Susan Semenak’s front page story in the Montreal Gazette’s Weekend Life section (Saturday, November 21, 2009) hooked my attention. I guess it’s because it triggered a sense of pride. Not only is the province oozing with electric power but is also gushing with cheese power – the kind of cheese that garners top honors in world cheese competitions.
Ms. Semenak featured Le Cendrillon cheese which she calls a true to life Cinderella story. Le Cendrillon grabbed the gold medal in the World Cheese Awards held in Spain’s Canary Islands.
Fame comes with a steep price tag, or shall we say, comes with stepped up demand. Manufacturers can’t keep up with orders; for awhile, the cheese was noticeably absent from store shelves.
The famous top placer in the World Cheese Awards is, as Ms. Semenak’s describes it, an “ash-covered soft goat cheese that has a strong tangy taste.” After it won the gold prize, retailers started ordering it and bloggers/cheese lovers raved about it. Once upon a time, stores were indifferent to Le Cendrillon saying that it was good cheese but it was nothing to write home about. They’ve since changed their tune after Le Cendrillon proved to be the “shiningest’ star on the cheese podium.
Quebec’s cheese makers ought to be proud. Ms Semenak interviewed Yannick Achim, owner of a cheese outlet in Montreal and St. Jerôme. Mr. Achim said that Quebec cheeses win a lot of awards. The one in the Canary Islands is just one of many. For instance, in the American Cheese Society Awards in Chicago, Quebec collected 21 awards; in Switzerland’s Caseus Montanus, Quebec cheeses were also a hit. But something is missing. Mr. Achim believes it’s a lack of marketing clout and the fact that cheese makers here in la belle province are too modest.
Ms. Semenak raised a crucial issue about Quebec cheese and it deserves closer attention, enticing venture capitalists or entrepreneurs with excess cash to unload. They should turn their capitalist dreams to cheese. While Quebec cheeses are excellent, manufacturers don’t have the marketing mettle to turn this cottage industry into a giant. Artisanal cheese makers in Quebec also don’t possess the export knowledge and only a few have been able to refine distribution networks.
Perhaps it’s time that Quebec’s venture capital pool work their magic on Quebec cheese so that it can melt its way into international taste buds and become a force to be reckoned with in the future. But then again, maybe the reason our cheeses are so good is that the artisanal cheese community has remained small and is focusing on what they do best, without necessarily wanting to rake it in.
Just a thought – what would happen to the quality of our cheeses if we turned this small community into multinationals?
Le Cendrillon is made by Alexis de Portneuf in Quebec City, a division of the Saputo Group. These “technical specs” below were taken from the company’s web site in its product catalogue (the URL is provided at the top of the photo).