November 21, 2011

nature's last colourful burst before snow's reign

really fine autumn weather. But near the end of October with the nights frosting, freezing, most pumpkins are done for, done in, finished. They are not the last veggie to appear before winter's enveloping being, but we definitely know that it is close.

I stood in a field overlooking carving pumpkins, delicatas, hubbards all laying low in the otherwise empty fields, hundreds of these brightly coloured balls which not only was enigmatically disturbing but was almost haunting, like you could really here them whispering some weird shit. At le Courgerie, their season will consist of approximately 400 varieties, including the approximately 100 decorative kinds, which are even more bizarre.

I could not help thinking how a single small place in what seems the middle of nowhere is doing with so many varieties. I found myself with a wheelbarrow, no direction, and plenty of squash and pumpkins. Almost all of which I have never cooked before...delicata (told to stuff with sausage), hubbard (good for fries), pink banana (gnocchi), sweet dumpling (dessert), Jarrahdale....that is where the imagination kicks in.

Pascale's father had the farm, which was dairy, and she moved it towards specializing in pumpkins. 1999. Pierre, her husband, originally in human resources wanted to have an escargotiere. Fat chance, because Canada's laws are extremely strict on importing live snails. They consolidated. They had about 15 varieties and a big portion of their market in the United States. Then september 11th hit. Borders shut down. They were no longer able, as many others, to move their produce. The result were enormous mountains of oranges, yellows and blue balls...People driving by their farm were suddenly attracted by the surreal landscape, stopping with their children and began buying trunk loads of pumpkins. An idea was born. Pascale and Pierre began traveling the world obtaining seed varietals with the intention of having an outdoor, living, natural museum of squash and pumpkins without having to call it that, but one long conversation with them, and it can get as intense as the MoMa.

Overlooking a field of brightly coloured squash and pumpkins randomly scattered amidst otherwise greyish, brown cultivated landscapes have got to be some of the most surreal things in this northern nature. Incredible to see, these last eerie colourful burst of nature before our great white months.

October 5, 2011

dominus mycomarvelous...the pine mushroom-matsutake.

One thing is for certain, when we see the appearance of the pine mushroom, here in the north anyway, we know autumn is in us. And yet, as abundant as the pine mushroom is, it has little place in the Western canon of cuisine. It's odour with not fill a room like the white truffles I once experienced at Arpege in Paris, but it will subtly draw colourful scents around those close by.

Although abundant in the Northern countries, there is very little mention of it in lower Europe (traditional Europe), taking a non existent place after truffles, chanterelles, porcinis etc...It is in asia where the mushroom is almost worshiped for its intense flavour, and well, with the Japanese in particular for its supposed sexual enhancing properties. Wikipedia will not mention this but the matsutake has, as far as ordinary parlance goes, a grading system which ranges from 1 to 5. Number 1, small, whose head...well let us just say it, it looks like a penis and that is why it is revered by some Japanese-although it is the least flavourful. Go figure. Numbers 3 to 5 are indeed larger looking more like a generic mushroom (portobello etc...) but whose perfume is incredibly strong, and I must admit intoxicating, somewhere between pine and the sweat of an incredible lover, if you know what I mean. These mushrooms in Japan can sometimes fetch up to 2000 dollars a kilo, but here in Quebec they go from 35$ to 100$ depending on the abundance and of course who you are buying from.

Although many people are still hooked on the Euro centered worship of morels, girolles etc where recipes abound in the bibles of Ducasse and the Larousse (where there is no mention of the pine mushroom)...I cannot help to admit that after having cooked over 50 varieties from Quebec this year, that the king of mushrooms is the matsutake, Quebec's truffle of sorts, the North's gift to the great cannon of mushrooms.

September 26, 2011

if we hate beak cutting, then why horn burning....

