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There have been salvage operations to recover gold, silver coins and other forms of sunken treasure. But in a first, divers plunged to the depths of Quebec's Saguenay River yesterday to recover 2,000 pounds of sunken cheddar.

This was no random shipwreck's cargo.

The cheese was deliberately dropped to the bottom by an entrepreneurial cheese-maker named Luc Boivin.

Elsewhere in the world, cheese-makers ripen their Gorgonzola in dark cellars and age their fine Roqueforts in caves. Mr. Boivin, taking the art of cheese-making to new depths, decided last fall to sink 10 barrels of cheddar into the water to see how it would ripen.

He was inspired by a fisherman who wandered into La Fromagerie Boivin a few years ago after finding a block of Boivin cheese at the bottom of a lake. No one knew how long it had been there, but Mr. Boivin, a fourth-generation cheese-maker, tried it.

"It was one of the best cheeses I've ever tasted," Mr. Boivin said in an interview yesterday.

So he tried an experiment. He sealed nearly one ton of cheddar in plastic and packed it into barrels. Recent U.S. studies have shown that high pressure can improve a cheese's taste and texture, Mr. Boivin said.

Then he headed to the water near his family business in La Baie, 250 kilometres north of Quebec City, and dropped the cargo into the waters of the Baie des Ha! Ha!

It sounds like the start of a joke. But the Canadian Food Inspection Agency didn't see it that way. Officials sent Mr. Boivin warnings that his cheese-ripening methods didn't cut it, and he wouldn't be allowed to put the cheddar on the market.

Officials say cheese-ripening in Canada must take place in a single, federally accredited location to ensure quality control. There's no quality control 45 metres below the Baie des Ha! Ha! "We understand Mr. Boivin's goal and we're open to innovation," said Normand Giguère, a food scientist at the federal agency in Quebec. "But he has to respect Canadian regulations. This is a first."

So yesterday, professional divers plunged into the bay after the cheese bounty. On shore, Mr. Boivin eagerly waited for a taste.

But after three dives, they came up empty-handed. The cheese-hunt was called off just before 6 p.m., and Mr. Boivin says he'll start again today.

"We know where the treasure is," he said, "but it's tougher than we thought to find it."