Montreal food and gifts: what to buy, where to buy it

Maybe you are in Montreal as a tourist and want to bring back local delicacies as gifts. Maybe you rented an apartment in the city and are wondering if there is anything special to cook with. Maybe you live in the suburbs and never quite took the time to explore all the nook and crannies of the big city?

This thread is meant to serve as a launching pad to explore what are Quebec products and where to buy them in Montreal. Its not meant to be a definitive guide since I cannot pretend to know everything (it is very like Montreal to think you have a good grasp on a food experience just to learn there is a half a dozen new things to discover… its what makes it such a good food city too.) However, with the help of fellow Montreal visitors we might make it extensive enough to be usefull!


We have a pretty extensive beer selection here in Montreal. We have good IPA’s, good white beers, great porters and stouts but few real strong lagers

What to buy

Here is a selection of my known Quebec brewers:

Notable products: Leo’s early breakfast: Petite Mort: Stout Impériale Russe:

Notable products: St-Ambroise Oatmeal Stout: St-Ambroise Apricot Wheat Ale: St-Ambroise Cream Ale (only available on tap):`

Notable products: L’assoifé 6/8/10/12 Big Ben Porter

Notable products: Pêché Mortel Aphrodisiaque Rosé d’hibiscus

Notable products: Cheval Blanc Witbeer

Notable products: La Buteuse La Saison du Tracteur La Shawinigan Handshake

Notable products: Claymore Barberousse La Mondaine

Notable products: La Blonde de l’anse Pale Ale Austraméricaine N13 Tennessee Imperial Porter

  • Unibroue
    This brewery put micro brewery on the map in Quebec. Its was one of the early adopters of the micro brewery movement in the 90’s but since that era it lost a bit of its shine since it was bought by Sleeman who was itself bought by the giant Sapporo.

Notable products: Maudite , Fin du Monde , Blanche de Chambly

  • Labatt
    Labatt is one of the furthest thing from a microbrewery. Its one of the biggest brewery in Canada and was founded in 1847. It does carry one interesting “heritage” porter though: the Labatt Porter. You don’t drink this because its the best porter/stout in Quebec. Its clearly not (Dieu du Ciel probably brews it). You drink this because it has a great story. Its one of the early recipe of the company and can still be found hidden in some places. Definitely merits being mentioned.

Notable Product: Labatt Porter

Where to buy it

My favorites:


What to buy

While Ontario has started to garner a great reputation in its Okanagan valley, Quebec’s wine scene is still pretty young. We never had a great french viticulture tradition. We made a lot of homemade “fruit wines” (potentially more a fruit alcohol or liquor than a wine per se) but that tradition is unfortunately being lost (my grandfather made them in his basement, my great grandfather too, my father did not. I am not aware of any being sold in our wine stores). We also had good hard cider, mead (honey wine) but no grapes. As a result, we have a great cider scene (I’ll make an individual category for it) but our wine game is pretty modern.

Our most notable wine producers are probably located in the eastern townships. I must admit I am bot a great source of knowledge for our local wine. They are not distributed everywhere and some of the more widely known have been historically super market wines of dubious quality (thinking of Harfang des Neiges or Orpailleur here) An interesting website relevant to Quebec wine production can be found here:

In terms of wine I know about, two brands come to mind:

Notable product: Clos du Maréchal

Notable products: Cuvé Julien , Reserve Riesling

Mead (honey wine)

Special wine

  • Domaine Labranche makes a maple wine that is pretty incredible. As you might know, maple syrup is made with reduced maple sap (the sap taste like a light sugary water and is pretty liquid and clear). This wine taste more like maple water than maple syrup and is really an incredible find.

Where to buy it

The best selection of Quebec wine and hard cider can be found at the SAQ selection in front of the Atwater market:


Spirits are relatively new phenomenon in Quebec. Its much harder to distil spirits than to produce cider, beer or mead since you have to get a special permit to setup your still before doing anything. Possession of a still without a permit and brewing home made spirits are illegal. The certification system is obscure, byzantine and costly so there are few true stills in Quebec and the whole process has inhibited the growth of true micro distilleries. Imagine: you have, in theory, to buy and install your still at the cost of thousands of dollars before asking for your permit. You then have to wait months for the permit to come in before experimenting legally to produce your prototype recipe that might, eventually, one day, lead to a first good recipe that could be commercialised. Of course, selling spirits is nationalised so if you cannot get in their stores you are stuck selling your costly costly alcohol by hand. Good luck.

Incredibly, the commercialisation of home grown spirits have become more and more prevalent these last few years. Its not surprising that it was hard cider producers that had enough money to set up true stills. Some of them have partnered with local entrepreneurs to rent “distilling space” on their still, creating even more spirit selection.

Here is a selection of most known spirits:

  • Ungava Gin is made uniquely made with Quebec grown aromatics and is one of the first vanity gin Quebec has produced. It has a unique citrus and piney taste and is better sipped than mixed.

  • Gin de Neige from La Face CachĂ©e de la Pomme. When I was young I wanted to do an applied university project on ice ciders, which was a market that was just starting at the time. It didn’t pan out like we wanted to but La Face CachĂ©e de la Pomme were among the best producers to communicate with. I have been fan of them ever since. I haven’t tasted their Gin yet but I’m sure its great since everything they do is of the highest quality.

  • Piger Henricus gin. A gin with parsnip? You must be insane! Second quebec gin released after Ungava, it is a very good gin that has garnered many fans. Contrary to Ungava, it has international elements in its aromatics (no, lemon peel is not native to Quebec :stuck_out_tongue: )

  • Coureur des bois whisky Ă  l’érable is a maple whisky that is well known.

