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

International Cheese, 40 Byward Market Square, Ottawa

Chasing the Cheese, 372 Water Street, Peterborough, Ontario

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

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

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