Marie-Chantal Houde: The cheesemaker as a rock star

THEN: Marie-Chantal Houde in the make room at Fromagerie du Presbytère developing Zacharie Cloutier five years ago.

THEN: Marie-Chantal Houde in the make room at Fromagerie du Presbytère developing Zacharie Cloutier five years ago.

Five years ago, on a visit to Fromagerie du Presbytère in Sainte-Elizabeth-de-Warwick two hours east of Montreal, I noticed a young woman up to her elbows in curd in the make room—even though it was Sunday.

Jean Morin, co-owner of the fromagerie, explained: “Oh, that’s Marie-Chantal (Houde). She’s developing a sheep’s milk cheese to sell under her own label. I let her use my facilities on Sundays. She’s really talented. In a few years, she’ll be a rock star in cheese.”

NOW:

NOW: One of its kind in Canada, a copper vat from France is used in the making of Zacharie Cloutier and other award-winners like Pionnier and Jean Morin’s Louis d’Or.

The next year, Marie-Chantal’s new cheese, Zacharie Cloutier, made its first appearance at Québec’s prestigious cheese competition, Caseus 2011, and struck gold. The sheep’s milk cheese was named best cheese in all milks. No cheese had ever won top honours at Caseus in its first year. Her star had begun to ascend in a hurry.

At this year’s Caseus competition, Fromagerie Nouvelle France, which Marie-Chantal started five years ago with her brother Jean-Paul, dominated the competition like no other cheese producer had done in the 16-year history of Caseus—confirming Jean Morin’s prediction.

ZAC: The best sheep's milk cheese made in Québec today.

ZAC: The best sheep’s milk cheese made in Québec today.

Zacharie Cloutier was named Grand Champion as well as Gold Award winner. Nouvelle France also won the two sheep’s milk categories, Zacharie Cloutier taking washed, natural or mixed rind honours while La Madelaine was judged best bloomy rind. Additionally, Pionnier, a collaboration between Nouvelle France and Fromagerie du Presbytère, was named best blended-milk cheese.

Fromagerie Nouvelle France is based on a 250-acre farm on the outskirts of the village of Racine, in Québec’s Eastern Townships. Jean-Paul tends to the East Friesian sheep, Marie-Chantal makes the cheese.

ZAC: The best sheep's milk cheese made in Québec today.

SIBLINGS: Jean-Paul looks after the East Friesians, Marie-Chantal makes the cheese. They’re the fourth generation in their family to work the land.

Vanessa Simmons, cheese sommelier at Savvy Company in Ottawa and featured presenter at The Great Canadian Cheese Festival who served as one of 21 judges at Caseus 2014, writes:

“Fromagerie Nouvelle France’s signature cheese, Zacharie Cloutier, is a raw sheep’s milk cheese, named for an ancestor who came to Canada from France in 1634. This ancestor is also said to be a distant relative of Céline Dion.

“Marie-Chantal’s love for her craft and talent transfers directly to her flagship cheese. Zacharie Clouthier is a semi-cooked, firm, raw sheep’s milk cheese with a very distinct exterior basket weave design attributed to a specially selected mold that gives the cheese and apricot rind its unique appearance.  Inside is a dense, meaty, bone-colored paste that portrays a mix of complex aromas and flavors: salt, butter, hazelnut, caramel, and coconut, with a hint of ripe pineapple. A rare treat.

“Le Pionnier, a collaboration between Fromagerie Nouvelle France and Fromagerie Presbytère, is a 40-kilogram wheel made of raw sheep’s and cow’s milk coming from the two cheesemaker herds. The cheese is a great marriage of cow’s milk cheese according to Morin’s tradition, and sheep’s milk cheese, according to Houde’s tradition. Le Pionnier is a firm cheese with a bit of washed rind, a dense cheese texture and some earthiness, and is very robust. Aged for 10 to 12 months, Le Pionnier displays complex aromas of butter, brown sugar and macadamia nuts with a delicate floral note. This cheese says ‘Look at me’ and is very indicative of their personalities. They are very outspoken cheesemakers.”

Now

COLLABORATION: Marie-Chantal Houde and Jean Morin toast the introduction of Pionnier, now also a Caseus winner.

Born on the family farm in Racine 30-something years ago, Marie-Chantal studied at l’Institut de technologie agroalimentaire in Saint-Hyacinthe, then at l’Université McGill in Montréal and l’École nationale d’industrie laitière et des biotechnologies in Poligny in the Jura cheese region of France.