  • Sortilège whiskey Ă  l’érable is the direct competitor of Coureur des bois for Quebec maple whisky. Sortilège might even have been the first to market their product. Very good reputation. Could not say which one is the best since I haven’t made a comparative tasting.

  • Coureur des bois crème d’érable. You know baileys? Well, this is maple syrup baileys. What’s not to like?

  • Sortilège Crème d’érable Yep! Sortilège makes a bailey’s like maple cream too!

  • Crème de pomme pinnacle. We will stay in the baileys comparison for this one. Its a apple ice cider baileys style cream. Very very good!

  • Michel Jodoin Calijo. When you have hard cider production you inevitably have apple cider spirit. Calijo is a calvados (spirit made from apple cider) distilled in their alambic from their own production.

  • Pur Ultra Premium is my favorite vodka. I’ve never drank such a good vodka. I’m not even kidding. I know, the name is ridiculous. The unique signature of this vodka is the lack of alcohol heat on the aftertaste. Its peppery. Truely amazing. I don’t know how they do it. Don’t mix this, drink it chilled or straight.

  • Chicoutai might just be a nod to our fruit alcohol producing tradition. It is probably leagues better than anything my grandfather produced. This one is made with cranberries. Much appreciated by many quebecquers.

  • Caribou. The germans have their GlĂĽwein, the english have mulled wine, nords have glögg, we have Caribou! Caribou used to be uniquely found in the winter carnival of Quebec City but now can be found bottled everywhere. You usually drink it hot. Its apparently made with a mix of red wine, hard liquor, usually whisky, and maple syrup or sugar. Legend has it that it was originally whiskey mixed with the blood of a reindeer but I assure you you don’t have to bleed one anymore to enjoy it (anyways its probably a false legend. Caribou was probably a way to transform red wine from europe which spoiled palatable by dumping a ton of sugar and spices in it and spiking it with liquor).

Where to buy it

These products can usually be found at any “SAQ selection” or “SAQ signature”, which consist of the bulk of SAQ. You can even visit the website of the product to learn where is the closest bottle to your location! See:


I know cider is synonym with “apple juice” in the USA but in Quebec when you say cider you mean “alcoholic hard cider”. Apple juice is “jus de pomme”. Quebec has a lot of apple orchard so it always was a prolific land for hard cider. We have a number of kind of ciders: still ciders that resemble wines, sparkling pub style ciders than can compete beers and ice ciders that taste similar to sauternes or ice wines. Here is a list of ciders brands and producers I enjoy:

Where to buy it

The best selection I know of Quebec hard cider can be found at the SAQ selection in front of the Atwater market:


I believe one of the first chocolate sweets made by Quebec residents were blueberries covered in chocolate made by trappist monks. Since then we had a few notable chocolate producers that became famous in the Montreal region. Here are a few of them.

  • Chocolaterie des père trappistes de dolbeau-mistassini. There is a region of Quebec so associated with blueberries that their nickname is just that: “les bleuets”. Blueberries. They are also the champion of beer drinking and are among the most friendly of quebecquers but that is beside the point. Its not a surprise that the local trappist monastery became famous for their chocolate covered blueberries. It has since become a traditional product as well as a highly coveted sweet. Their website is not ready but they have a nice facebook page Here is an english website talking about them:

  • Juliette & Chocolat. That chocolate boutique has become so popular that it spawned numerous locations. It has since lost a bit of its artisan veneer but its product is as solid as it was went I first discovered them on St-Denis street. Think of a coffee shop. Now think of a coffee shop that serves hot chocolate instead of coffee. Different hot chocolate made from different cacao varietal with different recipes. Think of a hot chocolate so thick it coats your tongue. It is heaven for chocolate addicts and still my favorite cup of hot chocolate in Montreal. SeeĂ©al-4

  • Geneviève Grandbois. Geneviève Grandbois is the first true artisan Montrealer chocolate producer I’ve been made aware of. Pretty expensive but once you try them you’ll probably won’t want to settle for less. They also experiment A LOT so its always fun to see what flavour they come up with.

  • Les Chocolats de Chloe. If Geneviève Grandbois was the first apostle of artisanal chocolate, Chloe was the feisty underdog that carved its own path in the trendy Plateau Mont-Royal. It is now a strong brand on its own right and rightfully mentionned in the same sentence as the great GG.Ă©-montrĂ©al-4?osq=chocolate

Where to buy

Most of the chocolate products can be found at their eponymous stores (look at yelp if you need further help). The blueberry covered chocolate is a rarer find however. You don’t want to make the 6 hour car ride from downtown Montreal to the trappist monastery (yep! see: ) so here is a list of vendors:

Bread and pastries

The first true artisan baker I’ve been aware of was Première Moisson, which made artisanal breads from selected grain and special yeast. It has since spread like wildfire, became a household name and lost a bit of its artisanal veneer. Its still one of my favorite spot to buy bread. In its wake grew a plethora of artisan bakers, most of them with french influence that delights and provide Montrealers with fresh breads and pastries. Here are a few I enjoy.

What to buy/ Where to buy

  • Première Moisson. It might be less of an artisanal shop but it is still the gold standard. I love everything they do and I still wake up early on saturday from time to time to buy their cholocate bread (it disappears fast on weekends so go there early!)

  • Mamie Clafoutis. Mamie Clafoutis has since become shorthand for great croissants. They also have incredible bakery products and french inspired pastries.

