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Bon Fromage from Montreal

Posted 8/4/2011 9:28pm by Leslie Cooperband or Wes Jarrell.

The wonders of cyberspace allow me to write this week's newsletter from Montreal Quebec Canada. I am attending the annual American Cheese Society Conference. It's the first time it is being held in Canada, and getting all of the 1700 cheeses across the US-Canada border for the cheese competition was quite a feat.  Late last week, our cheeses were shipped to a warehouse in upstate New York and then caravanned in refrigerated trucks to their final destination in Montreal.  They will announce the winners Friday evening, so keep all of your body parts crossed for our cheeses. 
The opening session of the conference was given by a Quebec Agronomist who spoke about the meaning of "terroire" in the New World. For those of you not familiar with the concept of terroire, it embodies the link of food products, particularly wines and cheeses, to specific regions in Europe. It also implies very distinct histories and traditions of how these products must be produced--specific varietals of grapes grown on specific soil types, specific breeds of dairy animals eating very specific kinds of vegetation and their milk collected at certain times of the year to make specific kinds of cheeses.  So, the question is how do you create "terroire" in the "new world" (aka north and south america) when the history is so short in comparison to the old world and the cheese traditions are loosely based on those of immigrants from the old world. The Quebec agronomist presented a series of three examples where several regions and farm families are creating their own unique cheeses, keeping dairy farming alive and reinvigorating a breed of dairy cattle "La Vache Canadienne" whose genetics have french origins, but were modified by the early settlers in Quebec in the early 1600s.  The stories were fascinating and inspiring in their message of renewal and reinvigoration of small-scale artisanal cheese production and its impact on rural economic development. 
The stories made me think about how we can define terroire in our little neck of the woods--the prairies of central Illinois. I believe that our rich black soils are the foundation for our diverse pastures and our luscious alfalfa hay.  Does that count as terroire? Our cheese washes made from pear leaf tea and fruit jams and eaus de vie--don't they impart a connection of land to cheese so essential for terroire?  Is it legitimate for us to claim terroire in our cheeses if we feed our goats forage grown out their back barn door?  Do our Nubian-La Mancha crosses represent a feeble attempt to create dairy goat characteristics that might be better suited for the kinds of cheeses we want to produce on our land? 
And what is our little creamery's contribution to reinvigorating food traditions in a region not known for more than large-scale cash grain agriculture production?  The thing I really like about this idea of "terroire in the new world" is that you don't have to cling to specific and ancient traditions--you can tie your products to the land and the region and it is valid. It's the face to a place mindset. 
What we're bringing to the farmers' markets this Saturday
In my absence of course, we are attending three farmers' markets this Saturday, August 6th: Urbana, Bloomington and Oak Park.  I am not completely sure of the cheese lineup (as I forgot to consult with my trusted cheesemakers before leaving for Montreal), but I will take a guess here:

Fresh chevre--plain, herbs de Provence, cracked pepper AND heirloom tomato
Angel Food--gooey is the operative word here
Little Bloom on the Prairie--our spin on an old world tradition of camembert
Ewe Bloom-lovely delicate white rinded sheep milk deliciousness
Black Sheep-lovely ash-covered white rinded sheep milk deliciousness
Red Dawn-smoked paprika dusted goat disc--perfect for a burger
Krotovina--half sheep-half goat with the two halves separated by an ash layer
Moonglo--slightly tangy but nutty, raw goat milk tomme (this is a real terroire cheese --raw milk AND washed with tea from Moonglow pear leaves!)
Roxanne-a raw sheep milk brebis with distinct buttery and grassy notes
Urbana Market goers can enjoy cool and creamy gelato and sorbetto this Saturday as well. We should have:
Vanilla
Chocolate
Sicilian Pistachio
Apricot
Peach
Melon
Blueberry
Plum
Lastly, don't forget to come out and visit us on Tuesday afternoons from 3-7PM. We will be serving our gelato from our new italian dipping cabinet (hopefully)!! No more single servings out of pint containers!!! Of course, there will be plenty of cheese and veggies from Blue Moon Farm. Stay tuned for details next Monday.  In the meantime, enjoy the bounty that Central Illinois has to offer you!  Vive le terroire en Illinois!!