Jean-Paul Houde represents the fourth generation of farmers in his family. His knowledge of the fields, grains, soil and harvesting he owes to his grandfather. His father taught him animal husbandry, to love and care for the animals and, of course, how to milk them. Jean-Paul manages 400 East Friesian sheep of which 250 are milked in rotation. The Solidar sheep farms in Chicoutimi and the sheep farm Fou du Berger in Hatley also supply milk for cheesemaking.

For Marie-Chantal, fine cheese is a marriage of art and science. Her passion for cheesemaking seems boundless. We look forward to seeing—and tasting—where her star will take her.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Read more:

Zacharie Clouitier best of the best in Québec

Where to buy Zacharie Cloutier outside Québec

Fromagerie Nouvelle France

Marie-Chantal Houde

Georgs Kolesnikovs is founder of The Great Canadian Cheese Festival and Canadian Cheese Awards/Le Concours des fromages fins canadiens.

Where can I buy Zacharie Cloutier outside Québec?

Multiple-award-winner Zacharie Cloutier.

Multiple-award-winner Zacharie Cloutier.

Here is where one can purchase award-winning Zacharie Cloutier and other Fromagerie Nouvelle France cheese outside of Québec:

Olympic Food & Cheese Mart, St. Lawrence Market, 93 Front St. East, Toronto

Delight, 3040 Dundas St. West, Toronto

Vincenzo’s,  150 Caroline St. South, Waterloo, Ontario

C’est Cheese Please! 12 Water Street, Galt City Centre, Cambridge, Ontario

International Cheese, 40 Byward Market Square, Ottawa

A l’Epi de Blé (french bakery),  1757 Main Street, Winnipeg

Les Amis du Fromage, 175 West 2nd Avenue, Vancouver.

Fromagerie Nouvelle France cheese is distributed by Plaisirs Gourmets.

Read more: Zacharie Cloutier best of the best in Quebec

 

Zacharie Cloutier best of the best in Québec

Grand Champion: Zacharie Cloutier, a raw sheep's milk cheese from Fromagerie Nouvelle France. Photo Vanessa Simmons.

Grand Champion: Zacharie Cloutier, a raw sheep’s milk cheese from Fromagerie Nouvelle France. Photo Vanessa Simmons.

Fromagerie Nouvelle France dominated Caseus Sélection 2014, the prestigious competition for Quebec cheese producers which concluded September 16 with announcement of winners in Québec City.

Nouvelle France’s Zacharie Cloutier, a sheep’s milk cheese, was named Grand Champion as well as Gold Award winner. Nouvelle France also won the two sheep’s milk categories, Zacharie Cloutier taking washed, natural or mixed rind honours while La Madelaine was judged best bloomy rind.

Additionally, Pionnier, a collaboration between Nouvelle France and Fromagerie du Presbytere, was named best blended-milk cheese.

Where to buy Zacharie Cloutier outside Québec.

In the 16-year history of Caseus, no single producer has so dominated the competition sponsored by Quebec’s Ministry of Agriculture and Metro and Provigo supermarkets.

Jean-Paul and Marie-Chantal Houde, the brother and sister behind award-winning Fromagerie Nouvelle France.

Jean-Paul and Marie-Chantal Houde, the brother and sister behind award-winning Fromagerie Nouvelle France.

Forty-seven producers submitted 176 cheeses for the judging. The winners are:

Caseus Émérite/Grand Champion

Caseus Or/Gold Award

Caseus Argent/Silver Award

Caseus Bronze/Bronze Award

Caseus Longaevi/Special Award

Best raw-milk cheese and best organic cheese: Alfred le Fermier from Fromagerie La Station.

Best raw-milk cheese and best organic cheese: Alfred le Fermier from Fromagerie La Station.