  • Au Kouign-Amann. If you’ve never had Kouign-Amann you’re really missing something. Its a Breton pastry made with layed butter and sugar. It makes a caramelized flaky pastry that’s insane to taste. Kouign-Amann makes the best I know. They also, of course, make great pastry products.

  • Hof Kelsten Relative newcomer but garnered a lot of attention very quickly. The fact that the bakery’s owner, Jeffrey Finkelstein, was behind the “bread program” for a number of Montreal’s top restaurant (Le club chasse & pĂŞche, Le filet, Les 400 coups, Joe Beef, Nora Grey, ToquĂ© and Dominion Square Tavern) probably helped a lot with name recognition. In any event, Hof Kelsten is part of a shortlist of Montreal bakery who is synonymous with good bread.Ă©al

  • Olive & Gourmando The renowned Old Montreal breakfast spot has great pastries and breads! Olive & Gourmando: more than a coffee or breakfast!Ă©al-3?osq=bread

  • Les Co’Pains d’Abord Cute little bakery that was a favorite of a number of Plateau Mont-Royal residents. When in doubts, always go with the locals!Ă©al?osq=bread

  • Pâtisserie Cocobun. Strange little pastry shop that’s novel enough for me to mention. I have no idea if the concept of systematically using sweetened condensed milk as the base of all the pastries made in house is an authentic asian approach or if its just a marketing initiative but it kinda works! They offer mostly sweet but also some savory pastries with that sweeter base that the condensed milk brings and I enjoy it.Ă©al

  • Maison Christian Faure I’ve never been but I’ve heard enough of this french pastry shop to put it on my shortlist. Its a pastry shop and a pastry school and they specialise in french pastry. Christian Faure is a “Meilleur ouvrier de france” which is probably one of the most insanely difficult honor to get in the french trade system, making it the equivalent of going through the navy seal certification or through the lĂ©gion Ă©trangères training program for pastry makers (see the following documentary ).

  • Patisserie Rhubarbe is the solo project of StĂ©phanie Labelle, who started her own pastry shop in Montreal after coming back from working with Pierre HermĂ© in France. It is a small shop full of character and among my favourite in Montreal. Her Milles-Feuilles is famous and she has a great flair for visual presentation to complement the quality of her pastries.

  • Ta Pies don’t specialise in bread or pastries. They do australian pies, which are savory australian version of cornish pasties. They also produce home made australian desserts so if you are an expat hankering for a lamington or Anzac biscuit the’ve got you covered.

  • Patrice Patissier Patrice Demers used to be the principal attraction behind the restaurant 400 coups. He was such a household name that he decided to quit 400 coups to start his own pastry shop. Don’t worry, the restaurant still has a strong reputation. They also provide courses in pastry. While his menu always changes you can sometimes get his classics that made him famous (like “Le Vert”).

  • Wawel There are better pastries and there are better breads but I know of no other places for Polish pastries and breads. Anyone of polish descent will recommend the Paczki (they call it Ponki), a polish donut sometimes fillied with fruit jam. Try the one with plum jam for an authentic experience! I also like their poppy seed strudel.

  • Croissanterie Figaro This one is an emotional choice. I spent a number of afternoon as a student drinking coffee and enjoying the chocolate and rum croissants while dreaming in this copper studded art nouveau interior that I was a gentleman in the belle Ă©poque of a fictional Paris. There used to be a particularly cute waitress too… she had the elegance of a panther. We are all older now and it is no longer proper for me to try to charm the waiting staff with my wit and address as I am no longer the university student I was. I live pretty far from there so it has become a bit of a trek for me to go to Figaro. I still do the trek with great delight as the old world charm and fantastic rum and chocolate croissant of this address still touches something pleasant in my soul.

  • Patisserie Notre-Dame du Rosaire is one of the more functional pastry shop you’ll find. You might even wonder after coming out of all those quaint french artisan shops what you are doing in an environment that looks so production oriented. Simple enough: you are about to taste the best pasteis de nata I can find in Montreal. Pasteis de nata, also called simply Natash by me and my barbarian friends are addictive sweet egg custard portuguese tarts. They have a lot of variety but I like the plain one the best. Its also pretty cheap!

  • Adonis is not an artisan pastry shop. Its not even an artisan anything since it has started to be a pretty big name in Quebec. Its also a supermarket. A supermarket that has a middle eastern and Levantine sensibility that brought a fresh new optic to our local offering. Looking at their success, you have but to conclude there was a large market for fresh products coming with a different point of view. They have one of the largest selection of Baklava I know. For those who don’t know, Baklava is a sweet pastry made with layers of filo dough held together with honey. Its an incredibly sweet bite and you should try it if you never did

  • Mahrouse . Ok, I understand. You tried the baklava at Adonis and you are ready to go out of your way to try one of the best producers in Montreal? Mahrouse is a bit far from downtown but has garnered a stellar reputation over the years. Well worth the trip if you like Baklava!

  • Point G A couple of years ago there was an incredible Macaron craze. Since these delicate meringue sweets are of french origin, you will still find a lot of them in Montreal. I have, of course, a favorite place for Macaron. It is called Le Point G. A play on word on “the G spot”, the boutique specialises in Macaron and make one of the best in Montreal.

My favorites

  • Visited most often by me: Première Moisson
  • Favorite pastry: Kouaig-Amann at Kouaig-Amann
  • Favorite bread: Chocolate bread from Première Moisson
  • Favorite shop to sit down and eat: Croissanterie Figaro
  • Where I’ll get my pastry if I want to impress someone: Patisserie Rhubarbe
  • Place I’ll go if I want to introduce something new to a resident Montrealer: Ta Pies

Are you done?

