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.