When most of us think of food options in Montreal, it’s possible that poutine and smoked meat come to mind. It’s possible that those are the only two foods that come to mind.
While Montreal certainly does do poutine and smoked meat very well, Montreal’s European flair and beautiful nearby Quebecois farmland means that Montreal also does cheese very well. Not only are there incredible producers nearby (more than half of Canada’s cheese producers are in Quebec), but you can also find imported European cheeses that don’t make it into the US.
US law requires that any cheese aged fewer than 60 days must be pasteurized, meaning that cheeses like Brie or fresh goat’s cheese will always be pasteurized, and the more traditional cheeses, which are made with raw milk, don’t make their way to us. While pasteurization certainly doesn’t lead to bad cheese, the potential flavor expression (or terroir) is limited in pasteurized cheeses. In Montreal, the rules are more about cleanliness at the farm level, rather than a sweeping law requiring pasteurization of certain cheeses. For geeky cheese lovers, raw milk cheese is always the ideal.
Making raw milk cheese is a labor of love, requiring more precision and skill, so don’t expect to find exclusively raw milk cheeses in Montreal. But if you know how to shop, you’ll find some treasures. Ask your cheesemonger for “lait cru” (raw milk) and for any Quebecois treasures. If you plan to take your cheese back over the border, just plan on saving your receipt and know that meat is not allowed back over – you’ll have to finish any charcuterie that you buy with lunch.
With several locations around the city, Fromagerie Hamel offers a wide range of local and international cheeses, plus some lovely charcuterie, honey, chocolate, and more. They’re often busy and work on a number system, so it’s worth doing a quick lap to get a sense of the (ginormous, heavenly) cheese case and then pulling a number once you have an idea of what you’d like to taste.
If you want to feel like you’re cheese shopping in Paris, head to any of the Yannick Fromagerie locations, where knowledgeable cheesemongers are poised to give you a taste – or five – of your new favorite cheese. They offer a few exclusive European options (including cheese from the Canary Islands), which are hard to find even in the place they’re from, so make sure to ask about those as you’re tasting and exploring.
Chèvrerie Du Buckland
Located a few steps away from the Fromagerie Hamel location in the Jean Talon market, this tiny farm stand specializes in goat’s milk meat, cheese, and milk. They are what’s called “farmstead” or “fermier” in French, which means that they both produce the milk and make the cheese, which usually means a higher quality final product, as the farmer has more control. They offer both pasteurized and raw milk options, if you’re avoiding raw milk but still want to experience small batch local cheese.
La Vielle Europe
If you’re headed for a stroll ‘round Mount Royal Park, it’s just good practice to pack yourself a Euro-style picnic for the road. Stop by La Vielle Europe for an incredible range of European cheese, accoutrements, and more. They’re especially proud of their Tomme de Savoie. Anglophiles will also appreciate their tea and biscuit options.
Bleu & Persille
Perhaps the chicest of the fromageries, Bleu & Persillé offers options like vegan cheese and honey from their own urban hives, along with a solid range of cheeses from Canada and Europe. They also offer classes like wine & cheese, beer & cheese, sake & cheese, bubbles & foie gras, and more so you can return home with some useful, delicious new knowledge.
Christine Clark is a professional cheese and beverage nerd. Her work has appeared in VinePair, Fine Cooking, Travel + Leisure, and AFAR, and she has been featured in Bon Appetit, Complex, Epicurious, and the Huffington Post. She is a Certified Cheese Professional by the American Cheese Society. In her spare time, she plays with her dog and plans her next meal. Follow her latest eating adventures on Instagram @yourcheesefriend.