Fromagerie Montebello: Spotlight on local work
In the words of the president of Fromagerie Montebello: I’m an artisan, and proud of it! Alain Boyer founded his business in 2011 in Petite-Nation and he enjoys every encounter with his customers.
The Fromagerie Montebello cheese factory was created about a year before the completion of Highway 50, linking Montréal to Gatineau and breathing new life into some of the villages in the Outaouais region—Montebello included. Located in a distinctive yellow and red building on the main drag, the cheese factory has become an integral part of the village, which has seen a marked increase in tourists.
“For a small community, we have a lot to offer,” says Alain Boyer, President of Fromagerie Montebello. “Our village is the tourist hub of Petite-Nation in the Outaouais region. It’s where people stop for a coffee or a nice dinner. They visit the Château Montebello, come for a tour of the cheese factory or enjoy a stroll down by the two marinas.” The entrepreneur has seen a great dynamic develop among local merchants, who showcase the Outaouais region through their products. Fromagerie Montebello, for instance, has helped shape a network of businesses in the area by getting its milk from local producers.
The local roots of Alain Boyer’s agrotourism business can be felt right down to its cheeses—all named in honour of the region’s history. The cheese factory’s very first product was Tête à Papineau, a semi-firm cheese with a buttery, nutty flavour. “It’s a versatile cheese,” comments the owner. “Then I developed a fancy for blue cheese, so we created La Rébellion 1837.” This one is a nod to the Patriots’ rebellion and the politician Louis-Joseph Papineau. The cheese store also offers Le Manchebello, a sweet ewe’s milk tomme matured for one year, and Adoray, made from spruce wood, a resinous tree of the same family as the fir tree, giving the cheese a smoky, spicy and woody taste.
A local guy
Alain Boyer knows the Outaouais like the back of his hand, having parents who are originally from the region (his mother hails from Notre-Dame-de-la-Paix, his father from Saint-André-Avellin). He was raised in the town of Thurso, closer to the Ottawa River. Since launching his cheese factory in 2011, Alain has travelled daily between his workplace and the home he shares with his wife and children in Mayo, near Buckingham. “We’re still commuting for now, but our plan is to move the whole family to Montebello because there’s such a strong sense of belonging in this village.”
The future entrepreneur was only 19 when he recognized he had a passion for cheese. But it’s not just making the cheese that interests him. He’s a people person who thrives on contact with patrons. “I used to work at the cheese factory in Plaisance. I would see tourists and locals come in, it was a happening spot. I find it incredible that people will travel a dozen kilometres to go to a country cheese factory. They want an experience, they want to learn about the farmers’ and processors’ way of life. They’re always amazed, and that really fascinates me.”
Basically, as a young man he was already developing an interest in knowledge-sharing. Alain continues to thrive on his fascination for cheese, and for agrotourism as well. “I have a need and a mission to give people who stop by the cheese factory an authentic experience. Just yesterday, we had a busload of visitors, and I was thrilled to meet them all. I let my employees get on with their work, but I love having this contact, and telling our story about where we come from. And now my son is joining the business, which is really meaningful to me.”
It took a lot of time and energy to make his dream come true. Alain Boyer left a job as a plant manager in 2011 to become president of Fromagerie Montebello. The sheer determination he had is evident in the language he employs to recount his story. “You hold on with both hands and don’t let go. You take the plunge and hope you make it. You may be visionary, but it takes a tremendous amount of resilience!”
Ten years after opening his cheese factory, Alain Boyer announced a major expansion in August 2021. He bought a well-known snack bar next door, where he installed his production rooms and shop. “I’d like to have one more decade under my belt, and reach another milestone with the cheese factory in order to be able to say: mission accomplished.”
At the moment, the craft cheesemaker has some 20 employees and is committed to promoting local work. “To be able to grow here, it takes employees who care because the wages aren’t that high. But we absolutely have to keep this type of work local because these people are 100% part of the product. We’ve got to offer choice jobs to local people who are seeking to live a healthy life in their nearby village. That’s my motto.”
The all-important task of refining the cheese is done manually and requires great care. Pending the arrival of a machine to help them, the employees refine each cheese by hand three times a week. “The ripening process starts with introducing a salt solution and yeast to develop the flora, the crust,” explains the owner. The cheese is white to start with. You have to brush the cheeses on both sides to achieve the desired flora.”
It’s this type of masterful work that gets people to drive more than a few kilometres to visit local artisans like Fromagerie Montebello and purchase their wares.
By Valérie Thérien