The list is not finished! I still have much to talk about but I will do it in the same format in successive post in the same thread.

I plan to talk about the following subjects. Stay tuned!:

  • Maple Syrup
  • Cheese
  • Bagels
  • Smoked Meat
  • Cookbooks
  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Meats
  • Fish
  • Spices
  • Asian markets
  • Middle eastern and levantine markets
  • European markets

Great thread. I am in San Francisco, but grew up 90 miles from Montreal (Massena NY) and stop over whenever I go east to visit my relatives. I love the place.

He is a picture I took of some Quebec Beers at the Marché des Saveurs du Québec in 2007. I imagine the selection has grown considerably.

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Marché des saveurs is pretty far from where I live but I would bet they have a bigger selection.

Just take a look at Peluso. Thats all Quebec micro beer.

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Another brilliant thread! Thanks for doing the research for us, captain Haddock. I will only need to find a lodging with a simple kitchen then.

I’m thinking a week in Montreal is too short with so much to eat and drink!

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And I’m not even finished!

The research is not too much a bother for me. I’ve already talked about different aspects of Quebec ingredients for a while now. What’s long is putting everything together in a post. I initially wanted to post everything in a block but my post was so long I thought I’d post what I had ready and do additional updates later on in the same format.

A lot of people like Airbnb but I actually had more luck with VRBO for booking apartments with kitchen in the USA. I don’t know what the offerings are like in Montreal though.

Don’t forget that the ideal location is in the Plateau Mont-Royal if you are looking you want to put apartments near the Sherbrooke metro, Mont-Royal Metro or Laurier Metro on the top of your list. If it fails, any apartment within walking distance of a metro station works but really the Plateau is the sweet spot.

Crunch, do you even work in the food industry? You definitely have a calling. You should do gastro-tours for tourists, or even locals!

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No. I thought about taking cooking courses when I was younger but decided to go in management instead. My father used to work as a cook on Canadian Pacific trains in the 50’s (60’s?) to pay for his medical school. He became a doctor.

We are all great cooks in my family so the apple did not fall far from the tree. I’m a recruiter by trade so looking for difficult things to find is second nature for me I guess. My mother once looked at me wistfully after tasting a dessert I made and told me “maybe we should have let you go to cooking school after all”. What’s weird is I remember that being an option but I never remembered being adamant about it.

I have no illusion about it though. There is a big difference between having food as a hobby and food as a job. If I would have taken another path, I might not be having as much fun with food right now.

I do wonder about possibly opening a bar though. A small bar with a small cocktail list and rotating micro selection. Something like “Smokeless joe” in Toronto. Its still a pipe dream though. If I ever have a spare 50-100 000$ I might take the plunge… :stuck_out_tongue:

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Thanks for a wonderful list! You have single handedly make visitors to your fine city bring home much more food-related items than they are capable of carrying…

I have seen wild blueberries from Quebec sold. Any idea whether these are grown or wild?


The chocolaterie des père trappistes says they go through 1232.5 pounds of blueberries a day to produce 5500 boxes so they most assuredly are farmed. They seem to be smaller than your typical commercial blueberries. Smaller and tastier:

If you want wild blueberries, I’d try to look at the bleuet sauvage boutique at marché jean-talon from mid July to mid September although a lot of fruit merchants will carry blueberries in season.

Maple syrup

Maple syrup is boiled and diluted maple sap. Maple syrup is boiled down maple sap and was historically used as a sugar substitute in its sugar form because cane sugar was more expensive. During the 20th century, maple syrup increased in value so maple sugar in recipes was substituted to the cheaper brown sugar. That’s why you see a lot of traditional Quebec recipes (like tarte aux sucres, sugar pie) list “maple syrup or brown sugar” as ingredients nowadays. Click on the following link for an english version of a typical “sugar pie” recipe:

Maple syrup season will start at the first thaw in spring. The thawing/freezing process of spring will cause the sap to go up and down the maple tree, enabling its capture through taps. The colour of the resulting syrup will evolve during the season, starting very light early and becoming increasingly darker and vegetal in taste as the season goes on. These will need to be bought in special shops and producers because the syrup we have access in supermarkets are of pretty standard quality.

Dark late season syrup vs pale early season syrup. Their taste vary widely:

Maple was historically produced in “Cabane à sucres” (maple shack). The sap was gathered manually and the shack would throw a big feast to thank workers. That feast became a basis for a tradition called “sugar shaking”. Each year, around march and as long as the season permits, sugar shacks all over the provinces open their doors to tourists and quebecquers alike to throw a big feast of traditional Quebec food.

Traditional Sugar Shack

A celebrated Montreal chef, the famous “Martin Picard” recently bought his own sugar shack and started experimenting with the product, presenting his latest creation each season. He puts tickets on sale at the start of each year and the whole season gets sold in less than a day. You have to be incredibly fast and lucky to snag tickets.

Martin Picard sugar shack:

He has a book! Its very different from traditional cooking books and was self published without compromise:

Marina O’Loughlin, english restaurant critic, visited Martin Picard’s sugar shack and wrote an interesting article on it:

For those who speak french, you are in luck, there is a TV show that cover his adventures each season. It is fascinating to watch:

Quebec sells 68 percent of the world’s maple syrup. The rest of the production is assured by Vermont, Maybe and New York state.