Kid goat, amazing meat. Sylvie Lesvesque, an amazing woman. We met at her farm in 2009 at Les Elevages du Sud in St-Denis Kamouraska. What is most important to me was, as we see in this photo, as cute and almost religious as they are, that they have horns. Most producers of goats burn the horns off when they are young. I once watched the process and wondered if it was really necessary. I am always told it is because the animals are aggressive and tend to hurt each other; a lot of punctures, and wounds and deaths. I began thinking of this logic when applied to tail docking in pigs and beak cutting in chickens. Deduction? Space. Because every farm I have visited who do not burn their goat`s horns have told me that there is perhaps one incident every decade. And looking around their herds, I realized that they do strike, they do hit, that that is their nature, but the difference was indeed a lot of space. If we ask for ethics in pigs and chickens, then it is for one and for all....

September 5, 2011

the godfather of apple ice cider

There are a few people who have a lasting, long term, perhaps incalculable effect on the way we see, taste and think about life. I have to admit that one of those people to me is Christian Barthomeuf. This is the godfather of apple ice cider, his approach is thought out, distinct, unusual and beyond a doubt concerned. This is not simply about good cheer, but aligning our lives in accordance with the principals of honesty, goodness and respect. Now certified organic, Clos Saragnat is the first apple ice cider with this appelation.

When Christian began making apple ice cider there was no classification for it. The Régie kept putting it in a cidre doux classification. Thanks to the efforts of a woman from Québec city, who fought and fought for the appelation of apple ice cider, it was finally granted. And also granted recently was the Governor General award in Celebration of the Nation`s Table for Creativity and Innovation.....A true honour to serve these products at Renard Artisan Bistro....

here is the presentation,

When Christian Barthomeuf first got the idea in 1989 to use ice winemaking techniques to create the first ice cider in Québec, his neighbours said he was an eccentric. Little did they know that, just 10 years later, this exceptional product would be one of the great agri-food success stories in Quebec and Canada, garnering worldwide recognition. Today, Mr. Barthomeuf is one of the pillars of this flourishing young industry. His world is based on simple production thechniques and meticulous observation of natural cycles. in helping apple growers to produce high-quality ice cider, Mr. Barthomeuf has also helped to raisethe profile of their challenging vocation, while yielding significant added value for their orchards. That assistance has saved many family businesses from certain financial ruin. This visionary has devoted considerable efforts to preserve heritage apple varieties, which he now grows organically in his Clos Saragnat vineyard, where he also produces straw wine and ice wine.

amazing! Gives me goosebumps! Congrats to one of the true artisans of Canada!

August 22, 2011

From finance to artisanal cheese-Hughes Ouellet's new path

Cheese saved another life. By the train tracks in Farham, tucked away of the main street is the tiny fromagerie of Hughes Ouellet. Driving into the parking lot it seemed like a certain thought we may all have and never pursue. Hughes did. And if there is any trade other than being a chef that I would love to do it would be a cheesemaker.

Headed for a life of finance, Hughes talks about leaving it with little regret. He is not the first I have met with this sort of change of heart in Québec, and I imagine far from being the last. He got his diploma from ITA, and developed the recipe of his first cheese in his basement, Zephyr. The first meule came out in 2005. He sources the milk for his cheese from a farm in Cowansville. The farm was never named, and in fact my questions were not met with many answers, but a little research leads to Pierre Janecek, président or once president of the section des frontières of the UPA. I don't know what to think in fact. It is hard to think of an artisan like Jean Morin fighting the UPA and on the other end another artisanal cheese in support of it. This is the difficult political situation in Québec, and more and more one needs to recognize these differences, no matter how blurred. It is even more confusing when simply looking for good products, even more difficult when these cheeses are so good...

Zephyr-more or less 6 months, raw milk, croute lavé, pate ferme. Mushrooms, butter and hazelnuts.

el nino-semi ferme, termisé, herbal taste with toast, and brown butter.

Sirocco-a morbier style cheese.

brise des vignerons- a fresh mushroom smell, as well as the taste with light taste of butter. Something between a camembert and a brie. best eaten when very fresh.

rafale-a new cheese being developed, intensely aromatic the likes of roblochon....soon to come.

