2000s Archive

Brome Sweet Brome

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“Wapiti?” we ask.

The woman nods enthusiastically. She is Lise Beaudoin, mistress of more than 100 elk, as well as sheep, pigs, and a single milking cow. She opens a freezer stuffed with elk filets mignons, chops, mince, roasts, steaks, brochettes, osso buco. She makes elk sausage, too, with tomato and basil, herbs she grows in her garden, and garlic and honey from a neighbor. There is a second freezer of lamb and a cooler of hams and bacon she smokes herself. On one wall, bags of dried herbs and bottles of salad dressing; on another, rows of cow’s-milk soap and vials of elk antler velvet, a calcium-and-phosphorus supplement that she says, shrugging her shoulders, seems to help those with arthritis.

We shift the bottles of wine, vinegar, and cider and the cooler of duck to make room for the wapiti, wave farewell to Lise, and cut across the Chemin du Diable, heading toward Le Pinacle, the mountain that has kept its eye on us throughout our extended detour.

It is cheese we’re after now, the waitress’s map once more in hand. We follow the Missisquoi River as it flows through a mountain pass, then leave Brome-Missisquoi proper to trace the shore of Lake Memphremagog north to St.-Benoît-du-Lac, where Benedictine monks operate a small cheese factory. But at a curve in the gravel called Knowlton Landing, the broad verandas of a stately red brick house reach out to us, and we are waylaid once again, this time for the night.

L’Aubergine has been an inn since the days when the old Boston-Montreal stagecoach was ferried across the lake to the customs agent here. As at so many small inns in the region, the handful of rooms upstairs are just a sideline to the main event, the kitchen run by the chef-owner. In this case, it is Didier Perrault-Rabussier, a young French émigré who hovers by our table as we refrain from licking our plates clean of his specialty, a pâté de foie gras.

The next morning, the pale stone turrets of the Abbaye St.-Benoît rise above the lake like a castle, a fitting conclusion to our pilgrimage. No sign of a shop, but as we ponder how to enter, a door marked “Portier” opens and, “Left and down the stairs,” whispers the kerchiefed woman who comes out. Fifty monks live here in ­silence. Secluded from the world, they tend an orchard and a herd of Charolais cattle and run small factories that convert their harvest into cider, vinegar, and, most famously, cheese. In a basement room we find Ermite, the blue cheese that was stirred into the sauce that bathed my escargots the night before. And the Chèvre-Noit that graced the assiette de fromage at L’Orpailleur. We buy a round of each and also some St.-Augustin, a nutty Swiss cheese, and a firm goat’s-milk cheese called L’Archange.

The shop carries produce from other monasteries, including boxes of chocolate-covered blueberries from the Trappist Fathers of Mistassini, but we already know where we’re going for dessert. We drive cross-country, refusing every sign, the car pointed toward Montreal at last, making only one stop before we leave Brome-Missisquoi, at the tiny village of Mystic. Here, Pier Normandeau has taken over the general store, stocking the old counters and display cases with the chocolate fantasies he concocts in the converted icehouse next door. Unlike many of the restaurateurs, innkeepers, and farmers we’ve met, Pier grew up just a few miles down the road.

“I’ve lived here all my life,” he says, setting down our assiette de dessert, a sampling of tiered cakes, ice creams, profiteroles, and hand-formed chocolates. “Who would want to leave?”

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