with woodsy earth tones. He smiled and told me that it was very good for my bone structure and blood circulation and as an aside whispering that it was also good for hypertension and hemorrhoids. I did not ask about internal or external application, content to know that between the wine and the honey my blood must be flowing pretty nicely.

As with the Corsican honey, the only one with an AOC, I hope one day to see Forest's honey with a similar appelation as an expression of the Gaspésienne ecosystem and his intense work with varietals.

I also remembered talking to Gilles Baillargeon, apiculteur professionnel from Ste Geneviève de Berthier, and as I was leaving his house he said to me that a tablespoon of honey a day will ensure me long life. I do not think he was trying to sell me a lifetime's supply of nectar because I had bought his last jar, but rather there it was again, that sort of cult with many beekeepers, a sort of ancient on going subculture, the subculture of honey, and I felt proud to be a partake in it.

September 5, 2010

ancient drive through and the great organic debate

Driving through the Québec countryside, or almost anywhere for that matter, I am always awestruck by the extent in which we can manipulate land. From the front yards, to the rows of trees to arable parcels and the highway we drive on. The idea of manipulation is more powerful here I believe because of the immensity of the fenced in, defined and structured space. Driving along highway 158 towards Sainte Sophie I was remembering how last week I bought tomatoes which were in bags according to type left outside on a cheap shelve at the end of someone's driveway. On the side of the shelve it was written 'Organic tomatoes'. Seeing all this in a sudden flash, without reason really interfering I slammed the breaks. I pulled the car over into some grass and walked over to this strange sort of archaic drive through. 5 bucks a bag, thank you for your honesty it read in paint on the top. I opened the mini chest on the top shelf where a few crumpled 5 dollar bills sat on a carpet of change. I put my 5 in and grabbed a bag. Back in the car I began wondering about this organic thing. The tomatoes looked great. So did all the land around me at that moment. But who the hell can look around and say this is organic? I thought that the relation of trust was in itself empowering, and is without a doubt a fundamental basis of all our relations, so although we all probably put our five dollars into the cute chest, are they being honest with us?

I pull into the driveway of Les Fromagiers de la Table Ronde. It is crisp, cold afternoon, with an early September sun whispering of autumn. Cows are outside feasting on the grass either side of the main building. Instead of going in, I walk up to where the cows are. This is where all great cheese begins I murmured. They stop and stare, I stare back. I notice one who'se back is turned to me, full udders...I shake me head. J, seriously, these are not grapes! It is a cow's asshole and boobs! Too much time hanging out in the vineyards lately I suppose. Although I am sure that there are some people who would be able to tell if the cheese is going to be good by looking at...I decide to go inside. I am greeted by Ronald, of the Alary family, whose farm has been redefining itself for 4 generations now. Although no longer making raw milk cheese, they nonetheless are still certified organic which was obtained in the year 2000.

le Ménestrel-pressed, aged for 9 months with a great rusty croute, with subtle tastes of toasted hazelnuts, lightly floral. Excellent with a late harvest Sauvignon Blanc.

Fou du Roy-good barn smell on the croute, less salty than all the other cheeses, less intense taste of butter, smell of hay, taste is subtle with an incredibly creamy texture.

Courtisane-good toasted butter smell. floral in the mouth, butter and nutty, with a creaminess reminiscent of camembert. discreet and physical.

La Galette-soft cheese. Mushroom, cave and cellar scents with hints of raw chocolate. Creamy taste, cacao, bitter chocolate, herbal. Intense, alive...

Fleuron-a great mildly intense blue cheese. Piquant. Notes of a damp barn, floral, hay, with herbs present throughout. Delicious with a late harvest Vidal.

Rassembleu-a mild blue cheese I suspect with the charm for beginners.

We talk a bit of what it means to be organic. Surprise visits from inspectors, a few thousand dollars extra a year, and obviously a little more work. Talking with Ronald there was no doubt that this kind of control was absolutely necessary for the appelation. It is not because the rest of us are gullible, but we are all susceptible to being manipulated by beautiful words and scenery. A cow outside is a good sign but does not mean organic. At this point anyone can say organic, and maybe they really think it is , but in the end bullshit is bullshit, and there are people who think that their limit, even by spraying a little here and there, or some cheaper chemicals used 'very sparsely and conscientiously' constitute as enough. Advertising and words can never be enough. So although my tomatoes tasted great, with trust being an incredible thing, the question of whether they were organic constantly swelled as I was eating them. What difference does it make if they tasted so good? I could not help mocking my distrust, wishing that I could wholly trust someone's scribbled words on a painted wooden shelf on the side of the highway, but the matter is that many times it is what we do not see or read that affects us the most. In the end, if everyone was honest we would not need to have any certification, not to mention governments, mafias, police, borders, prayers or poetry, but for the time being I guess they will have to do.

August 29, 2010

val caudalies, the chefs and the trendy

I was recently reading in a magazine an article about the 'Top ten Canadian restaurant trends' for 2010 and 2011. I never read these things and prefer to ignore them. This time though the top five were something like artisanal cheese, local ingredients, organic, free rage chicken, sustainable....anyway, the point was clear. In a flash I suddenly saw myself for the first time as someone who was trendy! I had a moment of 'I am not doing anything new or original' panic and then calmed down, after a glass wine. How was it possible, I thought in a brooding kind of way. How the fuck did this suddenly happen? Why was being trendy something evil? Maybe it meant being sensitive to our...