We must always remind ourselves that quality, all the time, goes deeper than simple taste. Taste is a sort of charm, but the real quality rests firmly in the range of conscience from which it is born. From taking to giving, we can only hope that more and more people have the same revelation and the conscience to lend support and stability to our whimsical and oscillating world of taste.....

August 8, 2011

the majestic magical sunflowers

Standing in the field of sunflowers in Upton Quebec I felt like I was being watched. Those big bright freaky heads gently swaying as if ready to say something. This was not LSD, just something about sunflowers...

Christian Champigny, owner of la ferme Champy, was traveling down from Madrid into Portugal. Along the way they passed a field of sunflowers and was awestruck by the intense beauty of it. A decision was made. He would move away from corn, soya, and cereals and concentrate more on sunflowers, especially oil. His farm was certified organic in 1996, and the first bottle of first cold pressed oil came out in 2000. 500 liters. Today? 10,000 liters. They press their oil about every 3 weeks, so one can be assured to have intense, fresh oil every time. With this option, and a fierce local movement, olive oil, although incredible, has become less necessary in our kitchen.

Funny, that a plant that is native to the Americas, will almost always conjure images of Italy and Spain. I do remember one of the saddest things that I ever saw was a field of lackluster, wilted sunflowers while traveling through Tuscany, but now standing in the field in Upton, I realized that my association has been altered, back to the new world by the hard and passionate work of Christian Champigny. Grazie.

July 30, 2011

On importing poverty...

walking into Dessureault's fromagerie with another family we hear him tell us "Our cheese is not tested on animals." We all wondered, why would cheese be tested on say a pigeon anyway? Then laughter. That is Guy, owner of Domaine Féodal, a mixture of pied a terre, humour like political caricature and a few life lessons.

Cendré des Près-light, creamy butter taste with a maple wood ash in the center lending a slight complexity to this light bloomed cheese.

Noble. Cows milk, cream, lightly herbal, mushrooms, with very little bitter accents due we are told to the low use of rennet in the initial process.

Guillaume Tell. Guy`s unique mark. 15 days maceration in ice cider from Ace du Vignoble De Lavoie for at least fifteen days. Each meule absorbs at least 200ml. Although I was never a fan of these treatments, I have to admit that the end product is something so distinct and powerful that it is impossible to ignore this unique incredible cheese.

As always the conversation veers afar while we are talking about the price of Québec and France cheese. We tell him that at Renard artisan bistro we serve only Québec cheese, even if many French varieties are ofter cheaper. The reason that they are cheaper he tells us is that French cheese have major government subsidies to compete on the international market. Something to ponder. We wondered about this new fact. We tasted more of his cheese, with glee, and he mentions that along with Walmart, all we are really doing, if we really thought about it, is importing poverty, we nod chewing such delicious cheese, thinking, about what it is that we are really doing.....

July 25, 2011

fresh and fermented-Québec sangria!

It may not be moose hunting but there is something satisfying about picking one's own raspberries (or anything come to think of it). We drove up rang St-Jacques to La Ferme Perron, were given cute little cardboard boxes and then pointed in the berry patch's direction. Roasting in this freaky July weather. Here is the trick. Don't squeal and pick the first little red things you see. Move into the patch, further, resisting the urge, hold off a little more and should feel soft between your fingers and release easily. Any resistance is no good. Leave it, or taste it, still a little sour. Basically don't do what everyone else does. The nicer ones are always further off.

Two years ago I visited La Vallée de la Framboise, in the Matapédien vallée. They make tasty refreshing alcools using raspberries, currants etc...Renard artisan bistro still orders from them for our Québec sangria. We really have no recipe, but it goes something like this

blend fresh raspberries and pass them
le Matapédien raspberry wine
a few shots of Le Brochu (raspberry and cassis liqueur)
fresh raspberries
fresh lemon balm leaves

you see where this is going, dosages according to your whims and will.

