Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A day in the Eastern Townships

It started at 8am. 
After maneuvering through Montreal's rush hour Colin and I were on our way to 
the Abbey of St-benoit du lac to hopefully break bread with the monks who make the famous Benedictine Blue among others.
There is no address, just a town. We had my iphone and that was it. 
We were on our way. Tired and in need of coffee, but we were behind schedule and didn't know what he had in store today. We followed the directions which led us to cottage roads that were in such horrible shape they looked and felt as if they had been through several earthquakes. Several times throughout the drive there was no reception and our little blue blinking light, which was us, disappeared of the map. We were not positive we were on the right route but we both had a funny feeling we were going to turn a corner and see a beautiful monastery sitting a top a hill in the snowy outbacks of Quebec. 
Just when we began to think we were being led on a wild goose chase, we rounded a corner, dipped through a hill and there it was, this big beautiful building just as we had pictured it in our heads. 
We grabbed our cameras and commented on the amount of tourists walking in and out of the building. We knew we were in for a treat and i think we both had thought in minutes we were going to be making cheese with the monks. 

Apparently, even if a couple of cooks from toronto go to all lengths to drive out in the woods to see the fromagerie, it still isn't enough to get you inside. Because of listeria outbreaks a few years ago, the cheese area is under lock and key to outside visitors. We chatted with the director and thoughts of trying to make them feel guilt and pitty for us crossed my mind to perhaps test there religious outlook on life, but these are monks. They have discipline. Actually the director wasn't even a monk. He actuslly informed us that the monks dont even really help in the process anymore. He said they're too old and kind of hinted that they would just get in the way of production. Our dreams of monks in there robes washing cheese in the caves were quickly shattered. We toured the church and bought very well priced cheese and cider from the gift store. Not the glamorous adventure i had thought we were going to have, but wholesale candian cheese is a good second prize. Off we went. 
We had a 130pm appointment with a little goat farm back towards Montreal where we met up with the rest of our group. Marie-france wasn't even open but she allowed us into her house/store to buy some goodies and we toured her farm. 
I bought up several different cheeses, and one of my favorties was a young goat cheddar with rosemary. 
First off, i hate rosemary in cheese. It reminds me of something the condo dwellers on lakeshore would buy at the local Kitchen Table, but this one was subtle and complex. Just the right amount of rosemary so that you know it was there, but it soon fades away and then the secondary hit of goat milk in your mouth. 
We also bought 15 kilo's of baby goat meat to make salami. We didn't know one could make salami out of goat, but a quick google search on the iphone in the car gave us a few hits. 
Game on. No clue what to do but were gonna do it. 

We visited the farm animals and i must say i was quite jealous of the infatuation the lama was showing to my girlfriend. We assumed he thought she was a young Alpaca with her furry coat as he followed her around the fence.  
Next up was the higlight of our trip and a great way to end it before we left for the drive back to toronto. I called my local foie gras supplier and he made a call to Aux Champs D'Elise who is a family run foie gras producer in quebec. You see, D'Elise was the first in the game in Canada 20 years ago. He has kept his production small compared to the two european french producers located in quebec. 
It was a very intimate experience. They gave us there time and there knowledge and didn't ask for anything in return. We began our "lecture" as his wife brought out three plates of h'ordeuvres all containing foie gras ofcourse! What a treat!
Francois who is the owner, is still very much in touch with his business.  He took us through his kitchen to sit at there family dining room table that can easily sit 25-30. He talked to us about his product for 45 minutes and answered any questions we had. He informed us that his ducks are only actually force fed for 2 minutes of there whole life. For 12 days before slaughter, twice a day for 6 seconds. Each duck done by hand. He explained the process of foie gras from start to finish. He explained the importance of good feed, good handling, and that there is no room for cutting corners when producing foie. 

Like most places in the eastern townships there store is there house. 

We bought a bunch of duck products and off we went to the duck farm. 
I dont think many people in the industry can say they've ever been to a foie gras farm. 
All 10 of us were lucky enough to have this experience. 
Off we went, following Francois along dirt roads till we pulled up to his farm. 
Unfortunately, we wern't allowed camera's in there due to an infiltration of peta a few years back. There we were in a room with 1500 ducks all lined up as the feeding process began. 
Francois grabbed something that looked like a silicone gun, held the head of the duck, slid the rod down its throat and pressed lightly for 6 seconds. That was that. No noise from the duck, it looked content and happy. I should have asked him if i could feed one, because...well... i really wanted to! but i didn't.... he was already being too generous. An amazing experience for myself and our staff. If customers ever have doubts on the quality of our duck products i am content knowing my staff can give them a sincere and knowledgeable answer. 

Off we were for a grueling 5 hour drive home to the Hoof. 

1 comment:

Darrin McCowan said...

thanks for shedding some more positive light on the usually negatized process of producing foie!