May 9, 2010

Cage au corn, the first asparagus and organic bikers

Mai 9th, mother's day. Woke up. Michèle is back from Argentina and New York. Familiar sounds. Cold. Difficult to get out of bed. Maybe it is the biography on Gorky I read the night before. Terrifying. Maybe it was the wine. I get up and open the curtains...of course, snow. The trees below St Joseph`s Oratory are lush and green in contrast with this dense cloud of falling snow is very pointillist, blurred and kind of annoying. Call my mom, she is great, life is great. Something that makes me happy.

Not the type of visiting a farm weather, but there always seems to be something more intimate, more physically acute with this kind of weather....

We decide to visit a few fromageries that we have always passed on previous trips in the Sorrel Tracy area and the Centre du Québec region. Highway 30, powerful landscapes of industrial and immense flat farm lands. Why bother at all visiting these places? I was reminded while driving of when I lived in Rome that I did the exact same thing, I set out every weekend to Termini, looked at the train schedule, consulted a guide book and made my way through the Italian country side to cities and small towns, searching for something, something elusive but always this movement, this physical dimension which seems to be so necessary to even every religion, we cannot ignore the body, the senses and its complex relation to our wonder, our imagination, our selves. Sorrel Tracy, blue collar town, big industrial buildings everywhere, lining the Richelieu river, brown bricks, quaint houses, balconies of another time. Hunger, that magnificent master of the human race, gives order, we park the car and wander Sorrel in search for a quick bite. The cold biting wind does not lend to a thorough search of downtown Sorrel, but then neither does its size. We settle for a restaurant which looks decent. Mother`s day. Big tables with their families. Wonderful to see so many generations at a single table. A reminder of the true fabric of any society...of any healthy society. We order, our plates come, and elements return, befuddling elements of North American life...pre-made sauces, frozen veggies, bread with an undesirable longevity. This big monumental idiocy of the prefab which has strangled so much, and here we are eating it again, like some strange tautological toxin, some constant subtle threat, hating it and eating it because hunger demands it. Maybe mass produced is cheap, but the exchange rate may be even worse.

We leave, Boulevard Friset. Fromagerie Riviera. Already we are confronted with an immense ugly building, we pass the loading docks and park near the entrance. It might as be Zellers or Walmart. Two young girls are serving customers and look like if they were selling shoes or rubber peaches it would really have been the same. I check the cheese selection. Swiss, curds, cheddar, herbed cheddar, vegetable cheddar, all sorts of fucked with cheddar...bbq cheese strips. Ok. I hear Michèle ask one if they give dégustation and one of the cashiers responds quickly, No. Ok. We have entered another universe. Generic cheese for generic tastes. Silently I am screaming against the universe and everything that is shit in it, but I hear Michèle ordering a frozen yogurt. I pick up some BBQ cheese because the idea seems so absurd that I need humour myself. Grounds for revolution. We leave, laugh, wondering what a place like that is doing on the Route des Fromages. Perspective. We pull out for the next fromagerie in Saint-Cyrille. I eat my BBQ cheese, Michèle refusing, but what the fuck I think I guess it is better than Kraft. Or maybe not. It always depends the politics behind the purchase, their policy.

