La Fête des fromages d’ici (Cheese festival) was held in Montreal at the Complexe Desjardins Feb. 21-23 and attracted hundreds of cheese-loving fans to the tastings.
Among the throngs of cheese stands, I discovered a young monk dressed in a traditional robe and talking to customers about his products. Trappist cheese has a long tradition and historical roots in Quebec, and I found it surprising that in 2020, despite all the political and religious tensions and the rapid decline of membership in the Catholic Church, we can still see monasteries participating and making a living on this age-old story.
Father Patrick Flageole is from an Abbey in Saint-Benoît-du-Lac, situated in the Eastern township, toward the direction of Sherbrooke. He said the 25 monks have been making cheese since 1943 and blue cheese was their first masterpiece. He’s been with the group for 14 years.
Today, all the milk is pasteurized and they make 12 kinds of cheese. He hopes their cheese can win the hearts of Costco’s supermarkets. They are trying to sell Ermite Blue Cheese and Mont St-Benoit (a Swiss cheese) to the chain in the upcoming weeks.
Moreover, the Quebec monks have a good relationship with Vermont. He said they get their milk near the border. In 2018, the monks started a new cheese factory and it is producing 300,000 to 450,000 kilos of cheese.
Yet cheese is not the only staple for the monks. There’s a cidery, too. Father Flageole started about 15 years ago at the orchard and helping with the cider factory. The Abbey has tours of the apple orchards and the “pommerie” (for apple sauce, jams, salad dressings, pasta sauces). I should make a visit!