It’s hard to remember and appreciate that not so long ago, say in the 1970’s, there was only one sushi bar in Montreal and it was frequented mainly by Japanese, plus some of their more adventurous non-Asian friends. There was no Thai restaurant yet; that was still about five years away. Yogurt came in only a couple of flavors, usually shoved into the back of grocery store dairy shelves, and purchased by European immigrants and a few Hippies. Fruit and vegetables were mainly still seasonal, and off-season would be very expensive and of poor quality. There were a few cheeses available – after all this is Montreal – but perhaps 1/100 the variety of what we have today.
I was in my early twenties at the time, and having just graduated from University, a new world of experiences was opening up to me. I was being invited to adult parties (get the smut out of your mind!), professional events, and university related “mixers”. The “wine and cheese” was very much in vogue, and the table would inevitably offer a cheddar, a Camembert, perhaps a Roquefort if the hosts were very adventurous, but always…a good sized slab of Oka for local content. Oka has been made in Quebec since the late 1800’s, and until recently, when the facility was sold to a commercial interest, by the Trappist monks of the eponymous town.
Over the years, Oka fell out of favor with us and our friends, not because it wasn’t good, but because it was overshadowed by a vast assortment of wonderful cheeses from around the globe, and from local artisanal producers.
Earlier this week, while at the cheese store, I spotted a healthy sized wedge of Oka and overcome by nostalgia, bought it. My wife and I devoured it that evening, and I found myself buying another, even larger wedge, yesterday. I must say, that is one fine cheese, with an unmistakable flavor that cannot be confused as anything else. I think Oka will once again enter the rotation of favorite cheeses in our weekly selection; we eat a lot of cheese, perhaps 3-4 lbs., between the two of us all told in a given week.