It is transformed in a number of products:

Maple syrup
The product itself. Available at all supermarkets in Quebec. The “traditional” can is this one:

Maple sugar
Maple sugar can still be found but it is expensive, making the use of maple syrup or brown sugar more prevalent:

Maple butter
Maple butter is used as a spread on toast, a bit like nutella or caramel. It separates with time to you have to stir it before using it. Be carefull: there are two qualities to it: maple butter (the best one) and maple composed butter (more industrial)

Maple Butter looks like this:

Composed butter looks like this:

In my experience the more widely found butter is composed butter. It is way less expensive.

Maple liqueur
Maple flavoured whiskey (see: and ) and Maple flavoured bailey(see and ) can be found at most provincial liquor stores (SAQ)

Maple taffy
Maple taffy is boiled maple syrup quickly cooled down on fresh snow. It cannot be bought and is a unique experience only available at sugar shacks.

Maple leaf cookies
Maple leaf cookies are widely known in Quebec and are available at most supermarket.

Maple syrup candies
We don’t eat those a lot. Its mostly sold to tourists:

Maple fudge
This product is mostly sold to tourists also. The fudge we eat is made with brown sugar and is called sucre à la crème or “Cream sugar” (see for recipe:à-la-crème-creamed-sugar-or-sugar )

Where to find it

Most things we buy regularly can be found at most supermarkets (maple syrup, maple sugar, maple butter, maple leaf cookies). These will be the less expensive maple things you can buy:

Tourist stores will carry higher prices items and more touristic things (lollypop, fudges, fancy maple syrup bottles and butters):

Specialised maple products can also be found at the Atwater market and Jean-Talon Market.

There is a specialised maple syrup store in the old Montreal:


A more detailed look at Martin Picard’s Pied de cochon sugar shack, from Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre food. Bourdain went too but it doesn’t seem to be available on youtube.



I hear you from here: “Its normal that Quebec has such a good selection of cheese given their french heritage!”

Not quite.

Our french heritage has little to do with our modern french offerings. It will help bring in french speaking european in the 1980’s, 90’s and later to give us their influence but had little to do with shaping our historic landscape where it comes to cheese.

From what I understand, cheese consumption under french rule was segmented by social status. Those with enough money would import cheese from europe while the rest would produce their own simple cheese , called a “Paillasson” (a mat in english). Farmers with a milk surplus would make their cheese on a reed mat, thus the name. Paillasson production would disappear with time, apparently ending in the 1970’s but a recent entrepreneur has brought the recipe back recently. It is a very young artisanal cheese with few complexities:


Quebec’s first big love affair with cheese wasn’t with french cheese. It was with english cheddar. The first boom came in the 1890’s with the foundation of the Perron cheese factory. Perron cheddar is still available in most supermarket and is the oldest quebec cheesemaker still in operation. It would eventually become the official provider of cheddar to the british crown for almost a century. The manager of this cheese factory is still in the family and the original factory was transformed in the museum of cheddar in the 90’s.


Quebec even started their own dairy school in 1892 in saint-hyacinthe (the school closed by the city is still home with one of the biggest agrocultural school in quebec). Cheddar was such a big thing that Canada provinded up to 60% of England’s cheddar consumption in 1897.

The monastery in Oka would produce their eponymous cheese starting in 1893. It is a semi-soft washed rind cheese that can still be found in most supermarkets in Quebec. The trappist monk sold the license in 1996 to commercial cheese giant Agropur but it is still the same cheese made with the same method. The Oka, with Perron, is one of Quebec’s earliest cheese and was apparently influenced by a breton cheese called Port Salut.

The next oldest Quebec cheese still available is l’Ermite from Fromagerie de Saint-Benoit du Lac. Produced since 1943, this blue cheese is still made by the benedictine monks and available in most supermarkets.

Quebec has tried to produce Camembert and Feta in 1910 but it didn’t stick because the demand wasn’t there.

Here, cheddar was king. The production was so large in some years that cheddar producers had to take their excess production, cut it up in chunks and salt it to be sold in small plastic bags for individual consumption. That product became known as “cheese curds” and was very popular, being sold in greasy spoons and corner stores all over Quebec.

Of course, one of those greasy spoons had a client who wanted to mix these curds with fries and sauce and thus was born our dish known as “poutine”.

I don’t think anybody knows where cheese curds originated. Poutine has been known to originate from Le Roy Jucep in Drummondville (see ) so that might be Fromagerie Lemaire in the same city ( ). Victoriaville also has a claim on the origin of poutine so Fromagerie Victoria might be it (see: ). Maybe it was Fromagerie Saint-Laurent that dates from 1930? (see ). I haven’t been able to find out either!

Want to find fresh cheese curds in Quebec? Just look for cheddar producers! Most of them will sell their excess (or “make” excess cheddar, as cheese curds as so popular nows) in bulk at the factory.

I don’t know of any factory in Montreal though. You’ll have to take your car and visit the regions outside the big city to get at the source. Here are some producers of fresh cheese curds I know of:

And I’m stopping here because there are too many. Quebec has a ton of cheese producers! Just make a search when you are visiting a region and you are bound to find one. The only thing is that they are near cows and there are no cows on the island of Montreal. :stuck_out_tongue:

Few knows about it outside quebec but the humble cheese curd has a cousin named “Tortillon” or “Twist”. It is the same cheddar base as cheese curds but it is brined a lot more so its way saltier. It is less known because there are no iconic dishes made with it but you can still find “Tortillon” near cheese curds at cornerstores and supermarkets all over the country. It was probably developed at the same time as cheese curds, so around 1950-1960.


