Making Cheese in La Belle Province – Part I

Every once and a while an opportunity comes along that you just cannot pass up. So, when I had the opportunity to travel to Sainte-Élizabeth de Warwick, in Quebec and visit Jean Morin and his team at Fromagerie du Presbytère, it was so easy to say “Yes!” I am always trying to increase my cheese making knowledge and skill base, this would be an excellent trip to learn from people who have been making award-winning cheese and have their processes down to both a science and an art form. There would be a few events I would get to help out with as well as a few chances to spend the day making cheese.
We arrived in Sainte-Élizabeth de Warwick, after about 8 hours of travel, it was late at night and the town was quiet. The trip’s organizer, Jeff Nonay, had been to the Fromagerie several times. He is friends with the owner, so he was able to show me around the outside of the buildings before calling it a night.

The next morning, I arrived around 6 am at the fromagerie to meet up with Jeff and finally meet Jean. I was used to starting my cheesemaking day around 8 am, but you could already see the cheesemakers in the plant starting their day. We met with Jean over coffee and discussed a few things about two of the events we would be helping out with. Jeff and I headed out to get things ready for the Thursday night VIP night. I would start my next chapter of cheese education bright and early Thursday morning. This would give me time to try and get acclimatized to the heat and humidity of Quebec.

Thursday morning came too early.  There is a 2-hour time difference between Quebec (2 hours ahead) and Alberta, so getting up at 4:30 AM in Quebec…well, you can do the math.  I arrived at the fromagerie just before 6 am, just in time to see the milk arrive from the farm, which is only about 500 – 600 metres away.  Jean is a gracious and welcoming host; he immediately took me upstairs to the changing area and I got dressed for cheese making.  I was then spirited back downstairs to the boot room and kitted out with my final bit of uniform.  I met the cheesemakers who were running things that day.  I was told it was going to be an easy day because they were only making 3 kinds of cheese and butter.

I helped with putting cheese into the brine and then I was introduced to a “newer” cheesemaker to the fromagerie, who is from France and he grew up in Comte country.  He has trained several years to make Comte and now he is experiencing making cheese in Canada.  My French is poor at best and his English was good enough that we could speak the language of cheese and understand each other.

Two kinds of cheese were being made when I arrived:

  • Laliberté, an amazing triple cream bloomy rind cheese made with pasteurized milk;
  • and Religieuse, their version of a Raclette made with thermalized milk

Later they would be making their award-winning blue – Bleu d’Élizabeth, which I would get to be “hands-on” with this cheese.  Not to mention they were just about done churning a batch of their amazing butter.  I was able to try some fresh out of the churn.  I think there should be a hashtag of #buttergoals after that.

At first, I was put to work helping with cheese in and out of the brine, then as every new cheesemaker learns, there are tons of cleaning to do.

I was happy to help out because I felt like I was in the way; and cleaning made me feel like I was actually helping.  I watched everything.  It was interesting to see their style of cheesemaking.  The cheesemakers were able to explain things to me.  I was in awe over how the cheesemakers moved with ease through the cheese production area, each one knowing exactly what to do and when the next step was to start.  It was like a well-oiled machine, it was easy to see why they make great cheese here.

Wheels, upon wheels of Bleu d’Élizabeth soaking in a brine.

Once the Religieuse was in the moulds and pressing, it was on to making Bleu d’Élizabeth.  This fast pace of cheese making was an “easy” day, again I was in awe of these people.  Things slowed down after the curds for the blue were cut and ready to go.  It was just us and the team with the Laliberté, finishing up their work.  I helped with the moulding of the blue.  It is quite the process and the lead on this make was a machine with the curds, there were two of us helping, and several times we were just barely keeping up.  

Once we were done moulding the cheese it was time to clean up, and finish for the day, it was just past noon.  I was told that  I could help on Saturday with making two batched of Louis d’Or, another amazing cheese similar to Gruyere.

I forgot how much humidity there is in Quebec.  I had a hard time keeping hydrated, and I was not feeling well when I arrived back at the Fromagerie for the VIP Dinner.  There were about 40 people there to sample some great food prepared by Jeff and Chef Paul Shufelt from Workshop Eatery and Woodshed Burgers in Edmonton, Alberta.

I helped out where I could, mostly carrying things and washing up.  I did have a little bit of dessert, but I was tired of cheese making and the heat.  The evening was topped off with some more amazing cheese that Jean brought up from the Fromagerie and Flaming Baked Alaska.  I did not stay too long afterwards and headed back to my hotel. Friday was to be a huge day, cheese making and the Friday Night Gathering…. would I survive another long day….?

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