What sets Montréal apart from other Canadian cities is not just dazzling skill in the kitchen. Most of all, this French-speaking city shines gastronomically because it is blessed with provenance. It is surrounded by rich agricultural lands and heritage, a supportive Québec government, and ingredients that encourage artisan food producers to blossom.
Nowhere is this more evident than in local cheesemaking, which began in earnest when Trappist monks first produced world-famous Oka in the region in 1893. Today, there are about 100 artisan and farmstead cheesemakers in Québec—more than in the rest of Canada’s provinces combined. The acclaimed quality and remarkable diversity of les fromages d’ici, “local cheeses,” are best tasted out in the countryside, where the cheeses originate, and in Montréal, among dedicated retailers and chefs. Here are some places to start your cheese-happy tour of Montréal:
Cheese Shops and Farmers’ Markets
La Fromagerie Atwater
When Gilles Jourdenais took over his family business in 1983, the small shop in Atwater Market stocked perhaps 25 cheeses. Today, it offers customers more than 750 local and international cheeses, as well as hundreds of delicatessen products and gourmet foods. La Fromagerie Atwater has been at the forefront of the Québec artisan cheese movement from its earliest days in the 1970s, and Alain Besré, who heads Aux Terroirs, the wholesale division, is often called the godfather of artisan cheese in Québec. Together, Jourdenais and Besré have worked tirelessly for more than two decades to promote and distribute Québec cheeses to consumers, restaurants, caterers, and cheese retailers across Canada and the U.S. They were the first to champion the now-famous cheeses of La Maison d’Affinage Maurice Dufour and Laiterie Charlevoix. Given this legacy, a visit to La Fromagerie Atwater feels like you’re inside a cheese shrine.
La Fromagerie Atwater 134, Rue Atwater, Montréal, 514.932.4653, Métro Lionel-Groulx
La fromagerie Hamel
In the half century since 1961, when Fernand Hamel opened his small cheese shop, La fromagerie Hamel has become one the largest cheese retailers in Canada, with five retail locations in Montréal and environs and four cheese-ripening cellars in Repentigny, east of the city. There are more than 1,000 products (including seasonals) in the Hamel catalog, and the flagship store and head office are adjacent to Jean-Talon Market. The business has always been family-run, with ownership now headed by Marc Picard. His wife and son, Murielle Chaput and Ian Picard, are key to the operation. (Ian, who studied with cheesemakers in the Jura region of France, is the resident maître affineur.) The Picards have developed a long, intense training program for sales associates. It takes 3,650 hours of on-the-job training and testing to be certified as a conseiller-fromager, “consultative cheesemonger.” That kind of dedication makes it easy to understand why La fromagerie Hamel has long had a sterling reputation.
La fromagerie Hamel 220, Rue Jean-Talon Est, Montréal, 514.272.1161, Métro Jean-Talon
Marchés Publics de Montréal
Montréal is blessed with a network of large, European-style markets that has been operated by a nonprofit municipal agency since 1993. Some 215 vendors offer fresh produce, meats, seafood, charcuterie, and other artisan foods in four locations around the city, partially indoors and out. Cheesemongers are busy vendors at each market. The two largest markets—Jean-Talon and Atwater—are home to two of the largest cheese shops in the city. If you can visit only one market, make it Jean-Talon, as it houses several cheesemongers and a retail outlet for La Moutonnière, a leading producer of sheep’s milk cheeses, as well as booths representing Charlevoix, a significant cheese and artisan food region, and Îles-de-la-Madeleine, home of Pied-de-Vent cheese.
Marchés Publics de Montréal There are four locations throughout Montréal; for information, call 514.937.7754
Yannick Achim represents the new generation of cheesemongers in Québec: knowledgeable and entrepreneurial. Cheese has been a passion since his university days. Right after graduation in 1993, Achim opened his first shop, Fromagerie du Marché à Saint-Jérôme, just north of Montréal, and began scouring Europe for cheese discoveries and other artisanal products. In the years that followed, Achim expanded by opening two cheese shops—in Montréal and Québec City (in 2010, in an old tavern whose redesign can only be described as very cool).
Yannick Fromagerie 1218, Rue Bernard, Outremont, 514.279.9376, Métro Outremont
Fromagerie Fritz Kaiser Inc.
