Bringing a French taste of 'heaven' to cheese lovers in Quebec
Cheese makers at Fromagerie des Grondines in Portneuf use ancient French techniques
Charles Trottier still remembers the first time he tasted Brie de Melun cheese at l'Épicerie Européenne in Quebec City.
"It's from heaven," he said, remembering the experience. "It's my favourite cheese and I used to buy a piece every week."
Now, 30 years later, he wants to reproduce it at Fromagerie des Grondines, the cheese factory he co-owns with his wife, Guylaine Rivard, in Portneuf, Que.
"Our customers have been requesting soft cheeses for years, but we did not have the equipment or the space to do it," Trottier said.
For the last 10 years, Trottier and his cheese makers at Fromagerie des Grondines have been transforming organic raw milk of their Swiss cows into firm farm cheeses only. But Trottier will soon launching the farm's very first soft and floral rind cheese — and not just any variety : a Brie de Melun-type cheese.
The brie of the plains of Melun, which is the ancestor of all bries, is a raw milk cheese with character and consists of a creamy, golden, almost translucent paste.
Native of the northern French region known as Île-de-France, it's protected by a label of origin and very difficult to import into Canada.
"I do not know why, but it's probably because the standards are much stricter for raw milk cheeses," said Trottier.
So Trottier bought some equipment and will use ancient techniques still used by artisans in Europe today.
Our latest investments have enabled the establishment of a hot room dedicated exclusively to the refining of soft cheeses," Trottier said.
Every day, artisan cheese maker Agathe Montambault pays particular attention to each gesture she performs in the reproduction of ancestral trade methods associated with the production of Reblochon and Brie de Melun-type products.
The making of Brie de Melun depends on traditional know-how, where each step has an impact on the final result — from the feeding of the cows to the atmospheric pressure on the day of production.
"We had someone come in to develop tools to help us with our reversals," said Trottier. "The reversal is the gesture that makes the draining continue and ensure a certain uniformity in the cheese. Nobody talks about rollovers in cheese, but it's the 'key' in the making."
The cheese is therefore spilled four times so that the draining runs properly, which in turn avoids bitterness in the crust. A bitter taste means a poor mastery of the technique.
The ladle moulding is done in old moulds imported from France to ensure the greatest respect for tradition. The packaging will also be tested to ensure that the texture of the crust retains its density, shape and somewhat rusty colour.
If there are people who have bothered to calculate the gestures in the making of cheese, and it has been going on for over 300 years, it must be because it is the right way to go," said Trottier.
This Melun brie-type cheese at Fromagerie des Grondines, which still hasn't been named, should be ready sometime this summer.
Reblochon tribute to Rudy
Until then, a soft reblochon-type cheese will make its appearance in the two shops of Fromagerie des Grondines, a product Trottier made to pay tribute to artisan cheese maker Rudy Ducreux, whose sudden death in November 2016 greatly shook Québec cheese makers.
According to Trottier, Ducreux made some of the best cheeses in Quebec, including the Gaulois de Portneuf, a soft cheese and floral rind "definitely in the top five of the best cheeses in Quebec," he said.
"I do not want to offend the family, but I want to pay tribute to Rudy. It's a question of highlighting his contribution and expertise in the production of farmhouse cheeses in Quebec. It is a great wealth that we have lost."
Trottier's reblochon-type cheese is now available at the factory and sister shop in Saint-Roch, under the name Le Festin.
He hopes to donate a portion of this cheese's sales to a community mental health organization in Portneuf.