Cheese is happening here. But it wasn’t always so.
I’ve always figured it’s my role to bring attention where it’s due. That can be challenging from an in-box cluttered with way too much inconsequential stuff. But this week an announcement popped up from Les Amis du Fromage. And the news is significant: Les Amis’ co-founder and matriach (she’ll kill me for that!) Alice Spurrell is retiring. She’s handing the reins to daughter Allison Spurrell, who takes over as president.
Hard to believe, but I can remember very clearly a Vancouver where it was next to impossible to find a decent piece of cheese. Let alone one that was properly aged and intelligently explained.
That’s why, in 1985, when the Spurrells started Les Amis du Fromage (as a sideline to their Menu Setters catering company). The response was overwhelming. I can recall heading over to 10th and Alma, There, rain or shine, a bunch of us fromage freaks would happily line up outside to get some superb Camembert, Brie de Meaux, Bleu des Causses, ´Epoisses, Tomme … or whatever. Over time the range expanded to include plenty of Spanish, Italian and other cheeses. And Canada, especially Quebec and more recently BC, was far from ignored.
Later came the move to bigger premises as well as a couple more stores. Plus bold experiments, such as the (sadly) now closed Au Petit Chavignol restaurant (a cheese and—yes—Riesling emporium) that didn’t quite make it.
Somewhere along the way they got me hooked on those little packets of Stilton and Walnut cheese sticks. Just big enough to get you through the drive home. Also, our family sometimes juggles ridiculous schedules. To the rescue come Allison’s delicious and healthy, frozen home made dinners. They pre-dated the HMR (Home Meal Replacement) craze by more than a decade. And then there’s the free loan of a proper pot (or raclette machine) when you buy their cheese fondue. Although you’ll eventually buy your own ‘serious’ pot!
Creating a Culture
Evidence of their success, Les Amis du Fromage has now grown to two busy (and spacious) stores on the east and west side. But more to the point “Alice ‘n Allison” have nurtured a generation of aficionados. They’ve also transformed a dining scene where a cheese plate was once as rare as proverbial hens teeth. You think I’m kidding? I’m not.
All that didn’t happen by chance. Alice Spurrell became a Master of Cheese and both she and Allison are in demand as professional judges. They’ve worked tirelessly with the restaurant trade to educate chefs, servers and somms. And their evening classes are as popular as ever.
Even as Alice takes a back seat, rest assured Les Amis du Fromage remains firmly in good hands, with Allison and her partner Joe Chaput at the helm, with countless qualifications. ***
Vancouver cheese lovers (not to mention this city’s restaurateurs) owe them all a huge debt of gratitude.
Read more about them in my older post here.
Alice Spurrell, Allison Spurrell and Joe Chaput are members of France’s prestigious Guilde des Fromagers Confrerie de Saint-Uguzon. Alice and Allison are also members of the Confrérie des Chevaliers des Fromages de France, and the American Cheese Society (ACS). Allison has been a judge for the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix and the ACS and has a certificate in Cheese Making Technology from the Department of Food Science at the University of Guelph.