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.