After lunch at Europea, we had a rendez-vous with Chef Stephen to visit the fromagerie at Atwater Market.
There, not only was there a staggering choice of cheese, there was charcuterie, pâtés, jams, honeys, crackers, drinks, chocolates, and who knows what else! I told the cheesemongers that I was looking for only Canadian cheeses, and left with a local raw chèvre called Sabot de Blanchette (Blanchette’s clog, as in shoe), Tomme de Kamouraska, Riopelle, and a 24-month aged Louis d’Or (a cheese, not a coin). M. Cheesemonger, in charge of the non-cheeses, chose a venison pâté with cranberries, Lesley Stowe winter vegetable crisps, and some chocolates.
After a quick stop at a new bakery named Boulangerie Hof Kelsten, very German influenced, where we took a loaf of their signature rye-caraway bread, we were set.
When it’s -20° Fahrenheit outside, and it gets dark at 3:30pm, I really didn’t want to do much in in the evening but taste cheese and bury myself in a blanket. So that’s what happened.
Over all, on this trip, I must say I was very pleasantly surprised by the Canadian cheeses! They really are unique, as a result of the different terroir, different seasons, and conditions special to Canadian regions. All of the cheeses I tasted had highly complex, yet subtle flavors and smooth textures, and each was unique.
Tomme de Kamouraska (raw sheep, semi-soft): The tomme, made by the Fromagerie Le Mouton Blanc, looked pretty nondescript. It’s got a pale, straw-colored paste with small eyes dotted throughout, and a subtly mottled rind—dark brown, white, grey, orangish. This piece was mild on the nose as well, creamy, but with a little bit of dustiness from the rind. The flavor was so delicate when I finally could take a bite! I have been used to stronger sheep’s milk cheese, like Abbeye de Bellocq or other Pyrenees brebis from which this cheese draws its inspiration. Here was a cheese that wasn’t as woolly as those Pyrenees cheeses. Instead, picking out that delicate mélange of flavor, I sensed pears, maybe apricots, hazelnuts, and an umami element from the dusty rind. I loved its texture, which was slightly sandy, with a little bite. Chef Stephen explained that Kamouraska is a town about 400 km north of Montreal, along the St. Laurence River, where the cheese is made.
Riopelle (cow thermisé, soft): This cheese had come recommended to me by several people, so I was eager to try it! It is made on the Il-aux-Grues (Island of Cranes) and is named after noted Canadian painter Jean-Paul Riopelle (whose works I later saw at the Montreal Musée des Beaux Arts). It looked like a Brie de Melun—white, fluffy rind, light yellow paste (maybe a little lighter than an actual Brie de Melun). Taking a sniff, I noticed it wasn’t nearly as mushroomy as I would have thought. It smelled more like fresh butter. I took a bite, and what greeted my tongue was more like a Brie de Melun than I had expected. Despite the mild nose, Riopelle has packs a significant buttery punch, all in a soft velvety cheese.
Louis D’Or (raw cow, hard): My French monarchist-loving roots just had to have the Louis d’Or, since that was the name of the currency produced under Louis XIII in France. I think this was one of the more striking cheeses of the bunch, not because it was so much like the French alpine cheeses that it is inspired from, but because how distinctive it is from those French cheeses. It was very similar to an emmenthal in texture, but in addition to having the nuttiness we come to expect in French alpines, this one had a surprising sweetness to it, maybe like maple syrup. I’m convinced this is a result more of differences in terroir than anything else, but then again, someone, prove me wrong! I loved this cheese. It would be perfect to munch on as a snack, or to grate over just about anything.
Sabot de Blanchette: This was my one chèvre from our stash, and a beautiful one at that. The cheese is made by the Fromagerie Suisse Normande, as a tribute to the owners’ Swiss and Norman backgrounds. It is a farmstead cheese, so these goats are raised on the same premises as the creamery. The cheese comes in a flattened pyramid shape, with a lactic, somewhat grassy aroma hovering over it. As I bit down into it, I realized that this was easily the meatiest tasting cheese of the bunch. That innocuous pyramid of goat goodness is full of umami flavor—not so flowery, not so grassy, but definitely hearty. This cheese would substitute nicely for a cut of veal. With its runny texture, it wasn’t hard to down about half the pyramid in an evening.
That with a bit of beer and Game of Thrones, and our evening was made.
Atwater Market: 138 Avenue Atwater, Montréal, QC H4C 2H6, Canada.
Boulangerie Hof Kelsten: 4524 Blvd. St. Laurent, Montréal, QC H2T 1R4, Canada.