I was gooping all this in my mind when I pulled into Val Caudalies off of highway 213 near Dunham. It is simple. 20 000 vine plants and 1600 or so apple trees. I wander around outside looking at the orchard, mount Pinnacle, almost staring at the quiet. I walk into the boutique and meet one of the owners Guillaume Leroux. He offers me a dégustation with confidence but also with the undertones of someone saying 'it will get better'.

white wine 2009 100% Vidal, peach and wild flower nose with a strong mineral taste leaning towards fresh herbs and crisp pears. love it.

Vidal vendenge tardive. litchi, exotic fruits with a light complex gout oxidative which I love in sweet wines.

cidre de glace 2008 picked on the tree end of december beginning of January pressed at minus 8 degrees. Here is all the qualities of a good apple ice cider.

rosé very popular this year, even in Lebanon. everyone seems to be sold out. Pink is in.

cidre liquoreux an interesting product which is frozen half as long as an ice cider with the taste of apple crisp, less alcool, less sugar with a nice bite of acidity from the Macintosh apple. Amazing with a aged sharp cheddar.

Val Caudalies is no more than 6 years old. Collectively they worked for another similar enterprise in the Bas St-Laurent region, studied a bit of oenology in Québec, but there is no France, no Italy, no Germany. So? How is it possible? Serious stuff. Searching. Promising. There are some people who pay attention I guess, as if understanding someone that it has always been that way.

I thought of France and Italy, of the Serbian markets I visited again and again, Lebanon with their almost predictable seasons and the same dishes which appear on almost every menu...all these places had firm and long traditions. North America does and does not have this. When it comes to the Indigenous people there is a very long tradition of food, cultivation and knowledge of the land. Now for the rest? In France there are excellent charcuteries. Here in Québec? It is more or less difficult to find, albeit a new trend. For the moment though that is not what is important. What is though, is that we are all partaking in the development of our own types, be it wine or charcuteries, our own styles which will stabilize one day and no longer be a trend but a part of our everyday, the very expression of where we live and our identity. The exciting thing is that we are all part of establishing this future of regional AOC's. Everytime we buy something good, it gives those artisans the funds to keep experimenting and perfecting. That is the benefit of living in the new world, we are all in some way building towards something of quality which will one day become if not our immediate tradition then for the generations to come. `This year' Guillaume tells me 'we have tripled our visitors.' I smile. Well I guess they are becoming trendy too. I was encouraged by Guillaume's lightness, his love of doing what he is doing, reminding me that sometimes the things we love do become trendy, but as trends change, our love hopefully does not.


July 4, 2010

deer bone marrow and emperor Hirohito

Standing with Diane Lepage in front of a beautiful deer at the Domaine de l'étoile I realized that all this wandering was becoming less and less random. Before raising deer she was a hospital nutritionist in Rimouski. I was not surprised. Standing beside Diane Lepage I not only felt oddly cared for but stronger. There is a type of energy in certain people which inspires us, strengthens our convictions, reaffirms a humane quality which we find difficult to define or express. Nevertheless we often return to this figure in times of doubt as a support. Standing beside this type again I found a harmony to the universe which otherwise is more often on the side of chaos and the absurd. In fact, this was less about manifesto than a simple validation of values.

In 1996 they bought their first 10 head of deer. This was in addition to the dairy farm they had. Eventually finding the work load difficult, she asked her husband if he had to choose between the two which would it be. Deer he said. Little by little they shifted away from dairy and then came the kiosk, the butcher shop, and now approximately 400 head of deer fed with the wheat and grain that they grow on their land.

I buy some liver and marrow bones which they sell as soup bones, but I saw a beautiful dish of deer os a moelle which I had never tried before.

Deer os a moelle

soak os a moelle in salty cold water for 24 hours.

remove from water (the salt helps in two ways. It gives taste to the marrow, and also leaches some of the blood which turns grey upon cooking.)

cover each os a moelle with a little fleur de sel and roast in over at 450F for appox 10 minutes. All depends on the size of the bone, the marrow etc...This is really one of those easy recipes that you throw yourself into and learn as you go, so pay attention!

For some reason sitting and watching the deer eating I was thinking about Unit 731, this 6 square kilometer of covert biological and chemical warfare research center built by the Japanese army between 1937 and 1945. Some of the most grotesque human experimentation and invention of weapons of mass destruction was invented here. Everything from infection a victim with bubonic plague and vivisecting them without anesthesia and removing their organs to see the effects of the disease, to distributing food infected with disease to unsuspecting populations and then observing the effects of such a live experience. This included even the infected candy for children. It is no wonder that a book like 1984 could have been written with such intensity by a writer who is not considered an overall great writer. Acts of freezing victims limbs to observe the long term effects until they rotted and dropped off their body was not uncommon. This in fact is shocking until we further find out that the head of most of these projects were given immunity by the United States in one form or another. Not that anyone had any illusion about freedom and democracy, but...let us all try to think a little further. This is something we are suppose to let slide lightly in the name of comfort. Unfortunately the reverse is happening. Humanity is extreme. Being at their farm I realized that this quiet moment was fenced by the world, and everything in it was in fact volatile. It is not that food is political per se, because it has always been, but rather it risks becoming a dull way of asserting ones identity. In the sense that it becomes more about a passing trend than an actual culture, but we know the course of this argument.....