July 19, 2011

vineyards in the North, oddity in the system

Recently I have been witnessing some weird shit. One of the ingredients written on the side of a box of salt was..sugar. Or something like low sodium chicken stock! Every classic text for chicken stock will teach you that there should never be...sodium. Imitation crab? Banks? Just a few things recently that are odd and unnecessary. I found myself at Domaine Les Brome. A québecois winery. Some people say that a québecois winery should not exist, that it is in fact abnormal, an oddity in the system. We stood upon a tiny hill overlooking the vineyard and beyond a vast expanse of lakewater beckoning. Everything looked, well, pretty normal.

Inside we are told about the wide variety of cépages they grow...Vidal, Geisenheim, Seyval Blanc, Seyval noir, Riesling, Chardonnay, St-Pépin, Maréchal Foch, De Chaunac, Pinot noir, Baco noir et Cabernet Franc. Impressive. And the wine?

vidal 2008 with its faint hints of litchee, white flowers and honey, and slightly peppery is fast becoming the Quebec grape varietal.

Cuvée Charlotte, a mix of Geisenheim, Seyval and Chardonnay, lemony, slightly woody, mineral. The freshness of acidic pears, pretty good with raw scallops.

Riesling, half which is aged in oak, 2009, very light, pears on the nose, honey but maybe still a little young. Too light.

Rosé péché...of hybrids of Seyval Noir and Maréchal Foch, saignée with its nose of cassis and strawberry with a dry snap to the taste we saw this perfectly with smoked duck.

Rosé Détente...fruity, easy. Think, a well made wine cooler.

There are so many more that we tasted. Baco. De Chaunac etc...But we agreed that the better ones to serve at Renard artisan bistro were the rosés which had that freshness of the season, short as it is in hand. The industry is still young, searching, creative, crazy...which is what the creative process is about but not necessarily for those who find comfort in a bottle of France or Italy, although having drank in many a bottega.....

I began wondering if it is really strange for Québec to attempt to have vineyards. Ok, let us get over the initial elitist attitude and we accept that there will never be amazing Québec wines. Granted, most of us can perhaps agree on that. Once we also rid ourselves of a sort of 'global' mercantile approach we can maybe witness the birth of something different, more like a great expressive folk song as opposed to a universally acclaimed play, both intense nevertheless. I mean imagine Finland with vineyards.....and yet....some things are really even stranger if you pay attention.

July 5, 2011

beyond the simple pleasures de la table

The door of the Sainte-Marie-Reine-des Coeurs boutique opens wide and a sister dressed in the white habit grabs my two hands and tells me how happy that we made it. I smiled, overwhelmed by such a greeting. Then she hesitates, telling me that my accent is not so very French. No. Are you not the father of sister .... Everyone looks at me. We laugh. I tell her that we are here to buy pottery. She invites us in with a warm welcome that I am almost envious of.

As we look through the boutique sister Lux Bruna (light + St Bruno) tells us about the order which began in the 1951 in France based on Pope Pius XII the dogma of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, but they only came to Québec in 1993. The story ended there and she wanted to know all about Renard Artisan Bistro. It seemed strange describing this to her, in a place that seemed to be beyond the pleasures of the table. I picked up a plate of pure stoneware and she asked me what I would serve on it. Elk heart. She smiles. Beauty, she tells me, can be translated into objects and are there to remind us of good things. When they make the pottery they are in a constant act of prayer. I have to admit that there is something very powerful about their collection, and do not doubt that in large part it is because they are passionate, dedicated and trying. As for the simple pleasures of the table, I think that such plates and bowls are an amazing addition and is an honour to serve food on them.

June 28, 2011

all these beautiful warm tiny bodies in my hands

As we were picking our stawberries for Renard Artisan Bistro I began wondering about all this local movement, actually I also wondering about every movement; from the head to ass movement (note to North Americans the Chinese are way ahead of any of us), vegans, molecular, organics etc...With the 30 degree sun beautifully roasting us pickers I also thought of hunters, gatherers, survivalism and the paleolithic diet movement. A simple act of picking my own strawberries was beginning to become challenging.

