Good cheese hunting: Day 15, paradise found in Warwick

For a cheese lover, Le Festival des Fromages de Warwick certainly isn’t formidable but it sure is fromidable—as the signs all over town proclaim. (Fromage, fromidable, get it?)

In its 16th year, the festival, the largest cheese event in Canada, generally welcomes more than 40,000 people to Warwick, a town of 3,500 two hours east of Montreal, in mid-June. This year, for reasons that are puzzling, attendance dropped to 28,000.

Thirty Quebec cheesemakers offered more than 100 varieties of cheese for tasting. It was impossible to taste them all, as much as one might want to. We focused exclusively on cheeses we did not know but managed to sample barely 20 cheeses over two days. Among the most memorable:

  • Louis d’Or, a flavourful, complex Gruyere-like washed rind, firm cheese made with the raw milk of the cheesemaker’s own Holstein and Jersey cows. Fromagerie du Presbytère, Sainte-Élizabeth de Warwick, Central Quebec.

  • Mont Jacob, a semi-soft, interior-ripened cheese, with a pronounced flavour and fruity aroma. Fromagerie Blackburn, Jonquière, Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean.
  • Tomme des Cantons also caught our fancy but there is no information available on the La Fromagerie 1860 DuVillage site. Perhaps it has been discontinued.

Saturday and Sunday are the busiest days at le Salon des fromages d’ici, the cheese show that is the heart of the Warwick festival. We’d recommend Friday as your primary day at the event. In addition to cheese, the 2010 festival featured 14 producers of artisan foods, eight vintners, three producers of ciders, one microbrewer, one beekeeper and two grocery-store chains, plus non-stop entertainment in the festival theatre, a children’s activity park, a farm yard complete with sheep, goats and chickens, a spectacular fireworks display on opening night, and popular Quebec bands and singers in concert every evening.

For lunch, supper or anytime, one could withdraw from all the goings-on to the 750-seat festival bistro under a big-top tent and enjoy a cheese and salad plate like the one pictured. There were six choices on the menu, each one with its own assortment of four cheeses, one pâté, one condiment, grapes, crudité, crisp greens and fresh bread.

Click on this or any other image for a larger view.

Down the street from the festival is La Fromagerie 1860 DuVillage, now owned by giant Saputo, which has a cheese boutique and a restaurant that features, among other dishes, 15—Yes, 15!—different ways to serve poutine, the cheese-curd-gravy-with-fries Quebec delicacy that was invented in Warwick.

Quite frankly, it was distressing, on account of all the fabulous cheese already in the belly, not to be able to dive into a plate of poutine in its birthplace.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs, Cheese-Head-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca, has returned home to Frenchman’s Bay east of Toronto with a cooler full of Quebec and Eastern Ontario cheese.

Good cheese hunting: Day 14, arrival in Warwick

In 2007, Warwick convinced the Quebec government to declare it as la Capitale des fromages fins du Québec, the Specialty Cheese Capital of Quebec. Le Festival des Fromages de Warwick that starts tomorrow is the 16th version of the huge cheese event that attracts 40,000 to 80,000 visitors, depending upon who is counting.

This evening, it’s still a small rural community in central Quebec some two hours east of Montreal. The most exciting thing happening is the occasional roar of a hot rod on the main drag, which we overlook from Gite du Champayeur.

A delicious baked-to-order pizza—vegetarian except for two cheeses—is our first meal in Warwick.

At La Maison des Fromages, a bistro and cheese boutique in the centre of town, we enjoy a thin-crust Pizza Bénite loaded with pesto, zucchini, tomato, black bean, artichoke and green onion and laced with Bleu Bénédictin and a mozzarella the waitress said came from Saputo.

We look over the exhibitor list: 30 cheesemakers, 14 producers of artisan specialties, eight winemakers, 3 producers of ciders, 1 microbrewer, 1 beekeeper and 2 grocery stores. Bring it on!


Good cheese hunting: Day 13, pilgrimage in Montreal

On our final full day in Montreal, we make a pilgrimage to the oldest cheesemonger in Quebec. As true pilgrims, we trudge on foot, some two hours, between Marché Jean-Talon and our downtown hotel on Boulevard René Lévesque.

Marché Jean-Talon, the largest year-round farmer’s market in Montreal, is where one finds the head office and main retail store of La fromagerie Hamel—in the cheese business since 1961.

There are some 700 varieties of cheese on display at La fromagerie Hamel in Marché Jean-Talon in Montreal.

La fromagerie Hamel now has five locations in Montreal including the flagship store at Jean-Talon. The name comes from its founder, Fernand Hamel, who owned the business until 1988 when it was purchased by Marc Picard who runs the business today with his wife, Murielle Chaput, and his son, Ian Picard, who has been the master fromager affineur for the past decade.

Camille, one of the friendly, bilingual experts in cheese who looks after customers, introduced us to three new-to-us Quebec cheeses that we will report on in due course:

  • Alfred fermier, a farmstead organic raw cow’s milk cheese from
    Eastern Townships
  • Kenogami fermier, a farmstead thermalized cow’s milk cheese from Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean
  • Mamirolle, a pasteurized cow’s milk cheese from Central Quebec aged in the cave at La fromagerie Hamel.

La fromagerie Hamel is the oldest cheese retailer in Quebec and, as far as we can make out, the second oldest in Canada. Olympic Cheese Mart at St. Lawrence Market in Toronto started cheesemongering in 1958. The high-profile Cheese Boutique in Toronto opened its doors in 1977.

Non-cheese footnotes on eating our way around Montreal for a week:

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs, Cheese-Head-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca, departs Montreal tomorrow with his Significant Other for Le Festival des Fromages de Warwick.