So sitting there in front of the deer why would unit 731 become relevant? I don't know. I was thinking about how even after such atrocities the heads of the Unit were given refuge by the United States instead of taken to a war crimes court. This repetition of human folly will unfortunately always undermine honesty and truth. Perhaps also that I instinctively felt that these were people raising the deer would protect those of dissension, that there was some alignment of values that suddenly took place, as opposed to manifesto, values which have been repeating themselves for centuries....Here at the farm I don't imagine the Vegetarian blowing up a turkey in a supermarket, no, I picture Emperor Hirohito here at le Domaine de l'étoile farm watching everything and I am confronted with something more than a simple dilemma of food politics. Hirohito was seen as a god, no, as God. Everyone attached to him were in some way the chosen people. The rest of the world were obviously considered inferior. These are the conditions in which Unit 731 could be created. Sitting there in front of the deer I realize how fragile our assumptions are, because with so many potential new Gods fluttering about, ready to release the next surge of purging we in a sense cannot be so short sighted as something that food alone will speak our minds. Just as in a strange way the chicken, pig and beef has taken over the North American mind and debate, therefor dominate the debate, and our diet, this simplistic approach to the world, this sort of crowding of attention may in fact be distracting us from that which is really important. Sitting here I realize that this place has always existed, these type of people will always be there, and we will in fact always find each other and no matter how temporary, support each other in whatever way, which I understood was not necessarily economic.

June 27, 2010

cures just about anything including half bad white wine

Good for soar throat because of its anthocyanoids. A vermifuge for intestinal parasites. A tissue drainer for congested tissues especially the kidneys, liver and urinary tracts. Great for dermatitis, psoriasis and vasoprotective properties. Not to mention as something to use for diarrhea, dysentery and jaundice.

Driving along the 344 east along the Outaouais river, slightly sick with overwork and exhaustion I was thinking of these discussed and researched properties of the blackcurrant plant. I suddenly felt, for no more than a minute, that I was headed towards a field of miracle cure all. But in all reality it is always easier with a soar throat to see how much more food does than twisted to look pretty, to feed, to pleasure or occasionally to shut up. There is truth in the saying that `herbs do things that drugs have not yet invented.' I am heading towards the town of St-André-d'Argenteuil where there is a 32 acre blackcurrent farm called Aux Cassis d'Argenteuil. This is a young business of 3 years now. My main goal was to buy a case of their Reflet d'automne which is a 19% crème de cassis. After a blind tasting of 4 others including the ever all too common one from France, we found that Reflet was the better tasting, less sweat and more complex. Great for locally made Québec kirs, or alone on ice, or even a nice layer of jelly on an organic chicken liver mousse.

mousse de foie de volailles bio au Cassis Reflet d'Automne (makes 30)

950g cleaned organic chicken livers
200g butter plus 15 grams for cooking livers
700g cream
1/4 cup cassis plus 50ml for after
50g sugar
3 garlic cloves
4 french shallots
5 sprigs of thyme
1 tea nutmeg
1 tea four spice

Cassis jelly

1 gelatin leaf for every 100ml of cassis

1-cut butter in cubes and put in a bowl with the cream. You want this mixture to be around 15 degrees or so. The idea being to never melt the butter, but be able to mix it properly with the liver.

2-heat th 15 grams of butter in a pan(Make sure your pan is big enough for all the livers to fit in a single layer). When bubbling and hot add shallots and halved garlic, cook a few seconds, add thyme and livers (which have been salt and peppered). Colour the livers on both sides and cooking to a medium rare. Deglaze the pan with the 1/4 cup of cassis reduce. You will want rose livers, so if the liquid is not almost completely reduced, remove the livers and continue reducing liquid.

3-put livers in a blender with reduced cassis mix, thyme included. Add the sugar. Blend to a paste. leave until tepid. Pass through a tamis over a large enough bowl, then pass the cream and the butter.

4-whisk this mixture for a couple of seconds until homogeneous. Add 1 teaspoon of nutmeg and 1 tea of 4 spice, 50 ml of cassis, salt and pepper to taste. At this point you can judge whether to add more spices or not, depending on the looked for intensity. Pour into jars. Set overnight before pouring the jelly on top if using.

5-soak gelatin leaf in water. Heat a little cassis. Take softened gelatin leaf out of water squeezing out maximum liquid, add to warm cassis whisking until disolved. Add to the rest of the cassis. Pour desired amount over the chilled liver mousse. Allow an hour for the jelly to set before serving.