Primarily cheddars were made in Québec when Fritz Kaiser arrived in 1981 from his native Switzerland and started making a raclette in Noyan, about 45 minutes south of Montréal. As he developed other types of cheese, Kaiser opened the eyes of other producers to the variety of cheeses that were possible in Québec. Ten years later, the artisan movement began to ripen, and by the mid-1990s, it took off. Today, Kaiser is the largest artisan cheesemaker in Québec, acclaimed for his Le Douanier, Miranda, Le Saint-Paulin, and many other award-winners. Despite the volume of some 20 cheeses in production, everything is still done by hand. There is a large shop on the premises, open Monday through Saturday.
Fromagerie Fritz Kaiser 459, 4th Concession, Noyan, 450.294.2207
Les Fromagiers de la Table Ronde
In 2003, the Alary family gathered around a table at the fourth-generation dairy farm to brainstorm ways to utilize the organic cow’s milk Ferme Raymond Alary & Sons Inc. produced just north of Montréal. They decided to begin farmstead cheesemaking; thus Les Fromagiers de la Table Ronde came to be. Their first certified-organic cheese, a firm blue, Le Rassembleu, was a finalist in this year’s Canadian Cheese Grand Prix. Cheesemaker Ronald Alary has developed several other farmstead cheeses using the farm’s own organic milk. There is a cheese shop on the premises, open seven days a week.
Les Fromagiers de la Table Ronde 317, Boulevard Sainte-Sophie (Route 158), Sainte-Sophie, 450.530.2436
Acclaimed for his creative cuisine, chef Laurent Godbout is recognized as the driving force behind the concept of entertainment food in Québec and the promotion of local artisan foods. He often surprises with his use of cheese; take, for example, the Blackburn cheese foam that adorns a braised piece of suckling pig, served with folded pancake, and porcinis arancini ($35).
Chez L’Épicier 311, Rue Saint-Paul Est, Montréal, 514.878.2232, Métro Champ-de-Mars
Today, Québécois chefs are very much in the forefront in Montréal. But one outstanding exception is Europea, launched in 2002 by Jérôme Ferrer, who hails from Languedoc. He is known for his inventive dishes, such as Lobster Cream Cappuccino with Truffle Shavings, served as an appetizer. Regardless of his roots and the cuisine, artisan offerings of Québec are impeccably served on the house cheese plate ($4.50 per tasting wedge).
Europea 1227, Rue de la Montagne, Montréal, 514.398.9229, Métro Peel
This famed restaurant in Old Montréal is the epitome of the wonderful synergy between provenance and culinary art that one discovers so often in Québec. It is said that Toqué! became the best restaurant in Montréal about 15 minutes after Normand Laprise opened it in 1993. The chef’s seven-course tasting menu ($92, or $104 including foie gras) often features artisan cheese, while the everyday cheese plate ($14) showcases what is ripe for the eating. At this writing, that included Le Rang des Îles, Sainte-Maure Caprifeuille, Le Rassembleu, Tomme de Grosse-Île, and Le 1608.
Toqué! 900, Place Jean-Paul-Riopelle, Montréal, 514.499.2084, Métro Square-Victoria
La Montée de Lait
Popular Montreal chef Martin Juneau recently left his post at this special dining room, but he has left his mark of excellence on the menu and in the kitchen. Besides an excellent selection of local artisan cheese, the menu here always offers something unexpected for the cheese lover, such as chèvre chaud (warm), a heated square of creamy goat’s cheese resting on a velvety eggplant pancake atop a thin layer of onion marmalade. And besides, how can you miss out on a place whose name translates to “mount of milk”?
La Montée de Lait 5171, Boulevard Saint-Laurent, Montréal, 514.273.8846, Métro Laurier
L’Échoppe des Fromages
Just across the Jacques-Cartier Bridge over the St. Lawrence River is L’Échoppe des Fromages in Saint-Lambert, the domain of Max Dubois, arguably the best known cheesemonger in Québec for his defense of raw milk cheese and a passionate promoter of les produits du terroir, “local products.” A second-generation cheesemonger, the man knows how to put together an outstanding cheese plate, with each portion carefully selected for ripeness and contrast. The bistro menu is very cheesy and super delicious. It’s a treat to go in the summer and sit outside while sipping on a cappuccino after indulging in the chef’s cheese inventions.
