Canada owes a lot to Quebec’s extraordinary culture of food—its cheeses, foie gras and poultry are among the best in the country. Its organic farms are celebrated. The tasting menus of Normand Laprise’s Restaurant Toqué! in Montréal long ago became a template for fine restaurants countrywide.
The artisanal food industry in la belle province is bustling. So much so that when, in October 2009, Le Cendrillon, a Quebec-made ash-covered chèvre, took top honours at the World Cheese Awards in the Canary Islands, the salesperson at La Fromagerie,a fine-cheese shop in Montréal’s Atwater Market, simply shrugged indifferently and offered up one of another half a dozen local goat cheeses he said were superior.
Another domain of Quebec’s artisanal food industry that deserves as much attention—but is much less known—is that of the province’s burgeoning independent charcuterie production, in particular of saucissons secs, which literally means “dry sausage” and is a quickly cured sausage made of pork, salt and very little else.
A small but burgeoning number of restaurants across the country, such as The Black Hoof in Toronto, ON, and Montréal’s Au Pied de Cochon, are paying attention to this bounty of the terroir and reflect the new interest in the casual, rustic pleasure of a bit of saucisson as the prelude to a good meal, or a cheap and tasty accompaniment to a glass of red wine.
Most of Quebec’s independent producers fashion their saucissons secs from organic meat made from associated farms, and the best are made entirely without nitrates. The Atwater and Jean-Talon markets are among the best places to pick up several types of saucisson and to compare. A lot of top-end groceries and many supermarkets stock a variety, too.
Les Délices de l’Artisan’s excellent rosettes are superior and, as is true of many restaurants in the province, they owe much to their maker Patrick Roffi’s ties to France. Roffi’s rosettes de Lyon and d’Auvergne are based on recipes that his father, a charcutier, brought to Quebec from France more than 50 years ago. One of my favourites is made with blue cheese. Another, the saucisson de Wapiti, is lean and distinctive and made from the meat of the indigenous North American deer. If you are shopping at the Atwater Market, the salametti seché maison, the “house” salami of La Fromagerie, is also very pleasing—a strong flavour, mature and just the right amount of fat.
Among the smaller saucisson, the bâtons du Kamouraska are made entirely without nitrates and easy to recognize in Quebec shops because their several different varieties (some with hazelnuts) are displayed in what look like cigar boxes, being of about the same size as a Fidel-sized Havana. These bâtons are darker and leaner than the rosettes and salamettis, often with a rich, wine-like taste. They are made in La Pocatière, between Montmagny and Kamouraska on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River.
The same company also makes a line called Si Pousse that is about half the price as it uses nitrates but is an equally fine product. Si Pousse, too, comes in several varieties including ones with blue cheese—a Québécois passion, this one made from the famous Abbaye Saint-Benoît-du-Lac of Quebec’s Eastern Townships (or Val d’Estrie.). Another is cured with vin rouge de Vignoble and has a lingering and almost sweet flavour
So, next time you are in Quebec, on your bicycle or strolling its streets, get out your knife and a bottle of wine. Whether on the sunny grass of summer, in the city or warming up at the chalet après-ski, there is nothing quite as simple or as effortlessly pleasing as this classic gastronomical combination.