I have returned from Montreal with *much* to report. It's going to take me a bit to unpack it all and get everything onto this site, but stayed tuned. (Spoiler alert: the food scene in Montreal is hopping, as evidenced by this excellent summary of the trip. For more right this minute, check out all things Montreal here.)
Many readers may already know that both fine artisan cheese (that French tradition is an excellent one to keep alive) and maple syrup (props to the New World!) are important elements of French-Canadian cuisine. What I didn't know until I was on a brew pub tour with Local Montreal Tours during which we stopped at Le Saint Bock to taste their Odysée oat stout (lovely), was that cheese and maple taste so very good together. They served a baked brie doused in maple syrup and topped with pecans as a little snack. My first thought? Gross. My second thought? Weird. But I'm a professional, so I gave it a try. My informed assessment? Brilliant.
I re-created the whole thing last night using a Weybridge cheese from the Cellars at Jasper Hill in Vermont (it's a slightly stronger flavor than brie, which worked great here) and toasted walnuts to great acclaim at my house. The sweet and the creamy, the nutty and the savory: Mark this one for Thanksgiving, people!
First and foremost, let a full wheel of brie-style cheese and a bottle or jug or other container of maple syrup sit on the counter until they come to room temperature - about an hour should do it. This step is very important because a cold cheese will take longer to melt all the way through, which will cause either the center to be undone or the outside to be cooked, and cold syrup will undo all that nice warming of the cheese you're going to do. Neither is what you want here.
Put the room temperature cheese in an oven-proof serving dish with sides (no one wants the maple syrup to spill!), poke the cheese lightly in the middle on top to see how it feels (this way you'll know if it feels softer later), and bake at 350Â°F for 5 minutes. Pour pure maple syrup over it (plenty of folks want grade A, which is fine by me since then there is plenty of grade B, with its more intense maple flavor, on the shelf for me to buy). I found about 1/2 cup of syrup for a 4-inch cheese worked nicely, but there is no precise formula here and for more people you'd want a bigger cheese and more syrup. Put it back in the oven until the cheese is soft all the way through (the middle should feel noticeably softer and have more give than when you poke it lightly with your finger), 5 to 10 more minutes. Sprinkle with toasted nuts, if you like, and serve with slices of baguette.
Warning: When you first cut into it, the cheese will rush out and into the surrounding syrup. Do not panic. This is a very good thing. Use a piece of baguette to scoop up the mixture of melted cheese and warm syrup and wonder why you've never eaten this before.