Carole Valiquette takes me to their little boutique where we talk about the weather. The weather with agronomists is in fact very important as opposed to urbanist's opinions on the issue. This year has been a little difficult. Early frost, extreme heat, and then continuing morning frost has killed off a part of the flowers. She admits though that they are still trying to understand the relationship of the blackcurrent bushes and the land they purchased 15 years ago. A lot of preparing went into this. I look out the window at their rows of bushes in the afternoon light and saw how precocious it could be. Sometimes it rains and nobody comes to the restaurant. Sometimes you have shitty weather and there are not enough fruit. She tells me that the first few years preparing their land with cereals such as buckwheat, then they had to wait another 5 years for the bushes to produce abundant fruit. The average lifespan of a bush being 20 years. At that point a customer comes in and starts asking about the 'booze'. Carole tells them their history, does a tasting of their three products. Rubis, Rastel a sort of porto and the Reflet d'autumne. "Not bad, not bad. How much?" She tells him. He hesistates. "I don't know. Why do you people charge so much when at the SAQ I can get a bigger bottle of Schnapps for cheaper? It does not make sense." Oh boy I thought. He asks to taste again. Carole explains that they hand pick all the fruit and the final product goes through 4 filtrations. "Ya ya, but it is just alcohol after all. I mean, it is not THAT good. I've tasted better for cheaper." I ask him if his boss asked him to work for cheaper would he? "What does that have to do with anything?" He waves his hand and mumbles something and leaves. We watch him leave and I see the same attitude repeating itself over and over everywhere. This Walmart, cheaper attitude which does not seek the source but rather cultivates a strange sort of greed which in the end gives one a very strange version of the world. And although I myself could argue that it is easy to make creme de cassis, there are some who do it well, and get better at doing that. And my money goes to that, call it research and development. I cough. She pours me a little glass of Rubis. Sickness. I forget about my soar throat and think about the sickness of being a blockhead. Oh well, fuck him, artisans will stand together, and we will stand behind them.

I look out the window at the blackcurrent's blessed bush, a fruit we rarely see in supermarkets, or never except in preserves. This modest fruit, may tells us more about our condition than we think, a modest fruit which is still illegal to grow in a number of States. Not to mention that it can really enhance a bad batch of white wine!

Kir. 1 part kir for 9 parts white wine.

Leaves picked in the spring can be made into a delicious infusion. 20-30 grams of leaves for a half liter of hot water. Infuse for 10 minutes.

June 19, 2010

organic's heritage of protest against the hypochondriac's self fulling destiny

Arriving at Ferme Formido, Isabelle Forgues was already happily busy with customers. The conversation turns to childhood and the woods and the fear we were all raised with about what to eat. How we were all told that if we ate such and such a thing a bush would grow in our stomachs, or a hand would fall off. A client tells us how she remembers being so scared to eat anything in the wild, because her parents told her straight out that it would kill her. Nevertheless, she remembers seeing these wild strawberries and ate them. Surprisingly, she laughs, she did not die, and knew the pleasure of a ripe wild strawberry. But that is all fine for the wild, but what of the cultivated?

I wandered the Forgues' farmland listening to the delicate breeze over the tall grass, the sounds of crows above a tree in which a family of cattle rest in the shade, the enigmatic sound of dragonflies fliting up and down above a tiny rivulet. I stand there, in awe, at how wonderful this all is; the simple fact of being alive and part of this. It reminded me of my grandfather who was a farmer and as a child the greatest thing was the mystery of the field, of his garden. I often remember kneeling, digging through the dirt looking for worms before going fishing and that same silence which I now heard returned even if I was in another province 30 years later.

Something else suddenly returned. This week a customer at the restaurant had exploded angrily, telling me that organic did not exist, and that in a few years it (organic) would be 'exposed'. He continued telling me that organic is just a money making scheme which exploits people. Scheme? If there was any money making scheme I thought would it not be the industrial monopoly of farmland. I could not even argue with him. I was so surprised at his attack, stunned. I listened. 'You are being exploited!' he says pointing a shaking finger at me. As I am standing here on Ferme Formido's land, a certified organic land, watching the animals moving about I remember that accusing shaking finger. I began wondering exactly what organic meant. Here I see cattle walking around eating grass. On this land I feel a part of it, enjoy being in it, which immediately inspires me to write a poem or picnic, or create something to help someone....Factory farming has never really inspired anything of that. It has inspired revolt though, and disgust, sadness and a desire to overthrow it. I can only deduce that these feelings are aroused because it is not natural, normal or sane. I could not help thinking of factory farming as forcing children into prostitution. There is often a crazy argument that more people are fed because of CAFO's but I am far from being convinced. Another thing I am almost sure about is that the industrial farmer is not really thinking about feeding the lower stratum of next to no income starving humans who inhabit the planet. It is a problem more of distribution, priority and lifestyle. Anyway, feed someone something already fucked up immediately shows the level of respect that the argument has for the hungry. No, with the industrial farm we find the scorpion's bite of irony, greed pretending to defend hunger.

I sat in the grass next to a cow wondering if I was just another uber bourgeois shit head mouthing off privileges? Comfort's guilt? Already it is something I thought, because I would never sit next to a factory farmed cow covered in its own manure. I remember being among peasants in Serbia on their farm and there was a respect they had for the animals that I find hard to describe. When we ate I was surprised at how good everything tasted. When I asked them about organic they looked at me as if I were a little insane. Perhaps I wondered as I listened to the cow chewing the grass, organic is just as crazy. Organic at base is a reaction, towards normalcy, but it is a reaction nonetheless. Its existence is in fact conscience asserting itself. This conscience is protest and is timeless. Protest is the one thing that every human shares along with food and sex. Our choices are a form of alliance, a questioning discourse, and of course a protest.