Being local food wise in Quebec in a way is easy, but I started recognizing the restrictions, like wine, like olive oil, quinoa....many things I love, but not so 'pure' to a locavore. like a pork chop to a vegan. Or, for instance, another question came to me, do I buy something from BC or New York? Or yet, is it absolute quality or giving credence and support to an emerging artisan? I do remember one thing though; last year I was in a market and someone bought the Cali strawberries over the Quebec ones because they were 50 cents cheaper. Someone told me that the prices are deliberately dropped in order to compete with the local varieties. Encouraging the local spirit or are we getting ripped off, every person's thought precisely. Everyone in the world is trying to justify their 50 cents worth, but I think at least the choice should be obvious, with so many good strawberries available in Quebec, the choice of quality wins hands down. If anything, have you ever known the variety of strawberry that you are eating? Likely not, because we are never told. But for the first time I found out that I was making dessert with Chambly and Jewel strawberries, and somewhat satisfied, I suppose that was my 50 cents worth.

June 12, 2011

exit the monopole....

Through the misty farmland of Bois Franc I arrive again at Le Presbytere fromagerie, and each time it feels like returning home.

It has been almost a year since the last time I visited Jean Morin and now with the UPA finally in the process of dissolving its monopoly over Quebec farmers, I feel more at ease to write this.

He had put out a cheese not so long ago with the name la Brie du Monopole. This was a direct attack on the obligatory membership farmers had to pay the UPA (not really a union because no one joins, more like a tax or a mafia.). When he was ready to market his Brie du Monopole cheese he was immediately visited by 'some' member of the UPA who reminded him in low undertones that he should think of his children's future. Obviously a very covert threat which saw the early death of the Monopole name into Brie du Paysan (a direct reference to Union Paysanne a fervent opponent of the UPA). The UPA monopoly is now fianlly disolving, but Jean Morin told me that nonetheless not so long ago some UPA members were threatening him physically complaining that he has no respect for the hand that feeds. I could not help thinking of Stalin.....and as Morin gave me a roll of the original stickers "Brie du Monopole" stashed away in a cupboard I was convinced that this was certain to go down in Quebec history!

May 15, 2011

Fiddleheads...tasty furled fronds of the young fern

8am. Raining. Not exactly the weather one wants when planning to pick fiddleheads, but then in such a situation as nature dictates there is little room to wait since the season is approximately 3 weeks. This makes the fiddlehead the one true wild, seasonal vegetable. In the morning's damp dripping powerful silence I realized that it is something that I have never saw being imported in January, unlike asparagus. Picking, eating or bathing with them makes the experience a privileged one even with the stinging nettles against the skin. And who can deny the incredible beauty and elegant unfurling of the fern itself?

Local wisdom one should follow : do not pick everything you see. They grow in tightly packed bunches, and it is best to pick only half of them. All this will ensure that the following year there will be more. I am told that a properly respected area of edible fern will last a hundred years.

And where does one find them? Like certain people with their fishing spots, I suddenly felt the same about this beautiful fiddlehead patch I was standing in. I love sharing artisans, promoting very small farms, but now and again we all have a secret, and this tiny land with its unfurling fern is one of them. Remember, part of the search is part of the acute pleasure....

Many varieties of fern exist, but the ostrich fern is the only edible one in Canada. It differs from the cinnamon fern or royal fern by its rib which looks a lot like young celery. 'Under no circumstances should fiddleheads be eaten raw' a health Canada site warns....Personally I am still alive, but they are pretty bitter raw, so it is best to cook them anyway.

May 1, 2011

the good sheppard, the cheesemaker and the farmer

Morning. Driving through Bois Franc region's serene countryside from the river's edge to the church at the top of a steep hill a sort of longing takes hold for some vague moment of simplicity, purity and tranquil harmony. I do not think it was particularly due of my lingering hang over.

Pulling into La Moutonniere's parking lot across from the village St-Helene de Chester's church I was greeted by a family already waiting with another couple to partake in being a Sheppard for a day at one of the first sheep cheese makers of Québec.

10am greetings from owners Lucille and Alastair. Introduction of the farm, their history, their philosophy. Slip on hair nets, wrap ourselves in plastic aprons, and awkwardly fit funny blue plastic slippers over our shoes; not unlike going to the dentist in the winter.