When I was young, in the 1980’s, the american mozarella (the solid brick few italians would recognise as such), cheddar, pamesan in a box (remember this? and the swiss knight fondue brick was king (see ). “Fancy french” cheese were Camembert and Brie. Cheese culture was still pretty basic and similar to what was found in the rest of north america.

Little did we know that the second “golden age” of Quebec cheese was under preparation.

Our modern trend of artisanal cheese is tied to the arrival of Fritz Kaiser, a canadian of swiss descent and master cheesemaker who began crafting his cheese in 1981 (see ) . He began with adapting a swiss classic, “raclette cheese”, a swiss traditional cheese designed to melt. His most famous cheese is probably “Le Douanier” (see: )

With time and effort, with the help of tv and press, the local Quebec artisanal cheese scene became bigger and bigger. The 90’s saw a great leap forward in the availability and consumption of local Quebec artisanal cheese.

The 2000’s saw most special occasions among friends and family featuring a cheese course with local discoveries. The tradition is so anchored in my family that they think they always did it even though I remember it is a fairly new thing.

This tradition had its challenges, however. Cheese producers had to fight against a Canadian government law that wanted to ban raw milk cheese production in 1996… with success. Quebec cheese production represent roughly 60% of Canada’s volume but recently negociated a free trade agreement with Europe opening a larger door to european cheese to the Canadian market. Quebec cheese does not benefit from the same subsidies that European producers benefit so they are often more expensive. The trade agreement is still being ratified and some artisanal cheese producers say they probably won’t survive the onslaught of cheap european cheese.

Quebec has a quota system to regulate milk prices and the price for milk in Canada is more expensive than in the USA or France. Even with their own cows, producers of milk has to “sell virtually” its milk to the milk producers federation and “buy it back” at market prices. The laws of Quebec surrounding cheese production is also way stricter than in France so that occurs additional costs. Some producers had problems developing and experimenting with their own herds of cow since everything had to be regimented with the same rules as milk producers. The inspectors from the province of Quebec (the MAPAQ) are ruthless and target the local producers fiercely.

The first shock an immigrant from France experience in Quebec is the price of cheese and wine. Cheese in France is cheap and prevalent (being subsidised by the government helps). The cost of the same product in Quebec is way higher. Locally produced cheese don’t even have the advantage of price… without the same support of the government, the additional cost of milk and the administrative cost of having everything in stainless steel (as opposed to, say, a rocky basement deep in a French province), Quebec produced cheese are usually more expensive than their French variants.

That doesn’t stop Quebec residents from asking for Quebec products by name when making their purchase decision. That demand, still strong after all the waves the producers had to submit themselves to, is the basis of our local productions. Quebecquers are proud of their cheese and support their industry. They are greatly paid back by having access to a varied selection.

Artisanal cheesemaking in Quebec is a new frontier. The government might be doing its level best to annoy or bancrupt producers but the market is wide open to new discoveries. French artisans are often hidebound by tradition and often feel caught by chains of their own making. The same artisans will often mention that the Quebec scene is a breath of fresh air were numerous influences mix and meld without constraint. You are from a French school of production and you want to include elements from swiss and english traditions? No problem! Go right ahead! If the result is good we’ll buy it!

What to buy

There are a number of website featuring Quebec cheese. My favorite is fromage du quebec which focus the artisanal producers ( ) but this one has a larger selection from industrial origins: ( ).

The best way to discover new cheeses is to follow the Caseus prize rewarding the best cheeses in Quebec each year. The Caseus selection has been founded in 1999 and gives numerous prizes. For our domestic market the caseus nomination probably gives our local cheese the best visibility.

Here is a short list of all the cheeses that won either special mentions or gold, silver and bronze medals since the foundation of the prize (see for the whole list). It looks like a long list but it is only a short sample! I indicated some cheeses which switched names and did not list those who disappeared from the market. When available I will include a review from a website I enjoy reading (its a blog)

Where to find it?

As you might guess, there are a number of cheese shops in Montreal!

Here are a few I like:

  • Supermarkets : our supermarkets (IGA, Metro, Loblaws) seem to have a larger selection of Quebec products each year. Don’t forget them! You might not find speciality products but don’t hesitate to go and see if you are near one, you might be surprised!
  • Fromagerie Atwater : Gilles Jourdenais from Fromagerie Atwater is one of the few cheesemongers described as a “cheese somelier”. Fromagerie Atwater is located in the Atwater market and is considered as one of the more expensive but people there know their stuff.
  • Fromagerie Hamel: Also known as “the other fromagerie at the MarchĂ© Atwater”, Hamel is also located at MarchĂ© Jean-Talon and a bit everywhere in Montreal. They have a very nice selection.
  • Fromagerie Copette The little cheesemonger that could! Located outside the markets in Verdun and less expensive to boot they offer friendly service and are my favorite underdog cheese shop.
  • Le marchĂ© des saveurs I almost never go to MarchĂ© Jean-Talon so I cannot speak much about this institution. I do know it by reputation and expect them to have a nice selection.
  • Qui lait cru Another cheesemonger at the MarchĂ© Jean-Talon. I know little about it.


Everybody knows bagels are synonymous with New-York city. What might be less known is that Montreal developed its own parallel bagel tradition that evolved over the years. Today, they make two different products with distinct characteristics (a similar thing happened with smoked meat and pastrami).

Montreal bagels are smaller, thinner and sweeter than New York bagels. They are always baked in a wood oven, contain malt and egg but no salt and are boiled in honey water before baking.

