Not long ago the wife had business in Cornwall and we stayed over night as it was a two day situation. On day two she was going to be done around noon, so we needed a place to grab some lunch. One of her coworkers had mentioned beforehand we should stop in St Albert`s (famous as they supply like almost all the cheese curds in the Ottawa area for poutine) to go to the cheese factory. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to do so.
Just to clarify if for some reason you have not had it, or even heard of it, poutine is a French-Canadian dish made up of french fries that are layered with gravy and cheese curds. People add other ingredients like bacon or sausage, but classic poutine is fries, gravy and cheese curds that should be fresh that they squeek when you eat them.
We pulled into the small agricultural town of St Albert in Eastern Ontario. We were immediately reminded that it was a farming community as the smell of freshly laid pig manure dominated the town (it was so strong we could smell it inside the fromagerie itself).
The co-op is a factory, visitor centre, grocery store, ice cream parlour, gift shop, restaurant, and museum all in one. The place was pretty busy in the middle of the week, but it is summer after all. My goal was to have lunch, have cheese curds, and watch said cheese curds being made. Lunch may or may not include said cheese curds, but cheese curds were going to happen.
St Albert`s is a cheese co-op (one of the oldest in Canada) founded in 1894 by 10 men which is pretty impressive that the operation is still going strong. There was even a fire a few years back, but they are still pumping out all sorts of cheese products.
On the second level is a large observation deck that you can go up and watch the various production facilities at work. They didn't seem to be going full force while we were there, but it was still cool to watch what we did:
We walked around watching the operations, also reading about the educational system of Eastern Ontario for some reason, which made us very hungry. We headed back downstairs to the canteen to get some grub.
The menu is a giant board split into English and French (the founders were French, and a lot of the staff are French too, but all speak English). One section is just specialty poutines some normal like smoked meat (Montreal smoked meat on top) and crazy ones like Sriracha Pulled Salmon or Sweet Tooth with cinnamon and caramel or chocolate curds on the fries. Crazy!
LJ went with the St Albert Poutine (with ground beef, green pepper and sauteed onion, but she got it without green onion). I splurged on the Crysler Bacon Cheeseburger and upgraded my fries to a classic poutine.
Just before we ordered we saw that they had chicken wings as well. I was forced with a big dilema - do I get wings because I am the Wing King and they have wings and I have an addiction to fill? Or do I go with the bacon cheeseburger with a poutine that I had craved? I went with the latter because I was here for curds and bacon and cheese just sounded too good.
We ordered at the counter and waited for our cafeteria tray - the St Albert Poutine was out quick but mine took a lot longer. They both looked worth the wait ...
LJ's poutine was massive, covered in grilled onions and ground beef with the curds and gravy buried underneath. She was hungry and took most of this down like a pro.
My platter was overwhelming! Big burger, pickle and a lot of poutine. This looked exactly what I was looking for.
The Chrysler burger is grilled on a flattop, as is the strong cheddar cheeese they top it with (you can see the crispy bits above on the bottom part of the cheese, while the top is melted. There are two strips of smoked, thick cut bacon that is that perfect point of crispy but still soft too. It also comes with tomato, lettuce and chopped onion, but any other toppings like ketchup or mayo is available at a condiment dispensing station beside the fountain pop. I just went with mayo to keep it simple.
The burger was good except for the burger. The toppings were fresh, the cheese was great, the bacon was perfect. But the burger patty, well it was tough and over cooked. It was dry and I just didn't feel it. Too bad.
What I really wanted to try was the poutine. Well it didn't disappoint. Crispy fries, and fresh squeaky cheese curds. Yes, they actually squeak when you bite into them. The only thing I wasn't feeling 100% was the gravy, which was actually a little sweet. It was minor and didn't ruin my poutine experience. I couldn't finish it all, so I got a take-out container and had a delicious breakfast the next day.
Over-all, St Alber's Cheese factory was a great experience - it was great to see the free observatory, learn about cheese, and eat some tasty food. We also got some ice cream (Kawartha Dairy!) but the freezers must be not working so well because it was all melty on top. The food was good for the most part - I would pass on the burger and go for a specialty poutine, or wings, next time.
St Albert Cheese
150 St Paul Street, St Albert ON