10.20am visit the fromagerie. Explains the process the equipment. Here the equipment is not silent. We use a smaller metal container which is already full of the morning's pasteurized milk. She adds the rennet mixture, heating the mixture to 38 degrees C approximately, and we wait 20 minutes for the magical effects to take form. Pressing a finger in the mix gives the impression of a sort of huge panna cotta. The next step is to cut this initial mass which splits it into petit lait or what people know as whey which will go into making ricotta, the moist solids which will eventually become one of their aged cheese. We are a witness in the process but not removed, as we each take turns stirring the mass which is being slowly transformed, slowly `building` something we are more familiar with. Our hands are oily, as if by some incredible moisturizer. We each taste this initial mix and are surprised at how sweet it is.

10.45 am drain the whey into buckets. We each, in an impressive spontaneous team work, press the remaining solids in plastic molds with filters and fit them horizontally on a press. This cheese, our cheese, will be ready in 2 months.

12.45 am wash the metal container. Strain the whey (petit lait) into it and heat to approximately 82%. Only 8% of this liquid will become ricotta, the rest will be fed to the pigs, the chickens, the animals.

1.15pm lunch. a copious intermission of homemade dishes, a lot of conviviality, a little vino and generous amounts of their own cheeses.

2.00pm check ricotta, strain it. Drive out to their farm to shear, feed the sheep and lambs. Clear the hay, fill the feed troughs, step in sheep shit, listen to the loud plaintive cries of the new born. Hold a baby lamb which was born at 5 in the morning. Get pissed on. And yet, I have never seen so many constant smiles, and have rarely felt so happy doing something, learning something.

4pm milking the sheep. The sheep walk up a ramp onto a platform, and we below, the naive, the novices have to attach the plastic suction tubes to their teats. Intensive, intimate labour which solidifies the group, as we all realize that at the end of our day as farmer cheese makers, we are really at the beginning again. Full circle with appreciation and a better understanding of what we are eating.

Although La Moutonniere have this sort of 100% moutons heureux certification which is not related to any organism, their openness to have their customers explore every inch and crook of their routine on their farm I think is an interesting way to gain 'certification'. If the engaged client is convinced, and questions and engaging we were, there has to be some foundation to their claim. But, as most of us know, theirs is one of the rare exceptions, but one in which is precious because of its realism. One thing is for certain; having passed a day on La Moutonnière's farm I can attest that there are a dozen people every month who are 100% happy when they leave, and that is the ease in which the owners share their day. As for the simplicity, purity and tranquil harmony felt earlier in the day, it does in fact exist, alongside a lot of hard work, patience, giving and understanding...and a little pot of freshly made sheep's milk ricotta cheese.

April 16, 2011

Sur le highway avec mes oreilles de crisse

spring. grey and soggy lands. dead leaves and last years roadkill appear. Food for the underground. Spring in Quebec means a lot of things, but the smell of wood fires, maple and pork fat are some of the most defining. Paying the full tank at a gas station I noticed all these baggies of oreilles de crisse next to the cheese curds. The curds are present all year, but the pork crispies are not. When they appear, you know it is spring, but not yet Easter.

Eating through my bag of Christ's ears I wondered how maniacal it is how these terms come about. I really could imagine sitting at a big wooden table and the King of kings saying "Take these and eat them, for these are my ears." Crunch, crunch....