L’Echoppe des Fromages 12, Rue Aberdeen, Saint-Lambert, 450.672.9701
As longtime area residents will tell you, the place used to be a dive, selling little else but draft beer. But times have changed and Monkland Tavern is now one of the trendiest restaurants in the neighborhood north and west of Mont Royal. Its macaroni au fromage, the French-Canadian take on mac and cheese, is made with three types of cheese, including Victor et Berthold, a local, raw milk, washed-rind cheese It’s all that cheesy comfort food is meant to be.
Monkland Tavern 5555, Avenue de Monkland, Montréal, 514.486.5768, Métro Villa-Maria
Vices & Versa
If you like brew—and especially craft brew and artisan cheese—take the Métro north along Main (Boulevard Saint-Laurent to locals) to this brew pub and bistro. At last count, 33 craft beers brewed in Québec were on tap. All cheese is sourced from Fromagerie des Cantons in Farnham, the first cheese factory in Québec making farmstead cheeses using only Jersey cow’s milk. Order a carrousel of galopins ($13 for a “carousel” of six “sample-size glasses”) of beer with a knock-out plate of cheese and charcuterie ($15 for three “vices,” $19 for seven). If you’ve heard that Montréal is known for its smoked meat yet don’t have time to visit world-famous Schwartz’s Montréal Hebrew Delicatessen, order up an amazing locally-smoked-meat pizza ($9.50 per slice). Go early on Tuesdays, as that’s the night for a popular folk jam.
Vices & Versa 6631, Boulevard Saint-Laurent, Montréal, 514.272.2498, Métro Beaubien
Café Vasco da Gama
In the unofficial “best grilled cheese in town” contest, Café Vasco da Gama is a popular runner-up for grilling Parma ham and St. Jorge cheese.
Café Vasco da Gama 1472, Rue Peel, Montréal, 514.286.2688, Métro Peel
Here’s a cheeseburger you absolutely will not find at any fast-food joint: Kobe beef, foie gras, caramelized onions, Maître Jules cheese from La Fromagerie 1860 DuVillage, lettuce, and tomato on a brioche bun. ($24.99)
iBurger 1237, Rue Metcalfe, Montréal, 514.903.5799, Métro Peel
On the sweet side of town, divine cornetti are created with chocolate and house-made ricotta at La Cornetteria.
La Cornetteria 6528 Boulevard Saint-Laurent, Montréal 514.277.8030, Métro Beaubien
Le Garde-Manger de François
The “Pantry of Francis is Chambly” just southeast of Montréal, is worth a stop on any drive east of the city. François Pellerin, a widely known chef and promoter of local products, has created a gastronomic oasis that combines an award-winning bakery and pastry shop with a retail store and take-out service featuring gourmet foods and delicious dishes that often incorporate artisan cheeses. Don’t leave the shop without sampling the Rougier line of foie gras and duck products.
Le Garde-Manger de François 2403 Avenue Bourgogne, Chambly, 450.447.9991
Among the best things you could ever eat is the ricotta-stuffed cannoli made by Alati-Caserta, a 43-year-old family bakery in Montréal’s Little Italy.
Pasticceria Altai-Caserta 277 Rue Dante, Montréal 514.271.3013
Hankering for a pizza made with unbleached oragnic flour plus cheese and meets imported from Italy? At Pizzéria Geppetto, only Fontina Val d’Aosta, spiced Provolone from Lombardy, mozzarella di bufala, and Sardinian Pecorino are used ($15).
Pizzéria Geppetto 2504 Rue Notre-Dame Ouest, Montréal 514.903.3737, Métro Lionel-Grouix
Pizza Nino Restaurant
Lusting for a pie made with industrial-strength cheese? A fixture since 1959, Pizza Nino makes a pizza with four cheeses: mozzarella, brick, Gorgonzola, and Parmesan ($14 to $29).
Pizza Nino Restaurant 6588 Boulevard Monk, Montréal 514.762.1515, Métro Monk
When you ask who grills the best cheese sandwich in Montréal, one name always comes up: the Soupesoup chain of six restaurants. They serve some 200 varieties of soup over the course of 12 months and make outstanding grilled-cheese sandwiches, the most delicious being the Gouda and Red Cabbage ($9).
Soupesoup 649 Rue Wellington, Montréal 514.759.1159, Métro Square-Victoria (and five other locations throughout Montréal)