Ask the Monger: Eric McLean
Eric McLean is the co-owner of McLean’s Specialty Foods in Nanaimo, British Columbia, which opened on scenic Vancouver Island in 1992. He and his wife Sandy count both Canadians and Americans among their longtime customers.
We know there are lots of great Canadian cheeses, but we can’t find them in the United States. Why?
There are a couple of reasons. Some of the smaller Canadian cheesemakers have trouble keeping up with the demand from the Canadian market, thus making it difficult to supply the US market. It’s also a question of the price of raw ingredients, which in this case is milk. Canadian milk prices are supply-managed to support dairy farmers both internally and through import tariffs, ultimately making their final products more expensive than those of their American and European counterparts.
Which Canadian cheeses and cheesemakers do you steer your customers toward?
The province of Quebec produces the greatest variety of cheeses in Canada, and because of their French heritage, many of these are based on French styles, especially washed rinds. The most famous of these is Oka, from the region of the same name. This washed rind was created by the Trappist monks who settled in the region in the early 1600s.
Some of our current favorites are Grey Owl, an ash-covered, soft goat cheese, and Magie de Madawaska, a soft, creamy delight in the style of Pont-l’Évêque. Both are from the Fromagerie Le Détour. We also like the triple crème Brie-style Riopelle de l’Isle and the excellent aged Cheddar de l’Île-aux-Grues, both from the Fromagerie de l’Île-aux-Grues.
From Prince Edward Island, home of Anne of Green Gables, comes Avonlea, a magnificent 2-year-old unpasteurized clothbound cheddar with bright, fruity tones of pineapple and citrus.
Our most popular cheese is a soft, creamy chèvre, which comes from the Okanagan Valley in BC’s interior. Also, our house-made cider-marinated Camembert is sought after. We have been making this according to an old Normandy recipe for close to 20 years now. We use a triple crème from Quebec and marinate in scrumpy cider made right here on Vancouver Island at the Merridale Ciderworks. As far as I know, we are the only ones in Canada making anything like this.
Photograph courtesy of Eric McLean