Le Mont-Jacob, from Fromagerie Blackburn in Quebec, presents a sophisticated fix for a savoury craving. Equally good melted as it is sliced, the cheese pops with flavour as soon as it hits your palate. Its nutty, salty essence reveals itself in a rich meaty flavour explosion that is tempered by a fruity sweetness. The aroma is pronounced and earthy at the rind but surprisingly delicate if you snap open the paste and inhale the lactic, sour-cream softness.
Fromagerie Blackburn is located in Jonquière, in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region of Quebec. The Blackburn farm was established 80 years ago by great-grandfather Napoleon Blackburn and four generations later, in 2006, his descendants began making cheese. Underground pipes which run below the street transfer the farm's own milk from the bulk tank directly to the cheese factory. Fromagerie Blackburn was the first factory in North America to transform lactoserum, or whey (a by-product of cheese making) into energy using a process called methanisation.
The Mont-Jacob name was thrust into an unwanted media spotlight last summer (along with Riopelle de l'Isle from Fromagerie de l'Île-aux-Grues) when it was linked to a listeria outbreak in Quebec. For Fromagerie Blackburn and Fromagerie de l'Île-aux-Grues, clearing their names was not only necessary for their reputations but also to save their livelihoods. Both producers immediately held back their cheese from the market and opened their factory doors to meticulous inspection. In the end, the MAPAQ (Quebec's Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) traced the listeria to a cross-contamination problem that occurred after the cheeses left the factory. No traces of listeria were found to exist in the cheeses themselves.
Sadly, the Quebec cheese industry is still feeling the impact of the listeria scare. On Sept. 6, 2008 (a day known as "Black Saturday" in Quebec), MAPAQ, in a sweeping move, cleared cheese counters and destroyed cheeses from more than 300 stores in Quebec, without allowing the products to be first tested for the pathogen. Any potential of further cross-contamination was removed, but the reaction was considered by many to be extreme and to set a dangerous precedent.
It was a devastating loss for the stores and cheese makers. Cheese makers, specifically raw-milk cheese producers, are still struggling to recover. Some have switched to pasteurizing all their milk for fear raw-milk cheeses will always be targeted first in another outbreak situation (no matter what the cause). That's a shame in a province that just last year made strides by bringing the 60-day ripening period for raw-milk cheeses down to 21 days.
It's something to think about as you melt some Mont-Jacob onto your French onion soup, use it to thicken a sauce or add it to a zingy Sunday-morning omelette.
Sue Riedl studied at the Cordon Bleu in London.
On the block
Cheese Le Mont Jacob
Origin Jonquière, Que.
Milk pasteurized cow (Holstein)
Producer Fromagerie Blackburn
Cheese makers Marie-Joseé Blackburn and Nicolas Blackburn
Type farmstead, semi-soft, pressed, washed rind
Notes washed with brine for
20 days and aged 1 to 3 months
Shape 2.7 kg wheel
Distributors Frigo National,
Le Nordelec, Provincial Fine Foods
Toronto: Whole Foods,
All the Best Fine Foods,
Pusateri's, Thin Blue Line
Ouderkirk & Taylor