Back in the boutique which is a converted B abattoir with the carcass tracking line still overhead, we talk. Isabelle, an extremely kind and strong woman comes from a line of agriculturalists. She learnt butchering techniques from her mother. They bought the farm from her parents, and went organic by observing. They used to have dairy cows and when they fell sick they began to ask some questions. Instead of injections and pharmaceuticals they looked to nature. A small detail she tells me was that they bought their feed which was already all chopped up and mixed. They began to feed them whole hay, deducing that the act of chewing and digesting must help. They planted their own feed. She remembers seeing a dairy cow at 5 years who looked already old and worn out, yet a natural lifespan is 20 to 25 years. There was something wrong. They began to work their animals less. In essence they began to care immensely for every stage of life, and try to make that situation better when they can. Pharmaceuticals she suggests may be a thing constantly burying the real problem, our relation to nature. In this course a strange logic of hypochondria is born, and then slowly begins to fulfill what it sees as its destiny. We talked for another hour, about it seemed everything and anything, which aired out the week's folly, once again strengthening my convictions. Whereas in France there is the AOC, which follows strict guidelines, the only counterpart that we have in Quebec for the moment is the organic label, with its reminder of its human dimensions. And the more we learn, the less we fear, and enjoy one of our life's greatest pleasure's, eating.

For more info or for a good read the Omnivore's Dilemma, The Grapes of Wrath, Animal Liberation by Peter Singer. Or visit Formido farm on Saturdays, click on photo for address and times.

June 13, 2010

the sweet power of the flower

Standing there in the field in front of a few long rows of strawberries I mention the smell of manure. 'Ah oui' Louise says 'il va pleuvoir ce soir ou demain matin' (As in fact it did rain in the morning.) If it smelt stronger, she adds, it would rain in a few hours. She points across the road where there is a pig farm. All this connected in a way that I saw the pig shit, the wind, the rain as some firm, unshakable fact; as if Italo Calvino's essay Quickness suddenly came alive. I was also confronted with the wild strawberries of my youth, and these carefully cultivated, structured sweet patches. I was confronted with the question of how does a strawberry get to be a strawberry.

Louise and her husband Guy Rivest have owned the farm since 1982. They bought from Guy's father who has owned it since 1946. I randomly ended up at their farm in St-Roch-de l'Achigan coming over the hill from Rawdon after buying a bison heart for dinner tonight.

Grilled bison heart all purpose brine (makes a lot, but needs to be cold before using, so always best to have a stash in your fridge which is great base for pig head, tongue, duck or guinea hen legs (5 hours), cornish hens etc...adjust the herbs, spices as you wish.)

6 liters water

750g salt

100g sugar

10 peppercorns
few sprigs of thyme

few crushed juniper berries
few bayleaves
(or whatever aromatics you want to use) bring all ingredients to a boil. Chill. Clean the heart, removing fat and anything stringy. slice nice 'steaks' about a quarter inch thick. Pour a little brine, just enough to cover for an hour. Remove, rinse under cold running water. Pat dry. Ready to grill. Cover with a little oil and a little freshly ground pepper (I avoid salt because it has already been brined). Grilled best rare. Serve with a fresh parsley root and caper salad.

On one side of their house she tells me is argyle soil, and the other where we are standing more sandy. Both are good, but give a slightly different fruit, and with hundreds of varietals to choose from, she is content with six at the moment work well in this part of Québec. I never thought of strawberries as being as diverse as apples. Nonetheless, here were the first strawberries of the year which are usually a bit more acid. This year though these are sweeter because of the extremely hot weather that we have been having. Hot it is. 30 Celsius, and hungry I was began hearing things all upside down turned over. She mentions Face de chat as a common disease in strawberries. So what causes this Fesse de chat I ask feeling like I was being let in to some arcane dimension of the Fraise. She looks at me patiently, Non, Face, pas Fesses. Cat ass disease sounds better than cat face disease anyway I thought. This is the most common problem that she has, the tarnished plant bug. Another is a paradisaical insect which lays its eggs in the center of the flower which turns it into no more than a white walled nest. No strawberry flower, no fruit. And innocently I was thinking to myself, amazing. I was really in awe. I pointed to a thing that looked like a Chinese green bean. No, she laughs, that is the runner, a part of the plant which slinks between the others and finding a spot will plant itself and will grow into new plants. It is true that staring at the patch the only thing one wants to see is a big fat red strawberry, but the more she talked, happily teaching, the more this jumbled patch became for me a very powerful structured entity. Strange to feel so lost in front of something as simple as the strawberry.

Inside the boutique was the usual alcohols and jams but then there was something even more interesting, a strawberry stem jelly which you can taste along with the other products. How the hell does one think of that I ask. It has the smell of cooked butter, floral, hint of strawberry. To the taste there is a slightly bitter herbal taste with of course the intense presence of strawberries. Interesting. Grandma, Louise tells me. She collected all the handwritten recipe books of her grandparents as well as those of her husband's. And in fact this recipe she found in her husband's grandmother's cookbook. I asked if that was normal, the family cookbook. Absolument. Most family's at one time had their own 'cookbook' which was passed on. Something has happened between then and now, and between those two points there has not been more than 60 years. Something fucked up happened and most of us are left trying to retrieve that elusive `something` even if is in new packaging. She offers a me strawberry. A good dense full taste of strawberry. In the intense sunlight it makes sense. I tried to picture all the manipulating in the kitchen I could do, all the recipes, but somehow, with finger on the stem and eating them fresh it cannot be challenged, nothing I think can replace the simple pleasure and physical feeling of eating a freshly picked strawberry.

