In Quebec, cuisines old and new meld together—beneath gravy
Ubiquitous French language and architecture lend an Old World feel to every corner of Montreal, where food, too, is laden with a deep sense of tradition. I wouldn’t have visited without sampling an impossibly flaky almond croissant or open flame-baked bagel; to do so would mean missing out on a belly-based understanding of Québécois comfort food. Yet I also found evidence of a city that skews youthful: In warm weather, hipsters and young families flock to food trucks. In recent years, that very modern food trend has exploded here, culminating in a massive annual food truck festival.
One of the most popular trucks—a curd-centric operation known as Le Cheese Truck—took the brick-and-mortar leap recently, opening a petite shop in the quaint Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighborhood. Three cheesy classics are served here, with a twist: Poutine subs tater tots for fries, mac and cheese is loaded with peas and smoky bacon, and grilled cheese options squeeze both of those dishes into sandwiches.
But just a few hours from Montreal’s bustling food truck scene, I uncovered something much more old-school: what may be the most ancient cheese in North America. Beginning in the 1630s, French settlers of Île d’Orléans made a farmer’s cheese that was aged several days on a mat of woven reeds. A version of that cheese—Fromage de l’Isle d’Orléans, now called Paillasson—is mild and slightly nutty. Firm enough to grill, it oozes wonderfully once heated. Inspired by the contrasts I discovered between old and new Quebec, I dreamed up a play on the most Québécois of all native foods: poutine. Like Le Cheese Truck, I use tater tots in place of fries and, in an ode to the colonial period of New France, sub Paillasson for generic cheese curds. Bon appétit!
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 shallot, finely chopped
- 1 small clove garlic, finely chopped
- 4 cups beef stock
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons ketchup
- 1 tablespoon whole peppercorns, optional
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- Kosher salt, to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- TO ASSEMBLE:
- 40 to 48 frozen tater tots, cooked according to package directions
- 2 cups diced Paillasson cheese (or a similar variety, see headnote)
- 2 tablespoons chopped chives or parsley, optional
- FOR GRAVY:
- Heat olive oil in a quart-size saucepan over medium. Add shallot and garlic and cook until translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in stock, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, and peppercorns (if using). Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
- In another quart-size saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add flour and whisk to form a roux, stirring constantly to avoid lumps. Cook roux until it begins to brown and turn fragrant, about 3 minutes. Slowly add stock mixture, whisking constantly. Lower heat and simmer about 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until gravy reduces by half. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- TO ASSEMBLE:
- Divide cooked tater tots equally among four bowls. Sprinkle with cheese. Pour gravy over top, distributing evenly. Garnish with parsley or chives, if desired. Serve hot.