By Nick Fonda
Local Journalism Initiative
The best cheese made in Quebec in 2023, according to the 25-member jury of Le Concours Sélection Caseus, is made in Racine, from ewe’s milk, and is named in honour of one of Quebec’s earliest colonists who arrived from France on the 4th of June in 1634.
“Zacharie Cloutier is our distant ancestor on our mother’s side of the family,” says Marie-Chantal Houde, who with her brother, Jean-Paul, owns and operates a sheep farm and cheese factory, Fromagerie Nouvelle France.
“History is important, and we liked the sound of his name,” she explains. “We thought it fit well with the washed-rind cheese which is firm and mildly flavourful. It also works well with the name we chose for our business.”
Marie-Chantal and Jean-Paul launched Nouvelle France in 2010. Two years ago, they moved into a new 5,500 sq. ft. building that combines a small-scale but relatively high-tech factory and a spacious boutique selling an array of local products ranging from wine to wool blankets but with an emphasis on cheeses (their own as well as other artisanal cheeses from the Townships) and foodstuffs.
Marie-Chantal traces her interest in cheese back to her childhood.
“I was seven or eight when I first noticed that even the same cheese wasn’t necessarily consistent,” she says. “At the time, the small grocery store in Racine would sell slivers or wedges sliced off a wheel of cheese that was behind the counter. When I was in my early teens, my mother lived in Montreal, near a cheese shop that sold 600 different cheeses from around the world. That was when I knew I wanted to become a cheese maker.”
For two summers, she worked at that cheese shop, the Fromagerie Hamel, discovering a vast array of cheeses, and getting a first taste of the business.
But then a visit to Portneuf made her reconsider her goals.