How long did her strawberry season last I ask, about a month and a week, and then for them the season is over for strawberries. There are other varieties (info below****) which can go into the autumn but at la Ferme Guy Rivest they choose an intense month with quick freezing a good part. They prefer to begin their production of jams, syrups and alcohols early. One thing is for sure; this artisanal element is stronger than I had otherwise thought. These passionate people are dedicating themselves to something more than selling products. After tasting another strawberry Louise tells me she used to teach people with disabilities. In fact, she is far from the first to tell me that they used to teach, or were a nurse etc...bref, trades in which a large amount of caring should be involved. And this caring at the fundamental stratum of any society is perhaps a pretty good indication of its general health.

****Three general groups of strawberries exist:

As the name suggests, June-bearing varieties bear all of their fruit in June. You can purchase early, mid, or late season varieties, but all that means is that they will produce sometime in early, mid, or late June. These plants grow quite large and develop long runners, so they work well in a dedicated strawberry patch, where their runners can grow into new plants. These produce a large crop all at one time. June-bearing varieties won't produce fruit until their second season of growth.

Ever-Bearing: Ever-bearing strawberries produce fruit from late spring until early fall. They will regularly develop fruit, but never very much at any one time. The plants stay fairly small, and don't produce vigorous runners. With ever-bearing varieties, you'll be able to harvest berries in your first season.

Day-Neutral: Day-neutral varieties regularly produce fairly decent crops of berries from spring until fall, with a fairly large crop in the fall. The plants stay small, but produce vigorously. The only drawback to day-neutral varieties is that they don't do well in areas with very hot summers. As with ever-bearing varieties, day-neutrals will produce berries in their first season of growth.

info taken from Colleen Vanderlinden article on Organic gardening.

June 5, 2010

a quick fix of artisanal goat cheese in Laval.

Fine rain. A healthy grey Sunday rain. The trees are plump with many shades of green. A spring day of laziness. The house smells of the fresh whole wheat bread I made in anticipation of buying some fresh goat cheese.

Fromagerie du Vieux Saint-Francois in Laval. Close. Along the 440 east past every possible chain restaurant, store, bank you can think of, then off onto highway 25 and suddenly one finds oneself on Milles-Iles road in a semi rural, semi wealthy, farmland slash suburban slash small town community. I pull into the fromagerie, a small little building among houses, a bike path, tress. I could bike here. The 39km diet.

Suzanne Latour, the owner, tells me that she never did a stage or studies with a master for cheese making. It was mostly trial and error. Back in 1996 when she began the fromagerie the MAPAQ did not require you to take a course. It was a lot less regulated. Now is not the same, as everyone is now obliged to have certification if one wants to continue. Probably a good thing within reason.
Before 1996 she only sold milk, and made fresh cheese and yogurt for family consumption. When it came to refining a few of her cheeses she turned to some students from Institut Technologique et Agroalimentaire de St-Hyacinthe where she herself had graduated. 'I guess one has to be a little crazy' she tells me. Yup, especially since neither her mother nor her father owned a farm. Real trial and error.

Fleur de neige-a goat feta, in brine, not too salty, hints of hazelnuts and almonds.

Samuel and Jérémi (the names of her two boys)-kind of a goat cheddar, very mild with a soft texture.

Sieur Colomban-goat aged in a wax coating (like a gouda). Mine is dated the 5th of Jan 2010. Creamy texture, almonds, smell of butter, subtly herbal.

Le Lavallois-soft, ripened Camembert style, creamy center, scent of moist underbrush, mushrooms, autumn leaves.

Ti-lou-a slightly ripened cheese, lightly salty, buttery. Good toasted on croutons.

Le petit prince-soft fresh non-ripened cheese, great on home made toasted whole wheat bread. Creamy, fresh acidity.

fresh whole wheat bread (adapted and interpreted from Rose Levy Beranbaum)

1st part

160g bread flour

140g whole wheat flour

2g instant yeast

12g honey

380g tepid water


2nd part

300g bread flour
2g yeast
mix dump on top of part one and cover.

Leave to ferment for 2-4 hours. This develops the taste we love in a good bread.

add 10 grams of salt and knead together for 5 minutes, shape into a ball. Cover (I leave the ball in a metal bowl and cover it will a plate.) Let rise in a warm place for an hour. Should double in size. Deflate, fold as if folding a dishtowel, remake a ball, cover and let rise for another hour.
Deflate again. Fold dishtowel style and roll it creating a sort of log that you place in a prepared bread pan.

Cover and let rise in a warm place for 45 minutes. Heat the over to 425F.
Mist the bread with water, toss in the oven on a baking stone. (Throwing a cup of ice in a hot pan which is already in the over helps), or you can mist the bread and the baking stone a few times. Cook for 10 minutes until a little golden then turn the oven down to 350F and cook for 30 minutes. Invert bread onto a cooling rack and eat immediately while crunchy and warm. Or save it for fresh goat cheese and ice cider!