OPEN CLASS (All producers, all milks)

Sheep’s milk cheese with bloomy rind

La Madelaine
Fromagerie Nouvelle France

Sheep’s milk cheese with washed, natural or mixed rind

Zacharie Cloutier
Fromagerie Nouvelle France

Blue cheese, all milks

Rebellion 1837
Fromagerie Montebello

Blended milk cheese (milk from different animal species)

Pionnier
Fromagerie Nouvelle France et Fromagerie du Presbytère

Interior-ripened cheese without ripening holes

Le Chèvre Noir vieilli
Agropur Unité d’affaires Fromages fins

Interior-ripened cheese with ripening holes

Cogruet
La Fromagerie DuVillage 1860

Unripened cheese

Le Louché
Les Fromages du Verger

Cheese flavoured by smoking, maceration or the addition of flavoured ingredients

Le Calumet
Fromagerie Bergeron

Cheese flavoured with spices, vegetables, fruit or nuts

Le Capri’Cieux Amandière
Ferme Mes Petits Caprices

Cheese curds made fresh daily

Cheddar en grains
La Fromagerie Champêtre

Best raw-milk cheese

Alfred le Fermier
Fromagerie La Station

Best organic cheese

Alfred le Fermier
Fromagerie La Station

Cheddar

Agropur Grand Cheddar 3 ans
Agropur Unité d’affaires Fromages fins

Rebellion 1837 made by Fromagerie Montebello took top blue-cheese honours.

Rebellion 1837 made by Fromagerie Montebello took top blue-cheese honours.

Producers processing less than 1 million litres per year

Cow’s milk cheese

Soft cheese with washed, natural or mixed rind

Ste-Anne
Fromagerie FX Pichet

Semi-soft cheese with washed, natural or mixed rind

Le Mont-Jacob
Fromagerie Blackburn

Firm or hard cheese with washed, natural or mixed rind

Le Frère Chasseur
Fromagerie Au Gré des Champs

Bloomy rind

Laliberté
Fromagerie du Presbytère

Goat’s milk cheese

Bloomy rind

Chèvre à ma manière
Fromagerie l’Atelier

Washed, natural or mixed rind

Tomme de la Lachevrotière
Fromagerie des Grondines

Producers processing more than 1 million litres per year

Cow’s milk cheese

Soft cheese with washed, natural or mixed rind

La Tentation de Laurier
La Fromagerie DuVillage 1860

Semi-soft cheese with washed, natural or mixed rind

Le Bocké
La Fromagerie Champêtre

Firm or hard cheese with washed, natural or mixed rind

Pacific Rock
La Fromagerie Alexis de Portneuf

Bloomy rind

Cendré de Lune
La Fromagerie DuVillage 1860

 Site see: Caseus Selection 2014

Erin Harris: Passion for cheese drives her career

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By ERIN HARRIS

Three years ago, I made a significant change in my 20-year career in the food and beverage industry. I was looking for a career in the area of greatest passion in my life: food. But I also wanted to do something more entrepreneurial and more fulfilling than I had been doing at the university where I had worked. Out of my passion for food and my desire for individuality and creativity came my own cheesemonger business: The Cheese Poet.

But let’s start at the beginning: I’ve always loved cheese. Cheese was always around, on the dinner table, in my sandwiches, in the cheese drawer. My Dad loves a really good nippy cheddar cheese, and also a nice stinky blue. My mom, she is equally a lover of cheddar, but also brie, especially when baked and served with something sweet. My sister loves a good goat cheese . . . fresh chevre, gouda, tomme.   And then there was me: I love them all. I always wanted to learn more, going to the local market to try something new each week. Cheese parties with my friends, cheeses abroad while traveling, cheeses every day, if I could!

My love of cheese really came alive the year that I took La Cucina Italiana: Italian Culinary Diploma at George Brown College in Toronto. While living in such a great metropolitan area I had a huge variety of food shops to choose from so, nearly every day I would walk the five blocks down to St. Lawrence Market and check out all three cheese shops. I would pick up little 2-ounce pieces of cheese that looked different and interesting to me, take them home, and savour them.   I spent most of my grocery money on cheese!

As part of the diploma, I was required to do a work term in Italy, home of the King of Cheeses! For six months I worked in Italy, and fell in love with a country that truly celebrates food—especially cheese (and wine, and pasta!). The first cheese that really made an impression on me was the Stracchino, a cheese that the lady of the house where I worked, would eat every day at the end of her meals with a piece of fruit. She would share her cheese with me in the early days, but then my own container started to show up on the table. “Get your own Stracchino!” was the clear message. And then there were all of the Pecorinos. Young, aged, rolled in herbs, soaked in wine, drenched in honey. I consumed more Pecorino than any other food in those six months.

