In praise of poutine

The superlicious smoked-meat poutine served at SumiLicious in Scarborough.

Cheese. Meat. Potatoes. Gravy. Maybe with a pickle or slaw on the side. Comfort food beyond compare, that’s poutine.

Small wonder poutine has become such an iconic dish, and no longer only in Québec where it originated in the 1950s. Over the years, we’ve enjoyed poutine in its many variants clear across Canada.

Our current favourite is the smoked-meat poutine served at SumiLicious at Steeles Avenue East and Middlefield Road in Scarborough, just a few minutes from home. Perfectly fried potatoes, Montreal-style smoked meat with all its juices, and fresh curds from Fromagerie St-Albert Co-op. The result is superlicious.

We always order the meat fatty so it literally melts in your mouth. When we’re not up for a poutine, we go for a smoked-meat sandwich piled high with deliciousness. Either way, we’re in heaven, even when eating in the car on account of COVID-19 restrictions on dining in.

Sumith “Sumi” Fernando learned his craft over 17 years of working at iconic Schwartz’s Deli in Montréal. When Sumi and his wife, Shalika De Fonseca, both Roman Catholics, immigrated to Canada from Sri Lanka two decades ago, neither had ever encountered Jewish food before.

During his time at Schwartz’s, Sumi became obsessed with the spicy, wood-smoked, mile-high meat sandwiches that drew crowds at all hours of the day. “I would see people going crazy when they took that first bite, shaking their head [in awe],” Sumi explained in an interview in Saveur magazine. “I wanted to do something like that.”

So, how did two Catholics from Sri Lanka end up serving Jewish food in a predominantly Chinese neighbourhood in Toronto? They picked that corner of Scarborough, on the Markham border, because, during his years at Schwartz’s, Sumi noticed most customers from Great Toronto lived in Markham. Market research completed, they opened SumiLicious in May 2018—to rave reviews.

Sumi turns tough beef brisket über tender by marinating it in spices for 10 days, followed by smoking overnight. The meat is steamed just before it’s sliced by hand to order. As we said, the result is superlicious.

Our all-time favourite is the most decadent poutine served in Canada. At famed Au Pied de Cochon in Montréal, the poutine is topped with foie gras. Not only that, the crunchy fries are made with duck fat! The curds, when we last enjoyed the dish, came from La Fromagerie Champêtre. Chef Martin Picard—Who remembers him as Wild Chef on TV?—has served the foie gras poutine since 2001, helping to make Au Pied de Cochon a destination restaurant for foodies from around the world.

At Au Pied de Cochon in Montréal, Chef Martin Picard crowns his poutine with foie gras. Photo by André-Olivier Lyra.

Just look at the slices of foie gras, the squeaky curds and the crunchy fries in the mouth-watering photograph by André-Olivier Lyra published in a feature on Montréal poutine in Nuvo magazine. Oh, to be back in Montréal right now!

So nice to see local cheese curds made by Five Brothers Artisan Cheese used in the poutine at Ches’s Famous Fish & Chips in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

During a visit to St. John’s, Newfoundland, we ate twice at Ches’s Famous Fish & Chips where we were delighted to learn the poutine is made with Bergy Bits Curds from Five Brothers Artisan Cheese and not some industrial operation on the mainland. Local and artisan always tastes better.

Click here for a history of poutine in The Canadian Encylopedia.

Cheese Ambassador David Beaudoin, our friend in cheese, hosted an informative webinar on poutine recently sponsored by Dairy Farmers of Canada, featuring three recipes you can try at home. Watch it now.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs, Cheese-Head-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca, has never met a poutine he didn’t like . . . well, hardly ever. Follow him on YouTube at Strictly Cheese.

 

Grilled cheese vs poutine: A great Canadian debate

The Big Cheese at Chesterfields, photographed by the Blackberry Queen aka @CreativeKarinD aka Karin Desveaux-Potters.

Beyond eating cheese straight, I cannot decide which cheese dish I prefer: a grilled-cheese sannich or poutine?

These deep thoughts come to me as I get ready to take my first big bite of the Big Cheese, the grilled-cheese sandwich served at Chesterfields Homegrown Cafe in Picton, in Ontario’s Prince Edward County. Graham Sayers, who owns and operates the funky joint with his wife, Vicky, creates the Big Cheese with three local cheeses, Black River Old Cheddar, Black River Horseradish Mozzarella and Fifth Town Chevre. Grilled on whole grain bread with a pickle on the side, it’s a winner.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs, Cheese-Head-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca, can’t wait for the results of the Grate Canadian Grilled Cheese Challenge next week.

The joy of working over lunch—with Canadian cheese

Jamie Kennedy's take on poutine at Gilead Cafe.

Planning is well under way for the first Great Canadian Cheese Festival in 2011. That often means lunch meetings which, happily, means cheese on the table.

I had a chance to meet with Canadian cheese maven Kathy Guidi over lunch at Jamie Kennedy’s Gilead Cafe recently. What a treat it was to talk to Kathy—what with her decades of experience in Canadian cheese—and to enjoy one of Chef’s unique poutines: perfect frites with a healthy dollop of sauce bolognaise laced with Monforte Dairy’s Toscano cheese. I could have easily ordered a second serving but we had decided on a cheese plate for dessert, so I had to hold myself in check.

The cheese plate featured:

Le Rassembleu, an organic farmstead blue cheese from Fromagiers de la Table Ronde in the Laurentides region of Quebec. It has a lively creamy flavour, with the aroma of hay. The producers are fourth-generation cheesemakers.