I began to wonder about what it meant to be an artisan. Suzanne is happy with the size of her business. A small family farm, a business which sells about 60% of their products at the cheese counter. When I think of all those chain restaurants not far from here lining the highways and boulevards of Laval and Montréal, being here suddenly makes sense. And artisans, like talent, and like individuals, vary. Because that is what an artisan is, the expression of a human individual, the personality which finds itself doing what he or she does, not simply as a job, but as a way of life.

Nonetheless, someone would say, what the fuck man, it`s Laval! Well maybe so but short of grazing your heard in a children's park in Montréal it does not get any more local than this. Thank god for people who are a little crazy.

May 17, 2010

I love caribou meat, but I guess not this year

I love caribou meat and serve it at the restaurant until a client made a comment. After a bit of research I realized that there is some concern about this powerful beast. So I adopted my caribou George from WWF, fuck, we all do at one time or another. Because as we know it is not necessarily what we source and eat, but often what we are not eating. The text below is taken from Environment Canada, Species at risk. good reading for good eating.

There are many threats that directly and/or indirectly affect local populations of boreal caribou and their habitat, including:

  • habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation;

  • predation, mainly by wolves and bears;

  • over-harvesting (hunting, poaching);

  • noise and light disturbance (from forestry; oil, gas and mining operations; low-level aircraft flights; use of snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles);

  • parasites and disease; and

  • changes in weather and climate.

The main threat to boreal caribou is unnaturally high predation rates as a result of habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation (the breaking up of continuous habitat into smaller pieces). These habitat alterations impact boreal caribou in many ways. Firstly, the clearing of forests and building of roads for industrial activities reduces the amount and quality of habitat available in which the boreal caribou can live and reproduce. In addition, these activities often lead to an increase in area of young forests, favouring species such as deer, moose and elk, which then increase in number. This increase in the number of deer, moose or elk in turn supports a higher number of predators, such as wolves. Finally, large-scale habitat alterations can also affect boreal caribou by making it easier for predators such as wolves to move across the landscape and prey on caribou. The resulting increase in predation can have a serious impact on boreal caribou, causing their populations to decline.

May 11, 2010

last of the fiddleheads, rabbit chorizo and the communion at le Presbytère

"...all my vital memories are of these first years. These were the days when I smelled the bread, I saw my first red poppy, the moon, the innocent seeing. Since then these memories have become iconography, the shapes even the colors: millstone, red earth, yellow wheatfield, apricots etc."

Archile Gorky

Reading this I was reminded of my grandfather, Janus, of Latvian decent who was a farmer. As a child I would carefully walk through the massive vegetable garden he grew. For me it was like a buffet, picking a carrot here, a radish there, a green onion, quickly rinsing them before I ate them. Not to mention all the wild blueberries, raspberries and strawberries which grew in abundance in and on the periphery of the dense forest surrounding our cottage. These I ate directly from the plant, until one late afternoon I saw the drunken neighbour pissing on my favorite blueberry patch. Lesson learnt. The innocent seeing. A powerful phrase.

As I drove towards the Centre du Québec region with Fromagerie du Presbytère in mind, I had a few other places I wanted to visit beforehand. I had quickly jotted the address and phone number of a company in Pierreville who pickles fiddleheads and cattails (quenouilles). Down highway thirty I decided that I would get some more asparagus from La Sublime Asperge. Why not. I pass by, but there is a shortage because of the weather. I buy a mere 5 lbs at 3.50 a lbs. Normal production he tells me is around 1500lbs a day. I leave surrounded by immense stretches of farm lands which seem to me to be vast expanses of mono crops, corn, soy, corn, soy. I thread through a few minor highways, along the Yamaska river again and see a sign announcing asparagus for sale. I U-turn and pull in. A tall young guy looking like a hockey player comes out with a friendly smile. Funny I thought, not the build, the 'type' I associate with asparagus, but then what type should be selling asparagus? He presents himself immediately as Julien and asks me my name. One of the few, and we talk. There is none of the bustle of La Sublime Asperge, or the decor. The point of sale is his garage with a fridge in the back. Nothing kitsch, no frills, no campagnaisms. I see a paper tacked to the wall. Ferme Besner Pagé, Julien Pagé, élevage de lapins, culture d'asperges. Rabbits. I taste his asparagus. It is true. It tastes like a great asparagus, but there is something more complex to the Sublime Asperge`s, which are delicious. Price too. Julien has them at 2.25 a lbs. I buy 20lbs for the resto, and a couple of lbs for home, as well as a whole rabbit and a few rabbit chorizos. In the car I tear open one of the chorizo and devour it. Beautiful. Something one realizes is worth the voyage.

