Every cheese begins life as a curd, but only select batches of cheese curds will end the journey sprinkled atop french fries and smothered in gravy.
La Poutine Week returns to Winnipeg on Saturday. Bothwell Cheese has been making extra cheese curds to prepare for the uptick in demand. More than a dozen of the 66 participating restaurants have listed Bothwell cheese curds as a key ingredient in their gooey creations.
"We do notice the increase in sales," says Lynne Foy, brand manager for Bothwell Cheese. "We’ll alert our operation staff that it’s Poutine Week... we want to make sure we can do an extra production of cheese curds leading up to the festival."
Sumptuous dishes make you want to clean your plate
Here is a sample of some of the 60-plus poutines available at restaurants in Winnipeg during La Poutine Week this year. You can find a full list at lapoutineweek.com.
Rise & Shine Poutine
Marion Street Eatery, 393b Marion St., $13
Fries, Bothwell cheese curds, Jack Daniel’s gravy, maple-smoked baked beans, sausage and bacon crumble, sautéed mushrooms and tomatoes topped with a a sunny-side egg.
Sunny D House Mac & Cheese
Leopold’s Tavern Academy, 414 Academy Rd., $17.75
Hand-cut fries, peppercorn chicken gravy, waffles, Sunny Delight hot honey fried chicken with macaroni and cheese.
La Tourtière à la Poutine
Nob Bar at St. Norbert Hotel, 3540 Pembina Hwy., $12.95
A mini meat pie, wedge fries and beef gravy infused with Little Brown Jug beer, topped with Saputo cheese curds and green onions.
Oakwood Bistro, 660 Osborne St., $16
Pulled pork slow-cooked in Winnipeg’s Stone Angel Brewery’s Onkel Georg red ale winter radler, mixed with a Crown Royal barbecue sauce over hand-cut fries topped with cheese curds, gravy and spicy crispy fried onions and an Onkel Georg reduction.
Le Garage Café, 166 Provencher Blvd., $16
Shoestring fries with red wine-braised beef, horseradish aioli drizzle, cheese curds, sautéed mushrooms, crispy fried onions, and a puff pastry twist, finished with house gravy.
Cho Ichi, 1151 Pembina Hwy., $13.50
Fries, pan-seared pork, baby shrimp, boiled egg, crispy pork rinds, cheese curds, green onions and topped with Palabok shrimp gravy.
A Poutine for McCartney
Clementine, 123 Princess St., $9
A vegetarian poutine. House-made Kennebec fries, roast allium and porcini mushroom gravy, fried cheese curds, spicy pickled peppers, crispy capers, crispy celery root, crispy shallots and chives.
Beer Braised Jackfruit Poutine
Cocoabeans on Corydon, 774 Corydon Ave., $17
Beer-braised jackfruit, fresh-cut fries with Bothwell cheese curds, beer gravy and house-pickled vegetables. Gluten-free with a dairy-free and vegan option.
The production facility in New Bothwell has three vats of cheese going at a time. Milk is poured into the vats and stirred until it curdles. The resulting curds are either packaged into Bothwell’s cheddar cheese curd products or formed into a block and aged.
Fresh curds have become a delicacy for people who live near the town, located 45 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg,
"We’re a small town and everyone in the outskirts of New Bothwell will come to the cheese shop when they know it’s curd day and pick up some fresh cheese curds," Foy says. "If you get them fresh, they’re still a little bit warm and you get the extra squeak."
While restaurants tend to get creative during La Poutine Week, which runs Feb. 1 to 7, cheese curds are a traditional ingredient because they don’t melt when doused with hot gravy.
"Cheese curds hold their shape because they have a higher moisture level... because it doesn’t have time to age, which removes that moisture from the cheese naturally," says Foy, adding she’s a poutine purist who enjoys her fries topped with beef gravy and extra curds.
The history of poutine dates back to rural Quebec in the 1950s, although there are several towns that lay claim to its invention. According to the Canadian Encyclopedia — a branch of Historica Canada — poutine originated when customers started adding cheese curds to their fries at either Café Ideal in Warwick, Que., or Le Roy Jucep in Drummondville, Que.
This is the third year Winnipeg restaurants have participated in La Poutine Week, which was created by the founders of Le Burger Week and debuted for the first time in Montreal in 2012.
Daniel Gurevich is La Poutine Week’s Winnipeg ambassador and says the food festival is gaining popularity.
"We’ve had more and more interest from the public and more people rallying around the event," Gurevich says. "Restaurants have stated that they get busier every year, so that’s good."
As new food festivals pop up nearly every year — Winnipeg’s second Fried Chicken Fest wrapped up last weekend, for example — Gurevich says there is a risk of oversaturating the market.
"Like any other event or product, I think people are going to try to take it to an extreme and then it’s naturally going to find its balance over the years," he says. "I think that we’re big enough that we can sustain festivals like this, but we’re small enough that there’s still some camaraderie between restaurants and participants."
Like Le Burger Week, the public is invited to cast a vote online for their favourite poutine at lapoutineweek.com. This year, $1 from every poutine sale will be donated to Agape Table, a charity that helps feed Winnipeg’s most vulnerable people.
Eva Wasney reports on arts, culture and life for the Winnipeg Free Press.