Well, it’s back to Canada for the final six cheeses in the blog. It feels good to be back on my own cheesey turf. It’s a big world of cheese out there, and it’s easy to get lost. There really is no place like home. Damafro is a large Canadian cheese company based in-where else-Quebec. I have already reviewed their Chevre Noir, but today I am turning my mind-and tongue to their flagship cheese, Le Saint-Damase.
Damafro is a family owned and run business. According to their website, they are one of the three “top makers of fine cheeses in North America.” I’m not sure what that actually means, but let’s go with it. Now that they also own the Fromagerie Tournevent, as of 2005, Damafro has the market cornered on goat’s cheese as well. Bravo, Damafro.
Damafro has been making cheese since 1984. It’s still pretty much a family affair, which is really something for such a large company. I for one am jealous! Currently three generations of the Bonnet family work together and make cheeses including Bries, Camemberts, and Gouda, all with their own Canadian interpretation. Let’s be clear, these are not fakes -but Canadian iterations of some of the great European cheeses.
The Bonnet family comes from the Brie region of France. Yes, the Brie region. The company was founded by brothers Michel Bonnet-a master cheesemaker, and Philippe Bonnet, along with their father, Claude. Claude Bonnet was President of the Interprofessional Association in France, and worked to develop the guidelines defining the Official French designation (AOC) certifying the two types of Brie: Brie de Meaux and Brie de Melun. So Claude is basically the world’s leading expert on Brie, not just some pretender. When Claude turned 50 he left France and moved to Québec, convinced that North Americans would like to eat Brie and Camembert made on their own turf. He and his sons bought a small cheese factory in the Montérégie region of Quebec.
After the success of their first couple of cheeses, Damafro decided to invent their very own cheese, and who can blame them? I know it’s certainly on my mind! In 1989 they introduced Le Saint Damase, Québec’s very first washed rind cheese. Le Saint-Damase is made according to an old recipe developed in a Calvados monastery. I have done a little investigating trying to figure out which cheese this one is connected to. I suspect it is either Livarot or Langres, but regardless, Le Saint Damase is its own cheese.
Unfortunately those Bonnet’s are extremely close-mouthed about how this cheese, or any of their cheese is made, for that matter. Beyond the fact that they use “100% Canadian milk” I have been unable to discern much more. I am assuming this is a cow’s milk cheese. I can’t even tell if the milk is raw or pasteurized, but as it is factory made, I am leaning towards pasteurized. Washed rind cheese is relatively young, during the ripening period, the cheese is washed and brushed with a salty brine and bacterial solution, hence the name “washed-rind”. Sometimes washed rind cheeses are brushed with alcohol, particularly ones made by Trappist monks. Again, it’s unclear to me what solution was used for this little stinker, so it remains a mystery. Alas.
My little wet wedge of Le Saint Damase isn’t spilling any of its secrets either. The longer it waits for me to write, the wetter and gooey it gets, and I do l so like that in a cheese! It looks like a cross between Maroilles and Epoisses, it’s a squishy looking orange rind cheese with a gooey looking cream coloured interior paste. The rind is flecked with white looking molds, yummy! It’s a little stinker! This one smells like old underwear and gym socks that have been left in an outhouse to mellow, it just makes my mouth water!
Oh Yummy!!! Great job, Claude Bonnet, not that I expected anything less from a cheese master such as yourself. This is the cheese I have been looking for. Holy Hannah, this is good. It’s salty and raunchy-but not heinously so, the taste is much mellower than the smell. The texture is simply perfect, it is like a gooey pillow of cheese essence on your tongue. The rind is much more-um-pungent-than the paste, so any bite that includes rind may actually make your eyes water, yes, it’s that intense. Have I mentioned how great this is? It’s definitely not a starter cheese. This one doesn’t just look like Epoisses, it tastes like it. I think you need to build up to a cheese like this, but it’s worth it. Le Saint Damase, you are definitely my slice of cheese!