Toronto Star

Epicurean epiphany:

Canuck dish makes German debut,


Holger Boeckner had an epicurean epiphany of sorts while visiting Canada in 2007. Out clubbing with Canadian friends in Montreal, the German tourist was introduced to Quebec’s street food of fries, gravy and cheese curds. It was 4 a.m. and his first poutine.

“It was salty, delicious, fatty,” Boeckner recalled with a big wistful smile at a café in Berlin. “It was the right meal for the situation.”

Boeckner was so enamoured with poutine that he opened the Poutine Kitchen last November, partnering up with a German dairy producer to manufactur­e and sell squeaky cheese.

On Jan. 25, he got to promote the product in a major way: by offering bowls of poutine at the German Canadian Business Associatio­n’s first meeting in 2017. That same week, he proffered small snacks of poutine at the massive annual Green Week exposition of products in Berlin, which features local, non-GMO and organic items (Boeckner’s cheese is local and non-GMO, but not certified organic).

He had returned to Canada and the U.S. a few times since that initial visit and sought poutine wherever he went. In Austin, Texas, during the SXSW festival in 2013, he attended a party held by the Canadian delegation. The caterers served poutine.

“I realized in my subsequent visits I loved poutine,” he said. He and his neighbour, a Canadian, tried to make poutine at home, but “we realized it wasn’t possible to make it authentic because we didn’t have cheese curds.”

Indeed, poutine is relatively simple in compositio­n, since fries and gravy are staples in almost any European country. However, the squeaky cheese — solid parts of curdled milk — is what can trip up the desire for a classic poutine. Curds are made from fresh milk, which has to be pasteurize­d — during which rennet is added so that it clots. It then becomes a blend of whey (liquid) and earlystage “curd” and must be cooked. Lastly, it is pressed, separating the whey from the curd and voilà, you have cheese curds.

Importing cheese curds from Canada could take weeks, Boeckner said, due to EU rules that require inspection­s and clearances.

“The cheese curd needs to be produced nearby so it can be consumed quickly and still be squeaky,” Boeckner said. “Most of the places selling poutine in Europe use mozza- rella or some salty version of cheese.”

In 2014, realizing he was about to be laid off from his film public relations job, Boeckner decided to bring “real” poutine to Germany.

He set about visiting cheese fairs in the Berlin region and wound up at Bauernkase­rei Wolters, where he described the curds to owner Pieter Wolters and his production manager, Uta Gerlach.

“I described it as ‘this is a cheese that squeaks’ and then the consistenc­y as well — a little spongelike. I said it had to be eaten fresh,” Boeckner says.

Last March, they created their first batch — 40 kilograms. Boeckner declared it a success: “It was tasty and squeaky.”

The following May came the real test: giving it to Canadians. With packs of gravy mix from St. Hubert’s chicken fast-food joint in Quebec, Boeckner arranged a tasting party for six Canadian friends in Berlin.

“They said it was just like home,” Boeckner said, holding up a cellphone video of a woman declaring: “The cheese is perfect. The gravy is perfect. You nailed it.”

Riding on this poutine positivity, he served it to staff at a Canadian Embassy event in June. More accolades. He then teamed up with a Canadian craft brewer to hold a Canada Day event at a Berlin beer garden: “We posted the event on Facebook and mentioned poutine. It seemed all people wanted was to eat poutine.”

The event drew about 500 people, mostly Canadians, Boeckner said. He sold out of 80 kilograms of fries within 2.5 hours.

Last November, Bauernkase­rei Wolters began selling 250-gram packages of cheese curds online for

€ 5.48 ($7.62) plus shipping. He doesn’t have any sales numbers yet, but Boeckner has heard excited reactions from Canadians in Berlin.

In February, a restaurant in the northwest part of Berlin began offering poutine using his cheese (the restaurant offers altered versions such as the “Frida Kahlo” with curds, jalapenos, guacamole and chicken on top of tortilla chips).

Berlin resident Patrick Beaudette, who was born in B.C. but has lived in Montreal, heard about the cheese and ordered a kilo.

“I refuse to use mozzarella,” said Beaudette, who is in the city finishing up his PhD in molecular biology. “(Boeckner’s cheese) has everything it should have: the mild flavour, it’s salty and the squeak.”

Boeckner is determined to spread the poutine joy among Germans as his business grows. This spring he hopes to open a poutine-focused shop, which doesn’t exist yet in Berlin.

“Germans love fries, cheese and gravy. They just haven’t had that combinatio­n yet. They will like it. I know.”

 ?? THE POUTINE KITCHEN ?? The Poutine Kitchen’s Holger Boeckner partnered with a German dairy producer to make the perfect squeaky cheese for his poutines.
THE POUTINE KITCHEN The Poutine Kitchen’s Holger Boeckner partnered with a German dairy producer to make the perfect squeaky cheese for his poutines.

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