And then there is Francois and Pascale Pirson of Porcherie Ardennes. Both from Belgium...both from agricultural families. Pascale is from the heart of Bouillon. Born on a farm, one of eleven kids. She saw her future differently, rather as a nurse (for those who have not read other blogs there is a long deep trend here). Her brother owned a butcher shop in Liege, 150km away, and at the age of fifteen Pascale went to help him with washing dishes. One day, one of the counter girls was sick and Pascale was told to put on an apron and serve customers, meaning she suddenly found herself slicing slabs of meat for clients a la minute. She loved it. After that, every congé scholaire, summer, Toussaint, Christmas, Easter she spent helping her brother, serving clients, learning the trade. So instead of becoming a nurse she became a butcher, with the Patronet degree. She met Francois, and they wanted land of their own. They spent 5 years looking. At first they were considering dairy, but with the price of the quota and how closed banks were to lending they decided in 1990 to buy a small place in Quebec near Mont St-Grégoire with 95 maternal pigs. It was part of the dream but Francois had to keep working for someone else, namely Robitaille. In 1997 they took control of the engraisement, pouponnière, élevage au complet. In 1999, meunière. 2000, they cultivate their own cereals. 2001 saw an incredible thing, they became Pied de Cochon's pig of choice. Picard helped them beyond what they ever dreamed of, and are extremely grateful.

With 2500-2800 heads a year, 4 kids, Pascale on the committee of Slow Food and hard working in Marcel's butcher shop Saucisson Vaudois and PR, certified NaturPorc, Francois hard working in the field, and together a powerful presence in their community, Porcherie Ardennes is not only a place I source from, but a place I like to visit for inspiration, for common sense, and for the love of good conversation and food.

As for the deep fried pork rind, they don't sell any, I did not even bother asking. It seemed that it was a good thing that oreilles de Christ were available en masse a short period of the year, but good quality pork all year round.

March 12, 2011

Saputo and Kraft vs. cheese: respect for Justice Robert Mainville

Cheese, it seems to me is something simple. Take a lait cru from Au Gré des Champs Le Péningouin, a very young delicious cheese. Ingredients? Lait Cru entier bio, présure, sel, cultures bactériennes. Ok, let us go a little further, say, Germany, Bergader, a Bavarian blue cheese. Ingredients? Solide de lait, présure, pennecilium roqueforti, culture bacterienne, sel. Simple, no? After that it is technique, temperature, time. Kraft singles? Well...

Cheese has standards and government regulations are there to protect them in a corporeal and legal sense. Business seems to work a little differently. Saputo recently is in the process of acquiring Fairmont Cheese Holdings for 270.5 million dollars. Big. For those out of the loop, Saputo is Canada's largest dairy processor and ranks 12th globally. No comment on Kraft aka is it edible?

Recently we have seen an attempt by Kraft Canada and Saputo to overturn Canadian government standards on the composition of cheese. It has been dismissed by Justice Robert Mainville of the Federal Court of Appeal. Kraft and Saputo objected to the standards, arguing that they really aim to penalize dairy processors. Court documents state that the companies assert that the “essential or dominant purpose” of the regulation is “to effect an economic transfer in favour of dairy producers to the detriment of dairy processors by requiring the use of additional liquid milk in the production of cheese.”

Mainville said that new technologies which reduce the use of liquid milk in cheese may affect taste, texture and smell. He agreed with the initial judgment that the new standards intend to protect consumers by ensuring that cheese, is well, just that, cheese. In this we must recognize what Justice Robert Mainville has done, with much respect. And as for greed, let us not forget that it too fights and threatens and thrives to overthrow the very things we cherish, and in this case the love of good honest cheese.

Agriculture minister Gerry Ritz said: “Canadians expect cheese to be made of real milk and this decision will ensure it is. We are proud of our record standing up for consumers.”


January 15, 2011

there is no Evil ghost behind the horns of these goats

There is a strange moment in the Eastern Townships when the highway you are driving on, the surrounding land, the points of reference alter, becoming more wild, savage, clean and uncertain. Not everything feels exploited, the unexpected exists suddenly as if it were tangible, what is natural is more easily grasped.

