Put an extra tab in your local foodie-file next to the ice wine and maple syrup - there's a new Canadian creation to be savoured: Le 1608 from Laiterie Charlevoix. A semi-firm, washed rind cheese, Le 1608 uses milk from hardy Canadienne cattle, whose ancestors were brought to Canada from France between 1608 and 1670. Considered an endangered cow, the majority of these animals are now unique to the Charlevoix region in Quebec.
The Labbé family, who owns Laiterie Charlevoix, wanted to create a product as exceptional as the AOC regulated cheeses of Europe. And with Le 1608 they just might have done so.
Le 1608 develops a pale orange exterior that is washed with brine while ripening. Developing a full, barny aroma, the paste tastes nutty at the rind and has a complex, fruity flavour that emerges from its melt-in-the mouth texture. The pleasant tang of the long finish clinches this cheese's spot as a new Canadian favourite.
Most wheels are aged two to three months and never beyond six months.
As new world cheese makers, a challenge for the emerging Canadian industry is to make cheese that cannot be found anywhere else. Terroir plays a big part in this journey, but Le 1608 is given an entirely distinct profile by the fact that it's made with the milk from the only breed of cattle actually developed on the North American continent
"She's the founding breed. The oldest breed in Canada - it all started with the Canadienne cow" says Robert Benoit, a spokesman for Laiterie Charlevoix.
The Canadienne descended from a few hundred cows brought over from Normandy and Brittany some 400 years ago. Bred to become a resilient herd of cattle, by the 1900s they had expanded to over 500,000 and became a distinctive breed that could not be duplicated anywhere else. Due to Canadian government policies in the 1850s and the modern dairy industry of the 20th century (which began to favour high volume producing cattle) the breed declined as a primary variety of milk producer. Today there are only about 500 Canadiennes left in North America.
Laiterie Charlevoix's head cheese maker, Dominique Labbé, recognized that the Canadienne's milk was special and decided that it ought to be used to make unique cheese. Also significant is the fact that the breed's milk is high in protein and fat, making it ideal for cheese making. The family chose to use a recipe that was reminiscent of French Beaufort (a firm, supple cheese made in the Savoie region of France). Once they narrowed their formula to four final "test" wheels, the Labbés hired a cheese-making instructor from Savoie for guidance on perfecting the recipe and the affinage technique that exists today.
Laiterie Charlevoix has crafted an original Canadian cheese by way of old-world finesse. Indulging is Le 1608 is history worth repeating.
Sue Riedl studied at the Cordon Bleu in London.
Find Le 1608 online
For a complete list of locations where you can find Laiterie Charlevoix's creation, visit globeandmail.com/life
On Tuesday, April 28 the Ontario Cheese Society is hosting an Artisan Cheese Market and Tasting. Admission is $30. 6-9 p.m. University of Toronto, Hart House. Register at http://www.ontariocheese.org
On the block
Cheese Le 1608
Origin Baie-St-Paul, Que.
Producer Laiterie Charlevoix
Owners Labbé family
Cheese makers Dominique and Simon Labbé
Milk Thermalized cow, Canadienne
Type semi-firm, pressed, cooked, washed rind, aged two to six months
Shape 8 kg wheels
Distributor Provincial Fine Foods, Fromagerie Atwater
Quebec La Fromagerie Atwater
Toronto: Summerhill Market, Mabel's Bakery and Specialty Foods, Leslieville Cheese Market, Nancy's Cheese
Guelph: Chartelli's Fine Cheeses
Ottawa: Jacobsons Gourmet Concepts
Victoria: Charelli's Cheese Shop & Delicatessen
Saskatoon: Bulk Cheese Warehouse