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Luc Boivin's lost cheddar is passing into local legend as the Titanic of the cheese world.

The Quebec cheese maker dropped a 2,000-pound cargo of cheese to the bottom of the Saguenay fjord last year in a ripening experiment. Then he spent this summer searching for it. And now, after deploying a team of divers and an arsenal of high-tech tracking equipment, Mr. Boivin has given up the quest.

The sunken treasure of cheddar is nowhere to be found.

"It got too expensive to continue. At some point, you can't be crazy," he said recently from his factory in La Baie, Que.

No one can accuse Mr. Boivin, a fourth-generation cheese maker, of giving up easily. Searchers used state-of-the-art sonar equipment and underwater cameras to look for the bounty. Divers returned to the waters of the Baie des Ha! Ha! eight times. And the Development Centre in Ocean Mapping sailed to his aid with a $1-million, multi-beam sonar device, one of the most sophisticated marine mapping systems in Canada.

No luck.

"It's a mystery. All we know is that the cheese is no longer where it was left," said Pierre Dufour, a master diver who assisted La Fromagerie Boivin in the hunt. Whether it was eaten by cheddar-loving fish or stolen by cheese smugglers is anyone's guess.

"Where is it? We don't know," Mr. Dufour said.

According to a company estimate, $50,000 was spent to look for the cheese. The most popular theory is that its anchoring cables got caught up in the winter ice and that the cheese was carried downriver. Still, Mr. Dufour is not discouraged.

"The Titanic sank in 1912, but it was only found in 1985," he said.

The story has captured the public's imagination. The Saguenay cheese hunt made headlines around the globe. Mr. Boivin received random reports of sightings of the errant cheese barrels miles from where they were placed.

Last month, a commander of the HMCS Chicoutimi, on a local visit, said perhaps the Canadian Forces submarine could locate the cheese. "He said he had systems that could help," Mr. Boivin said.

"It's become like a treasure hunt. It has intrigued a lot of people," Mr. Boivin said, adamantly refuting suggestions the sunken cheese story was a fish tale, although he can't deny its priceless marketing value.

Mr. Boivin dropped 10 barrels of cheese into the Saguenay last fall after a fisherman reported reeling in a piece of Boivin cheese from a lake bottom and trying it. It was pronounced the best cheese he'd ever tasted.

Undeterred by the apparent failure of this year's underwater cheese experiment, Mr. Boivin is trying again. He still believes that underwater pressure will enhance the taste of an aged cheddar. So within the next few weeks, he will drop another charge of cheese in a stainless steel, submarine-type vessel into the Baie des Ha! Ha! But this time, he's taking no chances. The cheddar will be outfitted with a tracking device.

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