What’s up with Quebec and all of their amazing cheese? Is it a French thing? Did they bring their love of cheese along with their recipes with them from France? Apart from Avonlea cheddar and a handful of local BC cheeses, it seems as though the Canadian cheese market is totally dominated by Quebec. Not that I’m complaining, it’s just odd. Shouldn’t there be great cheese from all across Canada? If there is, I haven’t been able to locate it.
Thus- it’s back to Quebec for today’s cheese ,“L’Hercule de Charlevoix.” L’Hercule de Charlevoix or Hercules of Charlevoix, is named in honour of Jean-Baptiste Grenon, the Hercules of the North. Grenon was a French soldier and hero during the Seven Year War with the English. He was captured and made prisoner by General Wolfe’s troops during the summer of 1759. Grenon was reportedly so strong that the English troops couldn’t get a rope around his neck to hang him. Out of respect, the English let him go. A picture of this legendary Hercules Grenon graces the label of the cheese in honor of his tenacity and strength against the English. He’s a massive burly man ripping a large tree out by its roots with his arms. Let’s hope the cheese is strong and burly too! I don’t know about the need to express strength against the English these days-I think we have established that the war is over. The French have clearly won the battle for cheese dominance.
L’Hercule is one of several cheeses made by the Labbé family at their Laiterie Charlevoix (hence, L”Hercule de Charlevoix) in Baie-St-Paul, Quebec. I do so adore family-owned fromageries. I’m not really sure why, but there seems to be something so fundamentally right to me about a family that makes cheese together. The milk for L’Hercule comes from a single herd of Jersey cows that graze no more than one kilometer from the fromagerie. Although they don’t technically belong to the Labbe family, it’s cool-they are still neighbours.
L’Hercule is a very new cheese on the market. It first sold in July, 2007 at six months old. The cheese is now available up to the 18 month mark as the affinage catches up to the cheese for sale. There’s always that lag in a new cheese coming to market. L’Hercule has been compared to Comté and Gruyère in flavour and composition. Like these great mountain cheeses, L’Hercule de Charlevoix is a firm, pressed cheese. L’Hercule is yet another thermalized cheese-not raw, but not pasteurized either-it falls somewhere between the two.
L’Hercule may be a new cheese, but the Laiterie Charlevoix has been in business since the 1940‘s. They make a number of popular and award winning cheeses, but more importantly there is also a Cheese-Making “Economuseum” on site at their fromagerie preserving the artisanal aspect of making cheese and allowing visitors in before 11:00 a.m. to watch a demonstration of cheese processing and aging. Jealous! No really, so jealous.
My little wedge of L’Hercule looks for all intents and purposes like a Gruyère. It’s a firm-looking cheese with no eyes. The interior paste is a creamy yellow. The rind is a white-ish brown natural rind which is thin and dry in appearance. Alas, my label did not say which age this cheese is, so it could be a 6 month all the way to an 18 month cheese, pity I can’t tell. It’s also a pity I couldn’t watch it being made in the Economuseum. It smells absolutely delicious. If awards were given for smell, L’Hercule would take the prize-it’s like a cross between toes and nirvana.
Oh, it is fabulous! It’s just as it smells, savoury and snackalicious with an undercurrent of foot. It really is like a young Gruyère-the paste is smooth and yields nicely to the tooth before melting. There is no crunch of tyrosine-I suspect this is the 6 month mark of cheese as it is obviously not spent too much time in affinage, it’s still supple and toothsome…but the taste..let’s have some more, it’s actually surprisingly mild-I was expecting something strong and burly like Hercules Grenon-but it’s much more subtle and crafty than that. This cheese sits in perfect balance between salt, sweet, uric acid (yup, it’s in there, can’t deny it), toes and umami, all wrapped up in a Gruyère-like texture. God, the French! They continue to dominate us! Go out and find some. Buy it and eat it- I command you!