The term foodie is widely considered to be an informal way to describe food and drink aficionados—and Montreal is just crawling with them. Although society attempts to shove us all under the same banner, take note, there are sub-categories and we are not all the same. Some enjoy seafood over meat, some beer over wine and others, the best kind, cheese over anything and everything.
Needless to say, as cheese lovers, we can sometimes feel like a fairly marginal group lost in a large culinary world. However, on Feb. 20 at Place Desjardins, in light of Montreal’s four day Festival of Our Cheeses, I discovered that we are far from being alone.
The seventh edition of Montreal’s Festival of Our Cheeses came back with a bang after a one-year hiatus. The event, free of charge, welcomed hundreds of visitors enthusiastically rejoicing in the deliciousness and pungent smell of Quebec cheese.
The festival’s atmosphere was vibrant and bustling. Visitors and producers alike seemed genuinely excited and happy to be a part of the event. Cheese producers were standing behind their designated booths in their signature “Fromages d’ici” aprons and hats with large welcoming smiles.
“It’s a really fun and convivial event,” said Francis Boivin, a representative for Fromagerie Île-aux-Grue, after he jokingly asked his wife of 40 years if he could have permission to speak with me.
Although the festival is similar to a trade show, the joyful and talkative cheese artisans were neither aggressive nor seemingly competing with each other to push sales.
“Most of us are actually friends here,” said Christian Barrette, founder and producer of Le Fromage Au Village. “Cheese producers in Quebec are part of a very small community and many of us share the same distributors. Because of this, you quickly learn that it’s in everyone’s interest to cooperate. At the festival we joke around with each other. It’s a lot of fun.”
The event, I quickly learned, meant much more to these small cheese producers than simply having fun. Montreal’s Festival of Our Cheeses actually provides regional cheese producers with the rare opportunity to gain visibility and interact with people outside their predominantly rural communities.
“If it weren’t for Fromages d’ici organizing the event and inviting us here, as a small cheese company, we could never afford to be an exhibitor at a festival this size,” said Hélène Lessard, Barrette’s wife and business partner.
Benoit Robitaille, a die hard cheese fan, has been coming to the festival every single year since it began.
Aside from his love of cheese, the main reason he keeps coming back is to show support to small Quebec producers like Barrette and Lessard. “I find it deplorable that supermarkets offer very few Québécois products,” he said. “Because we really have some of the best cheeses here.”
In between talking to producers, visitors and making pit stops at the wine & cider booths to cleanse my palate, I tried every single cheese at the festival. The best ones, in my opinion, were “fleurs d’ail”, a firm cheese with garlic flower seasoning by Le Fromage au Village and La Famille Migneron’s “la tomme d’elles”, a firm surfaced cheese made with sheep’s milk.
All in all, if you love cheese, make sure not to miss next year’s festival. It was delightful and quite an experience for my taste buds.