A little on the outskirts of Sawyerville is the home of MariePascal Beauregard and Francis Landry and their artisanal goat farm Caitya du Caprice Caprin. Caitya means Temple in Sanskrit. I found myself not only in this temple of goats, but the temple of something humble. Marie Pascals was destined towards a career in mental health and then....that great change came. That great change some call a revelation, others call a mid life crisis or une prise de conscience. Their products are a simple selection of fresh cheese, and later this year will be adding some aged cheese to their product list. They used to sell meat, but as she explained, she is not a butcher, and there is only a select few people who eat it, as well as the milk. The clients will be loyal for a few weeks and then disappear, or only buy cheese. While there is not a large selection, what there is pleases. Ethics make up for a lot more though. As she took us to see their animals I noticed that all of them had horns. I have witnessed horn burning on the young leaving two burnt craters, and other methods. Almost all the goats I have seen in Quebec are hornless. Most say that their reasons are that they harm each other, pierce their bellies is for their own good. Is this not the same logic behind tail docking in pigs, debeaking in chickens? The issue is space. In the ten plus years that they have had their animals Marie Pascal tells me there has rarely ever been an incident. Two goats strike each other with their horns, another is busy rubbing their horns on a metal plate screwed to the wall. Doing what goats do....

There is no evil ghost behind goat horns. They are natural and healthy. The only evil specter is born of a certain human 'tendence' ,what we hate seeing in the more popular chickens and pigs...over crowded conditions.

January 9, 2011

what's in the butter... motherfuckers?

Homemade butter. Easy. 1 liter of cream. Beat it like any whipped cream, but continue, steady and agitatingly, until it splits. Remove the liquid, the buttermilk, put the solids in a passoire and let it drip. Chill the solids and add a bit of fleur de sel to it (if you like salted butter) et voila. Gripped in the early morning with the desire to make butter I went sleepy eyed to the local store in my area. There are only a few brands there, Québon, Lanctatia....Without thinking I grabbed a few 500ml of Québon cream and rushed home. I leave it out for a couple of hours to reach room temperature, have a few coffees, and then start beating, and beating and beating and then started wondering about what was written on the carton; 'country style cream'. What is that supposed to mean? Obviously, I thought, this is not normal cream. I kept on beating the cream and the texture while stiff was bizarre. The fucking thing would not break! I pick up the carton and read the ingredients: cream, milk, carboxymethyl cellulose, guar gum, carob bean gum, mono and diglycerides, carrageenan. Cream for dummies.

I was...a little pissed off. It seemed ridiculous that something called country cream was not doing what cream should do-make butter and buttermilk! All these ingredients were obviously stabilizers and emulsifiers, some that are found in K-Y jelly to boot. And milk as an ingredient! It was all too much for something as basic and simple as making butter. I stood in front of my bowl of K-Y cream, thick and bound, but tainted, not exactly natural, determined to get something real. Now I could have went to some specialty organic store in Montréal, but opted for a quiet drive through the January country side up to Compton to visit La Ferme Groleau, 100% certified organic. If there is a place for butter sanity, and life in general, it is there.

Diane Beaulieu, co-owner with her husband Jean Noel Groleau, is one of the most outspoken people I know. There is no metaphysics or fla fla surrounding their organic farm. Here is a product of common sense, arms deep in the shit of hard work. Not only a farm of 70 heads of Jersey, Canadienne, Suisse Brune, Holstein cows and 250 or so Toggenburg, LaMancha and Saanen goats, but also a strong voice within a group of 30 plus artisans called Saveurs des Cantons (, whom she more than happily helps distribute in no less than 160 establishments around Québec...and the time she takes to school you in her boutique on the ABC's of milk, of butter and probably the tastiest cottage cheese known to mankind, can only be described as something akin to passion.

Back home, making butter was suddenly a pleasure, real, pleasant. tak, tak, tak. Of course there is something magical about the process, but there is something extremely physical about the act also that we often forget about.

I have heard people call Patrimoine's milk unstable. I can only say that this is the voice of the global market which has lost the capacity to modify and understand. I would prefer to call their milk very fresh and as close to raw milk as one can legally get. Real milk is not a can of peas that bounces around the planet or sits in your fridge for a month. It lives, is volatile and fragile. Their milk is not homogenized, there is a layer of cream stuck to the lid, do not boil it, and is pasteurized at very low temperatures to preserve the taste. Ingredients? Milk. And their cream? 45%. Ingredients? Cream. Labeled as Crème à l'ancienne, with no milk added, no K-Y substances, no additives. Now, who is one to believe? The choice is often simple...when we have one.