May 2, 2010

Pilgrimage to Notre Dame de Lourdes, the blind man and the bison

Although I was driving on land I was thinking about water, huge bodies of it with its hidden abyss beneath. I pictured myself suspended on the water`s surface in a state of wonder and terror with everything beneath me that I could not see, half known, half imagined....Overwhelmed by being a living creature. Overwhelmed that a pumpkin should exist, by watching a raven with its head buried in a dead raccoon`s guts, by our need for food. I need more cheese. I am doing a little gig for the English consulate for election night and was thinking of raw milk cheese and then something from a bison farm La Terre des Bisons. The thing about the consulate is that they are people that you want to share these discoveries with, people with interest, with taste, a great couple. People one would love to see more and more of in positions of power. Oh well, suffice it with luck to be able to do this with them anyway.

Region of Lanaudière. L'Assomption, L'Epiphanie, Saint-Gérard-Majella, Sainte-Marie-Salomé, Saint-Paul, Saint-Thomas, Saint-Pierre, Saint-Charles-Borromée...this has to be the highest density of towns by the names of Saints in the world. Then I arrive at Notre-Dame-de Lourdes. A little town of 2000 people. I probably would have never had a reason to visit this town if it was not for my pilgrimage to the Fromagerie Du Champ à la Meule. I pull into the drive way wondering about the sick, the disabled, people living in fear of some immediate catastrophe, those who don't and will never have enough . Out of the car there is only silence. I can smell freshly mowed grass. I think how fortunate some of us are, like now, about to taste some raw milk cheese, which is senseless compared to most of the world's sufferings....I think about Bernadette Soubirous and all those Marian apparitions she had back in 1858 and how the town of Lourdes changed forever, apparently 2nd to Paris for density of hotels. Impressive. I suddenly began to appreciate a thing like having taste buds, transmitting all those wild colours of taste to me, for better or for worse.

Du Champs a la Meule begun in 1995 by Martin Guilbault. Raw milk, artisan cheese. We start with the Fétard, semi ferme, washed rind with Maudite bière. Slightly bitter, creamy, pungent. Rich, firm, with a hint of earth, roast butter and subtle aromas of fruit. To my left through a window the room where they mix their milk, an ubiquitous sight now in most fromageries. There is nothing there though. I would prefer to see the cows which now belong to their neighbour. It always seems to me that these little windows were put there as a rebuke to the paranoia of the MAPAQ. Anyway. Next La Terre Promise, like an emmenthal, more subtle, piquant, butter and almonds aged minimum 4 months. A great complex cheese. Then the Victor et Berthold duo. First a 2 month and then a 4 month reserve. The first, pate presser non cuite, hazelnuts, butter, floral with herbal whispers. Creamier texture than the two first. The 4 month is slightly more pungent with obvious intensification of taste. These would do very well for the consulate. I buy a few kilos asking M. Guilbault's niece if there was a grotto or something celebrating Soubirous` visions. Not really, closer to Rigaud or somewhere. I leave. The sun is being swallowed a dark gangs of clouds.

Driving along this country road there is a feeling of tranquility. I remember the insular feeling of driving up the mountains in France in Haute Savoie to taste Reblochon cheese. Intimate discoveries which taught me just how much a land and people could do. These were locals outside the marketing racket, a racket in which we each now feel an inevitable pull to learn, perfect....To crack me out of these wandering thoughts I see a blind guy walking along the highway. What he did out here I could only imagine.

I turn onto Rue du Lac Marchand and then onto a semi dirt road. Meet with Josée and her husband. We talk a little at random, a flux between the personal and the professional. They bought their lands in the early 90`s as a form of investment and rented them out. But this would not even cover the taxes. They began with some chickens and veal but then slowly started thinking about other markets. They needed an animal which was a little independent, they thought emu, ostrich but they were a little too demanding since they both worked in Montreal still. They started with 3 bison. People would pass and ask if they sold meat. They did not. Slowly the idea took form, first by selling another farm`s bison meat and then as soon as they increased their heard to sell it themselves. We talked for an hour and I realized that in a culture where mass production and low cheap food became expected, I see people reacting against what these two were doing, with no real experience beforehand. This meant redefining a land, a region, and also the self. I bought some steaks and asked if I could take pictures of the heard. Of course, but don't get too close or put your hand out. They look sluggish but can be quite aggressive. Then they told me that they can run up to 50 or 60 km an hour. Something I would have never thought possible.

Bison in the rain, a low rain alternating between a mist and a silent pour. This powerful force we call Nature, with its incredible beauty, devastating mindlessness, the solemness of it, this sole force of its kind, of each region and its effect on our perception. Incredible that these beasts were once almost driven to extinction. Everyone is talking local this and local that, and it seems to me that the cow is much more foreign and ill adapted to this climate than the bison. They stand there in the drizzle, no longer really a testament to human greed which almost drove them to extinction although the wood bison, larger, are still on the endangered list in Canada. Strange also I thought that one of these were going to be broken down and shipped to my restaurant. Powerful beasts. I had a renewed respect for them. Lightning. A deep low thunder rolls as if across the tree tops. The rain falls harder, they look unaffected. I run for the car happy again to have met people who are inspired to do it a little differently, and caring.

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