Going to the dentist can rattle your nerves. It may even shake up your life. Just ask farmer Alastair MacKenzie, who moved from New Zealand to Canada 11 years ago with his French-Canadian wife, Karien Piché. While in a dental office waiting room, Ms. Piché read an article about a small artisanal cheese-making business run by Lucille Giroux. She passed the story on to Mr. MacKenzie, originally a sheep farmer from New Zealand's south island. He contacted Ms. Giroux and asked if they could meet up. In 1999 the pair became co-owners of Fromagerie la Moutonnière, a sheep farm and cheese-making company in Ste-Hélène de Chester, Que.
Until recently the two were making up to 10,000 kilograms of cheese out of Ms. Giroux's basement. In 2009, having outgrown their entrepreneurial roots, they finally opened a full-scale cheese plant.
Before partnering with Mr. MacKenzie, Ms. Giroux was already making a sheep's milk blue cheese that she would take to some local monks, also cheese makers, who would ripen it for her. These days the company has its own ripening room and its Bleu de la Moutonnière is slowly making the scene outside of Quebec.
If you like blue cheese (and even if you think you don't), the mellow, buttery flavours of this one will bring your palate happiness. Visually this is a beauty for the cheese board. The rind is the definition of rustic - rough like craggy tree bark or the weathered exterior of a reef. The paste is creamy yellow, and slightly dappled as it ages. The veining is greenish blue. It smells rich with a soft, earthy pungency. Like its fragrant "nose" it delivers big flavour, nicely rounded and not sharp. Wonderfully salty but well balanced, you immediately crave more. This is not a mild blue but it is more complex than aggressive. The linger features vegetal notes and some sweetness along with the tang of a cultured cream.
Mr. MacKenzie, who has an agricultural degree, says that in New Zealand (which has about 40 million sheep) dairy sheep farming is just catching on. Most of the sheep are raised for wool and meat. For sheep farmers the market is mainly in export. "As a farmer [in New Zealand] you never see where your product goes or who consumes it. I like it here because we control everything from the farm to the end product. And you get feedback every week from the customers at the market," he says.
As for Ms. Giroux, she started milking her butcher sheep (mainly used for meat/wool production) in 1992. The quest to get her first dairy sheep in 1995 was an adventure, for her and her flock. She had to bring her sheep over from Sweden (dairy sheep were still hard to come by in Canada) and the resulting journey got the animals to her Quebec home via Paris, New York and Montreal. The final leg of the journey resulted in a snowplow being summoned late in the night to clear the road for their arrival.
It took a lot of international travel (blokes and sheep) for this Canadian blue to come to fruition - time to sit on our butts and enjoy it.
Sue Riedl studied at the Cordon Bleu in London.