The Montreal Highlights Festival offers up something for just about everyone, at any age, for any budget. The 2007 edition was no disappointment. This is the only fest that combines gourmet dining from visiting chefs in some of Montreal’s finest eateries with dance, theatre, performance art, family fun in a fantastically decorated old port and an evening of all-night activities.
As covering every event of this jam-packed festival would require us to print an edition the size of the city’s phone book, we decided instead to visit the festival’s audacious ground zero in the Old Port of Montreal to take in its effervescent sights and carefully sequenced sounds.
The site, spanning the quay of the port and up into Jacques Cartier square, was literally transformed from its dull and dirty wintry grey into a wonderland of vibrant colours, light, life and activities. Unlike other major Groupe Spectra-sponsored festivals such as the Jazz fest or Francofolies, family fun is the cornerstone of this festival. Even at 8 pm on a Saturday night, kids dominated the landscape of this festival site, playing soccer in the snow, skating with mom and dad, sliding and dancing.
From a distance, the site was visually overwhelming. Two large geodesic dome structures were set amid endless windblown blue, orange, yellow and red fabrics fastened to various poles. The site definitely had a Cirque de Soleil vibe between the music, flowing colours and street performers.
As we approached the domes, it became apparent that one, comprised of a metal structure and numerous heating lamps, was there to warm up festival-goers. The other, much larger, dome was actually an indoor bar and dance facility covered with white fabric. Throughout the night, alternating crowd shots and flames were projected on the fabric dome so whether one was inside or outside, the projections could be seen. At one point our accompanying photographer, Josh Dobbs, said that it felt like being in a “Hell simulator,” only without that nasty burning flesh problem.
Right beside the dome facilities was a large-scale set of “jolly-jumper” bungee harnesses for both children and adults to go for a bounce. As the line up for this attraction was intimidatingly long, we pressed on amid the outdoor fire pits and sausage and marshmallow roasting stands to take in what the crowd was clamouring to see in Jacques Cartier Square.
The most breathtaking aspect of these outdoor festivities had to be the ice slide that started atop the hill and careened down the slope of the square. Comprised of hundreds of carefully cut slabs of ice, it was both an ambitious ice sculpture and a roller coaster ice slide for kids and adults alike. Patrons packed themselves onto little blue sleds to whiz down at alarming speeds to roars of delight and much to the amazement of onlookers.
At 8:30 every night from Thursday through Saturday the sky was ablaze with fantastic fireworks. Exploding into angel-like patterns, in a spectacular array of colours, the display seemed to go on endlessly and made for a delectable cherry on top of one of the most attractive and well planned festivals this city has ever seen!Cheesey delights
With our visual, auditory and tactile senses satiated by our visit to the old port, there left but one sense to be tantalized by this festival: taste! We chose to take in the Festival of Quebec Cheeses held at Complexe Desjardins. The idea behind this event was to showcase the various delectable delights that are made here in Quebec.
Our first sampling was a semi-soft cheese called Zurigo by Fritz Kaiser, produced in Montérégie. It is creamy in texture and has a lovely bouquet: this cheese melted in our mouths and whetted our appetites for more. Also up for tasting by Fritz Kaiser was the spectacular Raclette du Griffon, which rivals any of the likes from France.
Next up, we hit the Abbaye de Saint-Benoît-du-Lac table that featured an interesting take on Swiss cheese. The Saint-Augustin Swiss Cheese had the most deceiving appearance with its bright orange colour and much softer texture than a traditional Swiss. This cheese had all of the flavour robustness of a Swiss but its milder texture made it an absolute delight.
We then headed over to the Fromagerie La Station Compton table to sample their delights. The stand-out product at this table was the “Comtomme,” the town of Compton’s Tomme, a semi-soft washed rind of raw cow milk that they produce all year long. With a morsel in mouth, the only thing that came to mind was how wonderfully this cheese would accompany a nice glass of red wine or port, perhaps as an after-dinner delight.
The St-Coeur de Marie Camembert was lovely and chewy, reinforced with Omega 3 and made with raw milk. It was the only product available at the show that was made with 66% good fat. Creamy and smooth with sharp notes, this cheese is sure to please any Camembert fan.
The Suisse Saint-Fidèle from Fromagerie Saint-Fidèle offered up both light and aged versions of their products and for the most partwere “best in show,” in our opinion. Washed in apple cider, faint notes of the fruit were detectable within the cheese and were a spectacular accompaniment as would be apples on the same platter.
The Fromagerie L’Ancêtre was the last table we visited to sample their organic, lactose-free products and they featured a mozzarella, medium cheddar, aged cheddar and Parmesan. Initially the idea of lactose-free cheese was reminiscent of health food gone wrong. But much to the amazement of our taste buds, all of these products were excellent. All four cheeses could easily compete with standard supermarket.
This cheese fest ran from Thursday through Sunday for two weeks and did wonders for promoting home made products. The one thing this fest missed was the wine to go along with our sampling, which could have made for absolute perfection.
To find our more about the cheeses featured in this article and for a full list of Quebec’s fine cheeses, go to http://www.fromagesdid.ca