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.

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