On our way through the back highways we notice a sign advertising asparagus. Rang St-Thomas. We slow and turn. All these fields, real farm country and we ask ourselves what is everyone growing, to whom? We see a type of huge upright rectangular cages with tons and tons of corn in it, rotten looking, and what it was doing there? Like some strange post modern sculpture. On we go, past countless hippy and punk rock scarecrows in front of people's front yards...a mystery we have yet to solve. I catch up to a Porsche, we laugh in our crappy little car and find La Sublime Asperge which the Porsche also turns into. Kind of a bric a brac entrance whose bouncer seems to be a sculpture of an angel with her wings chopped off. Follow a little path we are suddenly in a little back room where cagettes of asparagus are being pulled out by Simon and Nicole, like some black market trading. There is a lot of coming and going, clients coming in not knowing if they want food, or salvation, a lot of confusion it seems. They offer us to eat raw asparagus, and shit they are good. But what is going on here? I see two tags on a string with colourful clothes pins reading Toque and Pied de Cochon. Ah. I understand. Tasty. I buy some for the restaurant and ask if they deliver, yes of course, and then Nicole shoots off all the top restaurants in Montréal, it seems more like a cult than an asparagus grower. There are too many customers, our questions are kind of flooded by necessity. We are processed, smiles, nice people....What I did gather is that they took over from a neighbour whose land could not take it any longer (apparently asparagus production has a 15 to 20 commercially viability) and taking her know how continued the tradition for ten years now. From May to June. Barely two months, that is the story of asparagus. But a passionate two months she tells us. Otherwise he teaches. Why not. I buy ten pounds aware that thirty Montréal restaurants are obsessed by this one place.Hype? Voodoo? Product? Something to research.

Asperges au beurre bio et oeuf cuit dur ...kept simple

10 very fresh knife cut green asparagus quick blanched for 2 minutes
2 tbs organic butter
2 diced hard boiled eggs
pinch of merquen

put a tbs of the butter in a hot pan (medium heat) until it bubbles, add asparagus with a little fleur de sel and cracked pepper and cook gently until heated through. Remove, putting 5 on each plate. Add the other tbs of butter to the pan and add the diced hard boiled egg, pinch of merquen. Spoon mixture evenly over the asparagus with the butter (use some good bread and soak up the remains in the pan!) Delicious!

Out of Saint Aimé, cross the Yamaska river, beautiful, yet looks like an agricultural river. Would probably not fish in it. In Amerindian it means 'where rushes grow'. Michèle spots another cheese place nearby, Coop Agrilait, Fromage St-Guillaume. In the 1940's she reads, around fifty dairy farmers group to form the Coop of Agrilait. This is good I thought. This kind of empowerment. Controlling production and sales as a group instead of simply being an employee. I'd love to create a Coop, always weary of the lazy though.... I still have no cheese for the cheese plate at the restaurant, and when we pull into the address and realize that it is also a gas station and hardware store, perhaps it will have to stay that way. We walk around, once again, cheddar, swiss, grain cheddar and something called Fromage pour grillé. Cheese to grill, or grill cheese. All surrounded by the same crappy junk food you would find anywhere, and shovels, and propane, but then again a coop is better than a multinational. I buy an aged cheddar and the 'grill cheese'. We ask for directions to Saint Cyrille, lovely people.

Fromagerie Lemaire. Same type of building. Big. They have a cantine. Oh fuck. It is going to be more poutine cheese. Sure enough. Same kind, same types, same odor, same marbled cheddar, same strange floors. Promising the same selection of 'fine cheeses', but the truth I guess it really is who you are addressing. At the counter I notice a package of Lemaire instant powder gravy for poutine. Under it cans of St-Hubert BBQ sauce. We smile awkwardly to the young workers on the other side of the counter. Dispirited, feeling out of place we leave without buying anything. Back in the car I start thinking, they have been around for 52 years...and fresh cheddar is tasty. I get out and return, buy some fresh cheese, something which they are famous for. Pretty good, nothing out of the ordinary, but pretty good.

Off again. Fromagerie Ancêtre. On the other side of the St Lawrence river from Trois Rivière. Organic. Walking in we found the same formula as the previous fromageries, cheddar, swiss, grainy, but this time organic. Three couples walk in, bikers, all with Harley Davidson jackets...talking about how organic is making life better for everyone. 'Tabarnak, c'est juste plus normal. Christ j'ai vu sur Youtube des affaires foqués.' And that could very much sum it up. Organic does not mean elitist either. I bought a case of their organic butter and a bit of cheese reassured that a great alliance was taking place without much else being said, it felt like the right place to be, and although I did not have a cheese plate for the week, it did not matter; I'll make some déclinaison with asparagus or some such thing, but on second thought when found this fresh perhaps simply sautéed in some organic butter may be just right.

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