For Lucille Giroux, Fromagerie La Moutonnière was a second home, and cheesemaking a second career.
More than 30 years ago, Giroux and her husband moved from Montreal to a farm three hours outside the city, so they could raise their children in the Quebec countryside. Giroux, who had worked as a nurse in Montreal, began raising sheep and selling both their meat and wool. A few years later, she began milking the animals and making cheeses.
With her business expanding, Giroux took on Alastair MacKenzie as a business partner in 2000. He oversees the animals and farm, while Giroux manages the cheese side. Much like Giroux, MacKenzie got into the cheesemaking business in a roundabout way. He grew up in New Zealand and was a third-generation sheep farmer on the family farm.
MacKenzie met his wife, Karine, in New Zealand; a native of Quebec, she was a university student studying abroad. When she finished her studies in New Zealand, Karine returned to Quebec, and after seven years of dating long-distance, MacKenzie moved to Quebec in 1999.
Wanting to put his farming skills to use, MacKenzie searched for a suitable job in Canada. It was Karine who first heard about La Moutonnière. She read an article about Giroux and her business while sitting in a dentist’s waiting room. MacKenzie visited Giroux on her farm, and after discussing the business, they agreed to become partners.
“I’ve been here 11 years now—time really flies,” MacKenzie says. “Over that time we went from making about 1,000 kilograms of artisanal cheese to over 12,000 kilograms now.”
The sheep herd now numbers 150. Three years ago, La Moutonnière built a brand new cheese plant. While 95 per cent of their products are made with sheep milk, they’ve begun experimenting with goat and buffalo milk as well.
Giroux and MacKenzie are dedicated to raising “100 per cent happy sheep.” MacKenzie explains their sheep live a good life: they move freely, and go outside whenever the Quebec weather allows it; they have enough to eat and drink; and they’re well respected by their owners.
MacKenzie believes consumers today are aware of problems in the food industry, and many now want to know how farm animals are treated. There is a movement toward artisanal products, and a concern for animal welfare.
“A few years ago, there was this big movement toward organic, and it was very trendy until we developed industrial organic farms,” MacKenzie explains. “For me, and for lots of the clients, they began wanting to know about animal welfare, whether the animals were given a good life. A lot of people know now that what happens behind the scenes of the food we eat is not good.”
At La Moutonnière, the focus is on creating quality, artisan products and tending to the welfare of the animals that allow them to run their business.
- Le Fleur des Monts – pasteurized pressed sheep’s milk cheese aged from 3 to 9 months. Rich tasting, with notes of almond.
- Le Sein d’Hélène – blend of sheep and Jersey cow milk, aged from 2 to 4 months. Creamy, with a slight acidity.
- Le Bleu – mild-tasting sheep’s milk bleu. Slightly sweet with the sharpness typical of bleu cheeses.
- Feta – fresh sheep cheese stored in olive oil and fresh herbs.
- Ricotta – fresh sheep cheese made with whey. It is smooth, creamy and sweet.
- Le Neige de Brebis – mild, fresh cheese made from whey.
- Le Cabanon – aged soft cheese, wrapped in an alcohol-soaked maple leaf. It’s a full-bodied cheese with notes of hazelnut and spice.
- Le Foin d’Odeur – soft washed-rind cheese. It’s a creamy, runny cheese with delicate flavours.
La Moutonnière also sells homemade yogurt, cream, sheep’s milk and desserts.
3456 rue Principale, Ste-Hélène de Chester, Québec, Canada, G0P 1H0 Telephone 819.382.2300
La Moutonnière cheeses are sold at the farm’s creamery in Ste-Hélène de Chester, Québec; at Jean-Talon market in Montreal; at select grocery stores in Quebec and Eastern Ontario; and at the Leslieville Cheese Market in Toronto.
La Moutonnière will be a featured cheesemaker at The Great Canadian Cheese Festival taking place June 4-5 at Crystal Palace in Picton, in the heart of Prince Edward County, Ontario’s newest wine region and fastest-growing culinary destination.
Phoebe Powell, senior roving reporter at CheeseLover.ca, is based Ottawa. Her last blog was on Beau’s All-Natural Brewing Company.