Bagel are known to have polish origins but the earliest known Montreal bagel producers were east european jews probably fleeing from Russian pogroms in the late 19th and early 20th century. Isadore Schlafman and Cheim Seligman have been known to sell bagels in the early half of the 20th century in Montreal.

Isadore would go ahead and open a bagel bakery in 1919, which moved in 1949 and adopt the name “Fairmount Bagel”. The place is still open and they bake and sell their product in the same traditional way every day.

Chein Seligman would open his bagel bakery in 1957 with a jewish immigrant who fled europe following the second world war: Myer Lewkowicz. The bakery became known as St-Viateur Bagel and is located a few street away from Fairmounth Bagel. They are to this day the oldest competitors on the island.

Every Montrealer will have their preference. I prefer Saint-Viateur but honestly? Its a matter of personal choice, just like those who want to know if New York or Montreal style is better. There is no best bagel, only individual opinions. Its like coke vs pepsi.

Where to buy it: St.Viateur and Fairmount are open 24/24, 7 days a week. The best way to sample them is fresh from their wood oven, directly at the store. Their store is located near the trendy Plateau Mont-Royal neighbourhood (in Mile-End) which is fairly centrally located so you have no reason not to go!


An interesting side note is that these tarts are also quite popular in Cantonese bakeries and some times dimsum joints here in North America because the Portuguese brought the tarts with them to Macau.

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Smoked meat

Two jewish disapora escaping from east europe at the same time. One lands in Montreal and develop a dry cured, soaked and smoked beef brisket that would be called smoked meat. The other would land and New York and come up with a similar product that’s dried cured and smoked but not soaked called Pastrami. Like Montreal and New York bagels, both probably came from similar origin but evolved differently because they didn’t come from the same exact recipes and served a different customer base

Smoked Meat

Pastrami Sandwich

Where to buy it

Manhattan has Katz, Montreal has Schwartz. Established in 1928, this famed jewish deli has long been the reference for smoked meat in Montreal. Everyday, rain or shine, lines of tourists will be found to sample the rough service (its as if they prided themselves on being rough and expeditive) and the classic smoked meat / black cherry soda combo (the Cott brand is preferred here). The name is so iconic that it was bought by the famed René Angelil and Céline Dion duo in 2012. Although they promised not to change anything, a number of enthousiasts have found the smoked meat there to be uneven. It is not considered to be “the best smoked meat in Montreal” anymore but it might just be the most accessible (you have to have to car to get to “the best smoked meat” as it is not located downtown)

Main Deli Steak House (or Main’s for the natives) was founded in 1974 by Peter Varvaro. Located just in front of Schwartz, it quickly became a home for those unsatisfied with Schwartz’s rough service, long lines and uncomfortable dining area. Let tourists go to Schwartz, you’d hear residents of Plateau Mont-Royal say, we have Main’s and the smoked meat there is every bit as good as the one in front. Celine Dion might have bought Schwatz but when she wanted a smoked meat in Montreal, she used to go to Main’s. Unfortunately, Peter Varvaro died in 2013 and the iconic restaurant subsequently bought and “modernized” by its new owners. Reports of Schwartz’s unevenness should have worked in Main’s favor. The overhaul of the smoked meat recipe, however, insured that it can’t be counted as a competitor to Schwartz anymore. I know at least one regular who told be he could not recognise anything from the main last time he went there… especially not the smoked meat. It stays an important institution in Montreal, if only for memory’s sake. All is not lost though. Peter’s sons, Peter Varvaro Jr and Philip Varvaro continue their father’s tradition in their own restaurant: L’ile Perrot’s Smoked Meat Pete and Dorval’s Delibees.

Here is a small documentary on Peter Varvaro Sr and the Mains that should interest the curious and enthousiasts

Quebec Smoked Meat
Ok, I hear you. You are downtown and you don’t want to go trekking to what amount to be suburbs by car(sorry Dorval, if I can’t get to you by metro you get classified as suburbia by me). Schwartz is not what it used to and Main is a zombie. What to do? You go to Quebec Smoked Meat. Be advised: the place is not a restaurant. Its an Ukrainian butcher shop. They produce smoke meat, among other things, to sell to restaurants in the Montreal area. Its my favorite smoked meat in downtown Montreal however. The sandwiches are cheap and they can sell you vacuum packed smoked meat by weight if you want to bring some back home.

Smoked Meat Pete
Want to know what is my favorite smoked meat in Montreal? Look no further than smoked meat pete. The restaurant, which looks like a hybrid between a blues bar and a southern BBQ shack, is owned by Peter Varvaros Jr, son of legendary Main founder Peter Varvaros Sr. Main’s might not be the same but the quality seem to have followed Vavaros Sr’s sons. The place is spacious, the smoked meat is great, the fries are out of this world but its roughly a 50 minutes car ride from downtown Montreal. If you are from Toronto, however, its on your way back!

Turns up that Peter Varvaro Sr had another son, Philip Varvaro. Philip would go on and found his own restaurant called Delibees in Dorval. Its much closer to downtown Montreal but I’ve never been there so I can’t speak on the quality. Sources say its on the same level as Smoked Meat Pete and might even be better! Its on my list to visit for sure.

Other options
Lester’s Deli in Outremont isn’t that bad. I’m told that Dunn’s is ok but that it is expensive and re-steamed from packaged wrap. Don’t go to reuben’s. Don’t buy smoked meat from supermarket (even if its packaged with Schwart’s name)

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I’ve heard of a tourist that told us he prefered the Natas in Macau. Never been there so I can’t compare. He seemed a bit precious thought so I take his opinion with a grain of salt.

