Quebec starts branding campaign to ensure the world knows about poutine’s historic origins. Photo by Crispin Semmens/used under common license

Quebec starts branding campaign to ensure the world knows about poutine’s historic origins. Photo by Crispin Semmens/used under common license

The distinctly Canadian (or Quebecois) french fry pudding

Would poutine by another name taste as sweet?

Who doesn’t like a good poutine? That drippy, cheesy, artery clogging concoction has pleased every Canadian at one time or another.

But does enough of the world know about it?

The dairy industry in Quebec doesn’t think so, and on top of that they don’t think enough people know about its origins. Therefore they are looking to a branding campaign that will identify poutine distinctly with Quebec and Canada, the same way sushi is identified to Japan and pizza to Italy.

The cheese curds that are the signature ingredient of poutine are primarily made in Quebec, although the dairy industry wants to tag it with a Canadian identity as well..

According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, poutine first appeared in rural Quebec in the 1950s but didn’t become popular outside of La Belle Province until the 1990s. I know this because had I known of its existence any earlier, my university going self would have been chowing down on it after pub night.

Per the encyclopedia: In Warwick (near Victoriaville), Fernand Lachance of Café Ideal (later renamed Le Lutin qui rit) has said that he first added curds to fries at the request of Eddy Lainesse, a regular customer, in 1957. Lachance reportedly replied, “ça va te faire une maudite poutine!” (“that will make a damned mess!”), before serving up the concoction in a paper bag. The combination became popular, with diners customizing the dish by adding ketchup or vinegar. In 1963, Lachance began to serve the dish on a plate to contain the mess left on his tables. When customers complained that the fries grew cold too quickly on the plate, he doused the fries and curds with gravy to keep them warm.

Sounds reasonable, but Jean Paul Roy of Drummondville begs to differ. He informs the encyclopedia that he has been serving fries in a special sauce since 1958, in a dish he called patate-sauce. When he noticed that customers were adding cheese curds (he sold them in bags at his snack counter) to their fries, he added the dish to his regular menu under the name fromage-patate-sauce.

The word poutine itself is believed to have been derived from the English word for pudding. But poutine is a better name than French Fry Pudding.

In the 1970s, poutine appeared in New York and New Jersey in a dish known as disco fries. It was made with shredded mozzarella instead of curds, which would make Lachance and Roy curl up their Quebecois lips.

Since poutine is more and more popular, chefs have of course taken license with its original french fry, gravy and curd recipe.

How about candy poutine? This involves Kit Kat bars deep fried, slathered in granache caramel and topped with marshmallows.

There is of course jerk chicken poutine, foie graspoutine, pork, fennel and onion poutine, cheesy avocado bacon poutine, curried lentil poutine and a poutine hot dog.

Purists will tell you that the fries should be cooked in duck fat for a richer, meatier taste.

And back to the campaign to identify poutine as truly Canadian, which is what Sylvain Charlebois, a professor of Food distribution and food policy (!) at Dalhousie in Halifax says it is.

Many a Quebecois would beg to differ.

“Over the past few years poutine has become known as a Canadian dish, and it’s totally NOT a Canadian dish. It’s Québécois!” Thus says renowned chef Chuck Hughes of Montreal.

Hands off the poutine, rest of Canada!

So this campaign to brand poutine as distinctly Canadian and Quebecois still has a few lumps in the gravy to navigate. Just have to get Quebec and the rest of Canada to agree. Should be no problem.

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