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sue riedl on cheese

Behind every good cheese is a good story. Behind Le Baluchon lies a love triangle. "I fell in love with cows at 15 and Marie-Claude [Harvey]when I was 16," says Michel Pichet, a farmer and co-owner of Fromagerie F.X. Pichet in Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade, Que.

The childhood sweethearts parted ways at 22, only to reunite at 42 - and luckily the cows were still in the picture. Now, their company, born in 2003, makes five organic cheeses with milk from their own farm. Le Baluchon was their first.

Based on an Oka-style recipe, it's an organic, raw milk, washed rind cheese that is aged a minimum of 60 days. The producers work hard to control all the critical points of cheese making to ensure consistency of flavour. As Ms. Harvey says: "When you taste Baluchon, it is always the Baluchon."

Le Baluchon is semi-firm, with small eyes, a moist paste and a slight sheen to its butter-yellow colour. The aroma is fresh, creamy and barny. The flavour nicely balances salt and fruitiness with a mellow, savoury finish. The earthy, somewhat gritty, rind is a wonderful complement to the rest of the cheese.

Older Le Baluchon can have a nice bite, but its stronger flavour is only kiddie-coaster pungent. Until two years ago, the making and affinage of the cheese were kept separate. But after the couple's business partner (who took care of the ripening) went bankrupt, they bought the commercial name "Baluchon" and now finish the cheese themselves.

Though Mr. Pichet grew up farming, he did not like the conventional way of doing things. He wanted to work organically, so in 1989 he bought his family's farm and started from scratch. "I had no more quota, no barn - the bank didn't want to lend me money, they said I was too ambitious."

When Ms. Harvey came along, the farm was fully organic, but the books were in disorder. Ms. Harvey stepped in to rescue the neglected business and pushed Mr. Pichet to get certification from Québec Vrai in Canada and the National Organic Program in the United States.

According to the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, organic agriculture is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people.

At Fromagerie F.X. Pichet, no pesticides or herbicides are used on the land. Cows are not pushed to milk to a maximum, and antibiotics are avoided during lactation. Mr. Pichet rotates his crops to maintain soil quality and reduce insects and disease. He also practises "intensive pasture control." This means that grazing cows alternate among several parcels of land, ensuring fresh grass for their feed and time for the land to be rejuvenated.

Le Baluchon recently won top honours in organic cheese at the 2009 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix and is poised to conquer palates at the American Cheese Society competition in August. Perhaps it will have another love story to tell.

ON THE BLOCK

Cheese Le Baluchon

Producer Fromagerie F.X. Pichet

Origin Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade, Que.

Owner Marie-Claude Harvey and Michel Pichet

Cheese Maker Marie-Claude Harvey

Milk Raw, organic, cow's

Type Semi-firm, moulded, pressed, washed rind, aged 60 days

Shape 1.75-kilogram wheel

Distributors Provincial Fine Foods and Fromages CDA Inc.

Available

Toronto: Summerhill Market, Scheffler's Deli, Chabichou, Whole Foods Market, A Taste of Quebec, Cheese Boutique

Perth, Ont.: Foodsmith's

Guelph, Ont.: Ouderkirk &Taylor

Vancouver: Les Amis du Fromage

Victoria: Charelli's, Ottavio

Calgary: Blush Lane

Quebec (province): Loblaws, Provigo

Montreal: Fromagerie Atwater, Fromagerie Hamel

Sue Riedl studied at the Cordon Bleu in London.