Mouton Rouge, on the other hand, pleases the nose with a fresh and grassy aroma. A raw sheep-milk cheese created by Ewenity Dairy Co-operative in Southwestern Ontario, it has a lovely buttery taste that plays against the nutty reddish rind.

Grey Owl, a pasteurized goat-milk chèvre from Fromagerie la Detour in the Bas-Saint-Laurent region of Quebec, near the New Brunswick border, looks and tastes outstanding, from its snowy white interior to riper regions to the black ash exterior.

Le Bleu d’Élizabeth, Pied-de-Vent and Louis d'Or at the home office.

A working lunch in the home office with festival co-ordinator Kip Jacques isn’t half bad either when the cheese plate features:

Pied-de-Vent, from the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, is an an all-time favorite of mine. Smelly, creamy and tasty, Pied-de-Vent is my idea of a great cheese. Despite what some cheesemongers may tell you, it is available in Ontario.

Louis d’Or, a flavourful, complex Gruyere-like washed-rind cheese is made with the raw milk of the cheesemaker’s own Holstein and Jersey cows at Fromagerie du Presbytère in Central Quebec. Quite possibly, it’s Canada’s best “Swiss cheese.”

Le Bleu d’Élizabeth comes from the same Fromagerie du Presbytère and is an outstanding example of a Quebec blue. No, it’s defintely not named after Queen Elizabeth but rather Sainte-Élizabeth de Warwick. The creamery occupies a former rectory in the village.

There is one other cheese plate in my notes from another working lunch but it was so disappointing that the proper thing to do would be to return to the name restaurant for another tasting before naming names.

One name I’d like to mention is Ezra’s Pound, a fair-trade coffee shop on Toronto’s Dupont Street. I’m so glad Andy Shay, a man of many talents when it comes to cheese, suggested we meet there as the croissants are to die for.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Have we mentioned that Georgs Kolesnikovs, Cheese-Head-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca, loves his cheese?

Good cheese hunting: Day 15, paradise found in Warwick

For a cheese lover, Le Festival des Fromages de Warwick certainly isn’t formidable but it sure is fromidable—as the signs all over town proclaim. (Fromage, fromidable, get it?)

In its 16th year, the festival, the largest cheese event in Canada, generally welcomes more than 40,000 people to Warwick, a town of 3,500 two hours east of Montreal, in mid-June. This year, for reasons that are puzzling, attendance dropped to 28,000.

Thirty Quebec cheesemakers offered more than 100 varieties of cheese for tasting. It was impossible to taste them all, as much as one might want to. We focused exclusively on cheeses we did not know but managed to sample barely 20 cheeses over two days. Among the most memorable:

  • Louis d’Or, a flavourful, complex Gruyere-like washed rind, firm cheese made with the raw milk of the cheesemaker’s own Holstein and Jersey cows. Fromagerie du Presbytère, Sainte-Élizabeth de Warwick, Central Quebec.

  • Mont Jacob, a semi-soft, interior-ripened cheese, with a pronounced flavour and fruity aroma. Fromagerie Blackburn, Jonquière, Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean.
  • Tomme des Cantons also caught our fancy but there is no information available on the La Fromagerie 1860 DuVillage site. Perhaps it has been discontinued.

Saturday and Sunday are the busiest days at le Salon des fromages d’ici, the cheese show that is the heart of the Warwick festival. We’d recommend Friday as your primary day at the event. In addition to cheese, the 2010 festival featured 14 producers of artisan foods, eight vintners, three producers of ciders, one microbrewer, one beekeeper and two grocery-store chains, plus non-stop entertainment in the festival theatre, a children’s activity park, a farm yard complete with sheep, goats and chickens, a spectacular fireworks display on opening night, and popular Quebec bands and singers in concert every evening.

For lunch, supper or anytime, one could withdraw from all the goings-on to the 750-seat festival bistro under a big-top tent and enjoy a cheese and salad plate like the one pictured. There were six choices on the menu, each one with its own assortment of four cheeses, one pâté, one condiment, grapes, crudité, crisp greens and fresh bread.

Click on this or any other image for a larger view.

Down the street from the festival is La Fromagerie 1860 DuVillage, now owned by giant Saputo, which has a cheese boutique and a restaurant that features, among other dishes, 15—Yes, 15!—different ways to serve poutine, the cheese-curd-gravy-with-fries Quebec delicacy that was invented in Warwick.

Quite frankly, it was distressing, on account of all the fabulous cheese already in the belly, not to be able to dive into a plate of poutine in its birthplace.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs, Cheese-Head-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca, has returned home to Frenchman’s Bay east of Toronto with a cooler full of Quebec and Eastern Ontario cheese.

Good cheese hunting: Day 5, leaving Eastern Ontario

Tasting our way across Eastern Ontario’s cheese country has been great fun, but Montreal and Quebec beckon.

Gulp! Our second poutine in as many days, this one from Celine's Casse-Croûte in Hawkesbury, Ontario.
We are thrilled to chat with Margaret Morris at Glengarry Fine Cheese in Lancaster, Ontario. Via her cheese-cultures business, Margaret has played an important role in cheesemaking in North America since 1995.
Mmm . . . Celtic Blue from Glengarry Fine Cheese. Great to eat as is, but Margaret Morris suggests we try her blue on baked chicken breast. As if we will have any left by the time we return home!

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