Perhaps the birth of The Cheese Poet was inevitable. It has been operating for just over two years. Located in The Western Fair Farmers and Artisans Market in London, Ontario, The Cheese Poet is a one day per week (Saturday) business in which I sell predominantly local, all artisanal cheeses. I specialize in sheep milk cheeses, as we are fortunate to have some amazing local producers using good fresh local sheep milk. Many of my loyal customers who came to me with lactose intolerance issues, are now happily enjoying local sheep and goat milk cheeses in their regular diet. Working directly with my customers is truly the most enjoyable aspect of my job (next to always getting the first taste of a new wheel of cheese!). I have watched customers develop their own love of good cheese blossom. I have watched eyes light up and listened to excited voices as people experience the quality that Ontario cheesemakers are bringing to the table today. Without a doubt, the customers are the best part of my job. I am their Cheeselady!

In 2013, I attempted to expand The Cheese Poet to a six-day-per-week operation not once, but twice. The combination of high lease rates, and poor local economy, held me back from expanding my operation into a stand-alone shop.

Furthering my cheese industry awareness and education will allow me the confidence to move my business forward to its full potential. Attending the American Cheese Society (ACS) annual conference in Sacramento would afford me further insight into the cheese industry outside of Ontario. It will introduce me to the big world of cheese, and specifically, to all of the artisans in the USA who are producing award-winning cheeses that I read about but have not been able to experience for myself.

If I were given the opportunity to participate in the ACS conference in Sacramento—something that I cannot financially afford to do for myself at this time—I would expect to gain a level of awareness about the cheese industry in North America that would allow me to participate in and give back to this industry in a much larger way.

Not only am I passionate about the cheese industry, I am truly following my dream—something that John Crompton and I would have in common. I believe that Mr. Crompton would have appreciated my tenacity, and would have recognized the joy this industry brings me as something that it brought to his career as well. I have also not been able to afford the ACS individual membership, which I believe is an incredible resource for a small cheese business like mine. Additionally, I have applied for the 2014 Certified Professionals Exam. I will only be able to afford this invaluable certificate if I am awarded the 2014 John Crompton Memorial Scholarship. It would truly be an honour to be awarded this Scholarship, and I will do my best to honour his memory during my time at the ACS Conference in Sacramento, and with the energy and education that I take away from the experience.

Editor’s note:

Erin Harris is the second Canadian to be awarded the John Crompton Memorial Scholarship by American Cheese Society (ACS). The first was Nancy Peppler of Nancy’s Cheese in Toronto. The scholarship provides funding for travel and attendance at the annual ACS conference which this year was held in Sacramento, California, in August.

This essay—which earned the scholarship—was written prior to a new verse being added to Erin’s cheese poetry. She closed Cheese Poet in May 2014 to begin a new role as Cheese and Catering Manager for Sobey’s Urban Fresh, first to work in Toronto for the remainder of 2014, and then to help open the new Urban Fresh store in Ottawa, winter 2015.

Crispy greens win Mac & Cheese showdown at CNE

Chef Andrew Farrell and Crispy Greens Mac & Cheese.

Chef Andrew Farrell and Crispy Greens Mac & Cheese.

Chef Andrew Farrell of Halifax took home top honours at the 2014 Grate Canadian Cheese Cook-Off for his Crispy Greens Mac & Cheese. The Mac & Cheese showdown took place at Dairy Farmers of Canada’s Canadian Cheese Counter at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto in front of a crowd of cheese fans yesterday.

Four accomplished chefs and foodies from across Canada took to the stage in an attempt to create the ultimate comfort food using Canadian cheese, pasta and a little imagination.  In the end, it was Chef Andrew Farrell from 2 Doors Down in Halifax who emerged victorious.

Chef Farrell’s Crispy Greens Mac & Cheese was voted best overall by a panel of four cheese-loving judges. His dish packs a whole lot of Nova Scotia into one dish, with four cheeses from That Dutchman’s Farm—three Gouda and one Blue—produced in Upper Economy, Nova Scotia. Cheesy noodles are then topped with a kale-broccoli-Brussels sprouts crust and Sriracha hot sauce adds a spicy kick.

“The competition was as sharp as Canadian cheddar,” said Andrew Farrell. “All the dishes looked delectable and the crowd was really engaged. I am so thrilled my Crispy Greens Mac & Cheese, featuring three Goudas and Dragon’s Breath Blue cheese from That Dutchman’s Farm, won the hearts and taste buds of the judges.”

