by Liz Campbell
For many North Americans, meat comes on a Styrofoam tray, bread comes from a plastic bag and cheese comes in a pretty plastic package – and all of these come from a giant building called a supermarket.
Montréal is not immune to this trend, but one of the joys of being in a city so heavily influenced by its French roots is the ability to shop in stores which specialize in meat – or bread – or cheese. Here, the boucherie, boulangerie and fromagerie (butcher, baker and cheesemonger) are still very much a part of the food scene. But in Montréal, even large supermarkets are great places to find local artisan cheeses and specialty food products. Just as an example, Louise Ménard’s IGA store, a five minute walk from the Westin Montréal, is an eye-opener for those who might not guess just how different a supermarket can be when customers have food wired into their DNA.
When I tried to make a list of really good fromageries in the city, I got to 21 and had to stop counting!
I know I keep saying this, but it’s that French influence again. Montréal is a city with French origins, and the French understand the importance of food. They believe that food should stay as close to its origins as possible, so a fromagerie remains just one degree – or at most two degrees – of separation from the cheesemaker. They understand that cheese is alive, and as with all living things, it will grow and change with time. Only a true fromagier ensures that the cheese remains healthy during its life span – which should end only with that first tasting, the prelude to purchase.
I’m sharing my list of fromageries in Montréal – see how many you can visit during your stay!
La Fromagerie Hamel
(in Atwater Market, Jean Talon Market)
Among the incredibly wide selection of cheese (about 1,000 at last count) from Québec and from other countries, you must try those labelled Le Pic. A great play on words – the Picards are the owners – these are their choices for best in store, resulting “from the special, sometimes exclusive relationship we have built with loyal cheesemakers.” Some are also carefully matured by the maître-affineur, Ian Picard, in their own aging cellars. There are also lots of other gourmet products, charcuterie, and baked goods available in this lively spot with four branches including ones in the two main markets: www.fromageriehamel.com
Fromagerie Ruban Bleu
New to Atwater Market, the cheeses from one of the province’s oldest goat farms can be found in this kiosk. But they also stock a number of other Québec artisan cheeses as well as products like goat’s milk soap, goat meat, and more. Their farm in Mercier, in the beautiful Montérégie highlands of Southwestern Québec, welcomes visitors: www.rubanbleu.net/
Le Marché des Saveurs du Québec
(280, Place Du Marche-du-Nord)
The aim has been from the outset to celebrate the bounty and wonderful food of this province. More than 225 different cheeses, many made from raw milk, maple products, jams, honey, pickles, mustards, and much more can be found in store. This is the place to find some interesting microbrewery beers, wines, ciders and other traditional drinks. And there’s ready-prepared food as well. If it’s from Québec, they have it: http://lemarchedessaveurs.com
Qui lait cru?!
(7070, Henri-Julien Avenue, Jean Talon Market)
You have to love the name – it’s a play on words. Lait Cru is raw milk but if you say the name quickly, it sounds like you’re saying, “Who’d have thought?” Some 70 percent of their cheeses come from Québec farms, and they fill most of the L-shaped counter. But they specialize in raw milk cheeses from all milks, and while the decor is minimalist, the service isn’t. Their website is under construction: www.quilaitcru.com
(Jean Talon Market)
Lucille Giroux’s little booth is opposite Qui Lait Cru?! in the market and is the only place where one can buy all the ACS cheesemaker members’ own award-winning cheeses. She also sells some charcuterie and terrines and wool products like socks, carded wool comforters and even skeins for your own knitting. www.lamoutonniere.com
In 1983, Gilles Jourdenais took over his family’s store in Atwater Market. It stocked 25 cheeses back then. Today, the epicurean has transformed the shop into a Mecca for food lovers with everything from 1,000 varieties of cheese to charcuterie and other products. It’s a friendly, interesting spot to browse. www.fromagerieatwater.ca
Yannick Fromagerie d’Exception
(1218 Bernard St., Outremont)
The name says it….exceptional. Yannick takes cheese very seriously and he manages to import cheeses that are nearly impossible to find, even in France. If you want some special cheeses this is the place to find it: http://www.yannickfromagerie.ca
Fromagerie Maître Corbeau
(5101, Chambord St.)
“Master Crow” seems an odd name for a fromagier, but this colourful shop is the domain of André Piché, a master affineur. Want to learn more about this fine art? This is the place to go.