St-Albert Cheese Co-operative made the best, squeaky cheese curds. They were the key ingredient in really good poutine—large curds and beef gravy poured over hot, thick-cut fries.
“It’s part of the DNA of the Franco-Ontarian community from Eastern Ontario,” said MPP Madeline Meilleur. “Everybody knows about the curds.”
But the 118-year-old dairy co-operative in St. Albert, Ontario was destroyed by a fire of unknown causes in early February.
The tragedy initially put as many as 120 people out of work and sent emotional shockwaves throughout the community, especially among families who had staffed the company for five generations, reported OttawaCitizen.com.
“It’s tough, I was crying like a baby yesterday,” Réjean Ouimet, the factory's former general manager who’s worked for the co-op for 18 years, told the local newspaper.
Poutine lovers have since relied on a surplus of St-Albert cheese curds. But that stock is dwindling, sending many Canadians into panick-mode, despite the fact that new production is underway at various factories across Quebec and Eastern Ontario. Half the original workforce is back on payroll, OttawaCitizen.com reported in March. Thus far, all the new curds made at different facilities have been mild. Medium and old cheese requires more time. Eric Lafontaine, who took over retiring Ouimet's general manager position on January 1, said the new curds don't deliver the same taste that St. Albert customers will remember, but they’re continually tweaking their technique, striving to produce the distinctive St-Albert cheese curds.
While the historical facility is irreplaceable, employees and afficianados of the renowned French Canadian dish can take solace in knowing the factory will be rebuilt. Hopefully St-Albert can recreate their original curds from their own kitchen. Construction is expected to take eight to 10 months.
“We’re going to roll [up] our sleeves, do the building, and start to make cheese,” Ouimet said.