A portuguese friend told me the best are found in Belem (the patron saint city of Pateis de Nata in Portugal). Unlike the precious tourist I do trust her!

Tried to make homemade Natas. The caramelisation is a bitch to get right (they work with pizza style wood oven in Belem so you have to crank up your oven to the maximum and pray to try to get a similar result). Scorched the flaked pastry in my attempt to caramelize the custard. I haven’t finished my experiments but variants include freezing the flaked pastry in the mold (or putting it in a fridge), putting an ambient temperature custard in the cold mold and putting everything in a 550 oven in hopes that everything bakes evenly. Truly a fascinating challenge.

My original recipe:

First try result (tried a home made flaked pastry… will buy it next time… its not fun to make):


First wave, second wave, third wave? What’s that?

You’ll see a lot of coffee lovers say they prefer “third wave” coffee. Other think the whole “third wave” culture is a hipster phenomenon full of hot air. Regardless of your position, I believe it can be interesting to know where that whole concept come from and how it applies to Montreal.

The first wave is the prototypical “good ol’ cup of joe” at your average diner and is probably best represented by our Tim Hortons and Dunkin Donuts. At best you’ll be asked if you like your coffee “bold” or “mild”

Tim Horton and Dunkin Donuts used to be equally popular in the 80’s but, while Tim Horton expended and kept their restaurants in a great state of repair, Dunkin Donuts never put any money back in their franchises so their brand died down and perished over the years. Tim Horton is now an iconic Canadian brand and you would be hard pressed finding a Dunkin in Montreal.

The second wave came in with Starbucks in the states and Second Cup in Canada with Montréal having some local variants like Aux Deux Maries and La Brulerie St-Denis. You’ll usually have two information in hand when you order your coffee: the blend [usually the provenance of the bean but it could be a mix] and the roast [brown to black]. I learned most of what I know about coffee at Brulerie Saint-Denis when I was a young student because they used to change the “coffee of the day” every day so I would take note on the “wow moments”. Plus they let you work without asking you to leave and the waitresses were very, very cute. For the record my favourite coffee is a very fruity very acid coffee with lots of lenght made with south american beans lightly roasted (on the brown side)

Third wave coffee appeared 5-10 years ago and is focused on european variants, optimal preparations techniques, specific blending and alternative “drip” methods (you’ll see your drip coffee replace by a “Chemex” preparation for example), If second wave roasters were the coffee answer to sommeliers, the third wave specialist are a hipster version of mixologists.

You have to know that we have a well established french and italian diaspora so “espresso’s” were a thing even before the third wave came in. Italian espressos are a bit different though. I find them more earthy with less fruityness and acidity. Overall I tend to like them less.

3rd wave coffee will probably produce your best cappucino. I am a drip coffee drinker but when I want a great espresso I go to these places (and then I regret not taking another double espresso and I have to contain myself because I know drinking espressos at the rate I would enjoy would lead to a very pleasant but very early death.)

I’m not a fan of chemex. Even if I have a very high tolerance to caffeine (I can drink up to 60 oz of drip coffee in a day, I can drink a pot of coffee and go to sleep 10 mins after) I find chemex a bit too intense. I once had a working session in café saint-henri after which I had a coffee buzz after taking two espressos and a chemex. I had to stop walking because my heart was going too fast. Not a fun experience.

Where to find them?

First and second generation coffee shops are easy to find. Just throw a rock and you’re liable to hit one.

Tim Hortons (first generation) are everywhere with Starbucks and Second Cups (second generation) close behind. My sentimental favourites of the second generation are Brulerie Saint-Denis on Rue Saint-Denis (seeûlerie-st-denis-montréal-20 ) and Aux Deux Marie on the same road (éal-3 ). None are spectacular per se but I learned which coffee I prefered at those places so they still have a special veneer.

We also have a lot of third generation coffee shops:

Do you have a map for coffee places in Montreal?

Yes, and its pretty insane! Its pretty up to date to boot!

My favourite is Caffé San Simeon nella Piccola Italia, near my place. Not expensive or trendy. I do like their coffee.

As well as longstanding Italian, French and also Portuguese cafés (some from the Mediterranean were definitely for the boys), there was also an important wave of Central European cafés, mostly Hungarian, some Czech, after the defeat of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. They had very good coffee, all were welcome - the Hungarian diaspora was not large enough to make up an exclusive clientele - and of course had the most marvellous cakes and pastries.

Almost all of these places have disappeared in Montréal and in Toronto, as the younger generations (the children of refugees who were often educated and déclassé over here) went on to professional jobs with less demanding work schedules.

We certainly ate a wider range of cheeses than you describe in the 1970s and 1980s, but I lived first on the Plateau near St-Laurent and its cheese shops that weren’t terribly expensive, then northeastern Plateau near Papineau (there were a couple of good cheesemongers, but often I walked up the the Italian groceries north of the railway tracks that separated the Plateau and la Petite-Patrie). The closest was Italo at the corner of Papineau and Beaubien. I walked in last summer, after buying natas at Bela Vista a bit farther south, and it was a sad shadow of its former self.

Nowadays, in terms of supermarkets, the small PA and Adonis chains have better value than the big ones you mention, as do Intermarché and Euro Marché. The closest PA to your neighbourhood would be rue du Fort, if you happen to be going up the hill. No far from the closest Adonis, though I don’t know how extensive their selection is.

Souperman, we had a friend in Massena - he was transferred there, working at a car plant - that or take early (and poverty) retirement - and he came here as often as he could. He found the food offering better even in Cornwall across the river than in Massena…