The stop signs in Montreal read, “ARRET”. Really! Of course, it obviously means “STOP” because the bright red octagon is a dead give away. That is the purpose for a universal red octagon as a stop sign. unfortunately, sometimes blonde moments take over ( not to insult any blondes) and in a flash of excitement, you concentrate solely on the words inside that octagon and completely ignore the actual meaning of its red color……..which is to stop. Now! Before you run the stop….too late! And that was my first traffic violation in Quebec.
6 months ago I never even thought I would ever step foot in Canadian territory because quite frankly, I don’t fancy the idea of perpetual blizzard conditions and Paul Bunyan. And yet, as I completed my Internship at America’s Test Kitchen in Boston, rumors about the delicious food scene in Montreal started to make their way to me. Several of the cooks had been to the legendary Aud Pied De Cochon and had come back fascinated by Martin Picard’s monstrous yet delicately prepared meat offerings. With all the talk about the city’s perfectly flaky croissants , artfully prepared charcuterie, and beer, I just had to make my way up there.
The eating adventure actually began with a beer tasting tour through the 2013 Mondial de la bière. This is an annual beer festival which showcases beers from around the world. Craft beers from Brazil, Belgium, France, and the US were available for sampling. We even took part in a beer and cheese pairing class. We signed up for the class in an act of impulse upon hearing the phrase “free cheese”. Never did we imagine that it would be completely in French.
Later that evening we made our way to the hip and sprawling neighborhood of Le Plateau where we found countless cafes with outdoor terrace seating and a vibrant nightlife. But there was only one thing in my mind; Aud Pied de Cochon.
The epic portions here are no joke. We shared a starter of bison tongue in a decadent yet smooth tarragon and mustard sauce sprinkled with finely diced mirepoixe. A melange of craft-fully fabricated house sausage, boudin noir ( blood sausage), and pork belly over a mountain of fluffy mashed potatoes and gravy came in as our second course. Finally, we could not over look the veal liver with bacon sauce. It was explosive in flavor. There was definitely no room for dessert. As we headed out we though we had seen it all, and yet, as we were walking out the door, I saw a server carrying a behemoth of a platter with a lobster INSIDE a roasted pig head. This is certainly an experience in excess and abundance. For me, a once in a lifetime experience that I am lucky to have experienced. Will I come back? Not really. Although Martin Picard is elevating the art of charcuterie to a worldly level, and for the quality of his food he is celebrated internationally, there are many others in this city who offer noteworthy charcuterie. Determined to find other talented chefs we headed over to a food mecca located in the eastern part of the city, the Marche Jean-Talon, a permanent market that supplies the eastern most side of the city with an ever flowing supply of fresh meats, local cheese, and seasonal produce.
Jean Talon Market is one of 4 major permanent market spaces in Montreal and a goldmine of cultural experience for us. The first thing we procured here was the coveted Canadian Maple syrup. No trip to Canada will ever be complete without indulging in its rich buttery taste and aroma. We also tasted several honey samples. Buckwheat and wild flower honey were the winners. As we made our way through stalls upon stalls of fresh Quebec strawberries and wild mushrooms, we got inspired to create a DIY lunch picnic. Our epic picnic experience began with a visit to a humble stand with an old refrigerated display case. In it were succulent rows of cured meats, sausages, pates, and terrines. The guys at les cochons tout ronds made wonderful recommendations and we bought provisions of Figatelli sausage and pork Rillete. Next, we headed out in looking for the obvious accompaniment to our charcuterie; cheese. Not just any cheese, but one that embodied the unique cheese making traditions and flavors of Quebec. We did not know precisely what it was that we were searching for, but when we spotted an old black board with the words Tomme du Marechal playfully written in fancy cursive, how much cuter can the situation get……When it comes to cheese, I am daring, adventurous, and adopting of the never-a-dull-moment philosophy. I want my cheese to leave an everlasting impression in my memory. We didn’t know what Tomme Du Marechal was all about, until the “fromagier” ( I learned some French) shoved a wedge into our anxious little fingers in an effort to make us stop asking questions in English. All we had to do was nod our heads in eager excitement and hand him some bills and soon enough we were in possession of the greatest culinary treasure i’ve held in a while. To this day, how this cheese is made eludes me, yet all that I know and matters is that the nutty, hay-like taste was perfectly creamy and went down well with some walnut bread which we later found in a random bakery next to the market.
Other farm market findings:
The picnic was a delightful success. The fresh Canadian breeze swayed the trees back and forth as we laid on the grass, full bellied and all, gazing up at the blue sky……not a care in the world…..