Off again over the bridge at Yamaska, highway 132 east in Odanak, Pierreville region. At a stop sign I read; Channa, Arrêt, Stop. A trilingual stop sign. I look over and see a sign Indian Reserve Abanakis d'Odanak. Driving thr0ugh the reserve along the Saint Francois river with a delicate sun over everything. A sublime moment. I kept on driving expecting a sign for the fiddleheads. Nothing. I pulled over and ask a Québecois man who scratches his head and tells me that the address that I have might be the right one 'Nothing here is what it seems.' Ok. I go back to the address, someone's home and ask two guys fixing a car if this is Fougère et cie. Oui. He disappears in the house and out comes a short woman with a generous smile. The company, she tells me, no longer exists. All the labeling laws....the cost of analyzing all the products for labeling of nutritional value etc...So now she takes care with a local community center. Just as well. Nonetheless she takes me across the road into the bushes and schools me on fern plants edible and not. The one we can eat in Canada is the ostrich fern (la fougère à l'autruche) I look through the bushes, the bramble with little plants popping up everywhere, and don`t see any. The season is already finished. She shows me different varieties, and the differences meticulously explaining the differences, which one's to 'cultivate' although wild. 'those which look like a mini celeri rib are the one's we want and those we eat are the sterile ones'. They will return year after year in the same place. We walk through a fern patch which is already more than knee high. I turn and Yolande opens her hand. A fat green fiddlehead. Ah. 'These are really the last ones of the year.' We spend 10 minutes looking close to the ground for more, easier I must say than morel hunting. This year they cultivated for only 10 days. A ten day season! I was more determined than ever to find some, any. In the end I had 12. At least she tells me I have my entree when I get home. She invites me to come back next year a little earlier to pick them. As for the cattail, there are none yet, but if I gave her my number she'll call me when they are ready. Yes, I will be there. I ask her about the Channa. Québec she tells me voted to have unilingual Stop signs in 2004. The law does not apply on an Indian reserve. Pretty cool I thought.

I navigate through the web of byways and little towns consisting of a couple of houses, past another dozen villages with the Saint something name. Started thinking about empires. I was amazed to think that the world was not made up of one race or one language. Incredible that through all the brutalily of empires whether Roman, Turkish, or English... that they really never succeeded. I was amazed to think of the variety in the world, so many languages, so many cultures. There is something comforting in that, the history of resilience humanity has....this intense history of opposition seems to be humanity's real history. I turn onto the 259 south and down to Saint Perpétue. I ask around town where to find rang St-Edmond. Someone easily indicates a right at the store, and a left. When I get there it is closed. Shit. The chances one takes sometimes. Stupid I thought. Could have called. So I call. Hello, yeah, are you open, no, domage, when would you like to visit, well, uh, I am standing in front right now. Wait a moment. Two minutes later a woman comes walking down the highway to meet me. Down to business. She unlocks the store and after an elaborate ritual of changing according to the MAPAQ norms she brings out a little tasting platter. Goat yogurt, 3 day old goat cheese, a sort of strong camembert with a washed rind still with no name reminding me of something out of the Haut Savoie mountains, savoureux de biquette and délice de Fiona an incredible mix of yogurt and fresh goat cheese perfect for a dessert with maple and rhubarb. Maryse and her husband originally arrived from Switzerland 17 years ago and have been raising goat and cows for some time and began the fromagerie in 2005. Their cheeses are great, but the yogurt spectacular. No gelatin, no thickening agents, just a straight slightly acid yogurt, so far the best that I have ever tasted. I fill up the cooler with as much as I can and looking at my watch realize I am going to miss le Presbytère. In twenty they close and Maryse tells me they are about 40 minutes away. Fuck. I through the cooler in the trunk and race.

I call the fromagerie and tell the young girl who I am and if I can pass a cheese order. They close at four. Oh please, I know Jean Morin, tell him it is me, it is a tradition, somehow I am always late. She sighs. I pass the order and begin to speed. 10, 20, 30, 40 over the speed limit. J man, relax, you are in the country. Then, paf, I hit a bird. I slow down. Feeling like shit. I hate being late. I hate the thought of the bird's mate flying around maybe strangely wondering about the disappeared mate. Ok, don`t get too emotional, things happen. I cut through a few rangs, the farmer way as they say, and arrive 20 minutes late, but Morin is changing the recycling bin and waves. Inside, he pulls out a 5 kg piece of his Louis d'Or and a few beers and chat in the late afternoon sun. He is in fact one of the founder`s of Ancêtre, and realized that one of his passions was to make fine cheese. The fromagerie`s building which they bought in 2004 is the old town's presbytery which is in fact still shared with the local parish, the priest's office upstairs He giggles, full of blessings, and cutting me a piece of cheese calls it my communion. After having visited the Jura region for technique and friends from Gré des Champs he decided to begin his own. Along with his brother they were well aware what the touristic value of having a good artisanal cheese can be for the region, a region they love enormously. We talk of organic in general, and how since Québec has no real form of AOC or certification, organic at least is an assurance that many European countries have. His cows, Jersey and Holstein, are fed entirely with what they grow on their land, We drink more beer, and he brings out his Bleu d'Élizabeth, one incredible bleu cheese, creamy, less salty than most, piquant, with the right amount of rot. One of the best blue cheese's in Québec. Some clients come, and although he is closed he serves them, and that is what I realize with Jean Morin, he loves what he does. It is not simply a way to make money, it is a lifestyle, it is the fabric of life, the love of meeting others and the sharing of the effort of his vision of thing, the language of a good cheese.