This year’s four fierce competitors included Bal Arneson, Food Network TV host and award-winning author from Vancouver, British Columbia; chef David Bohati, executive chef at MARKET Restaurant in Calgary, Alberta; Kevin Durkee, owner of CHEESEWERKS in Toronto, Ontario; and chef Andrew Farrell, head chef at 2 Doors Down in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The judging panel consisted of Sue Riedl, journalist, blogger and cheese ambassador; Rita DeMontis, Sun Media food editor; Jason Bangerter, executive chef and 2012 Grate Canadian (Grilled) Cheese Cook-Off champion, as well as Lorie Chater, cheese lover from Halifax, Nova Scotia, and the winner of the nation-wide contest for a “professional mac & cheese taster.”

The Cook-Off was organized by Dairy Farmers of Canada to take Canada’s beloved Mac & Cheese to a whole new level and showcase the outstanding quality, variety, taste, and versatility of Canadian cheese made from 100% Canadian milk.

Crispy Greens Mac & Cheese.

Crispy Greens Mac & Cheese.

Cheese lovers across Canada can access the four Mac & Cheese recipes and find tips for making the perfect Mac & Cheese by visiting www.allyouneedischeese.ca/cookoff.

QC14 #buickdrive: Searching for seafood around Gaspé—and cheese, of course

Fresh, sweet, succulent, our first lobster in Gaspésie at Capitaine Homard in Sainte Flavie.

Fresh, sweet, succulent, our first lobster in Gaspésie at Capitaine Homard in Sainte Flavie. Click image for larger view.

It was everything we wanted and more. Poissonnerie after poissonnerie all the way around Gaspésie made hunting for fresh, local seafood a snap. See below for what we enjoyed over 14 days and 2,945 kilometres in a Buick Enclave on QC14 #buickdrive.

Of course, cheese was not ignored. We visited five fromageries, three within Gaspé borders (first three shown), two just outside the region:

Sights and eats as captured in Facebook photo albums:

Kamouraska:

  • Lobster roll
  • Shrimp with salad
  • Poached salmon with salad

St. Flavie:

  • Lobster steamed with garlic butter
  • Clams (fried calamari style)
  • Fish trio: poached salmon, trout and cod with fries and coleslaw

St. Anne des Monts:

  • Cod and shrimp over wild rice
  • Scallops with avocado/tomato salsa
  • Seafood risotto: shrimp, scallops, mussels and lobster

Percé:

  • Scallops with bacon
  • Poutine with lobster
  • Fish soup

Forillon National Park:

  • Shrimp with salad
  • Crab claws two ways: in shell and ready to eat
  • Crab cakes
  • Crab mousse
  • Smoked trout with country bread
  • Poutine with shrimps

Carleton sur Mer:

  • Scallops with bacon
  • Shrimp
  • Salmon, turbot and cod bon bons
  • Mussels from Chaleur Bay
  • Smoked trout
Our Buick Enclave is shown crossing a covered bridge near the end of our Gaspé #buickdrive.

Our Buick Enclave is shown crossing a covered bridge near the end of our Gaspé #buickdrive. Click image for larger view.

Earlier Facebook photo albums:

QC14: Festival des Fromagers Artisans du Québec

Some 10,000 cheese enthusiasts made the pilgrimage to Sainte-Elisabeth-de-Warwick.

Some 10,000 cheese enthusiasts made the pilgrimage to Sainte-Elisabeth-de-Warwick, population 374.

We begin our three-week tour of Québec with Festival des Fromagers Artisans du Québec, the annual celebration of fromages fins organized by the association of artisan-cheese producers. This year, the two-day festival was held at Fromagerie du Presbytere in the village of Sainte-Elisabeth-de-Warwick two hours east of Montréal.

With the support of Mayor Luc Le Blanc, Presbytere’s owner, Jean Morin, was able to convert the main street of the village into a cheese fair that attracted some 10,000 cheese enthusiasts. Morin’s cheese plant and shop—located in a former rectory (presbytere)—sits across the street from Ferme Louis d’Or, the dairy farm his family has operated for four generations.

A tiny bakery turns out wonderful breads adjacent to the cheese plant. Morin also invited local producers—a charcuterie specialist, a winemaker and a craft brewery—to complement the cheese available for tasting and purchase.

The annual festival rotates from one member producer to another. Next year’s venue will be announced soon.

Facebook photo albums:

 

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