Oka cheese is a Canadian cheese first made by Trappist monks who settled in Quebec in 1892. The monks had come from the Bellefontaine Abbey of France and were given about 865 acres near the Oka Calvary.
The Oka Calvary is built on the slopes of the Oka mountain and consists of stone sculptures representing the Stations of the Cross and Calvary, and three chapels, built from 1740 to 1744 by a Brittany Sulpician named Hamon Le Guen, a missionary to the area.
The Trappist monks built their monastery there, called the Oka Cistercian Trappist Monastery. They also established the Oka School of Agriculture, which they kept going until 1960.
It is their cheese that they became most famous for, and it won first prize at the Montreal Exhibition in its first year, and then the next year as well at the Quebec Exhibition.
Made from pasteurized cow’s milk, Oka is a creamy washed-rind cheese that is similar to French Trappist-style “Port du Salut.” It is a creamy semi-soft cheese, and slightly smelly, with a nice full flavor, more complex than the original Port-Salut. It has a slight pungency, sweetness, and smokiness, with a soft rubbery texture. The monks aged the cheese on cypress planks from South Carolina, which helped to absorb excess moisture while also helping to re-hydrate the cheese when needed, becoming a natural humidity controller. The rind is washed several times with a weak brine, which results in a dry brown crust.
Today, Oka cheese is made commercial, in small amounts, by Agropur, the largest dairy cooperative in Canada. Although it is made in a modern plant, it is still aged in the monastery’s cellars, which are close to the facility. It is the second favorite cheese in Canada next to Cheddar.
What is Port Salut?
The original cheese that Oka is based on, was no stretch for the monks of the Oka monastary. They were going by a recipe that had been handed down from the original Trappist monks of the Abbey of Notre Dame de Port-du-Salut, in Entrammes, who originally learned to make it in Switzerland. Port du Salut translates to “place of salvation.” This cheese is sometimes simply known as Trappist cheese, but also as Entrammes cheese.
It is soft and creamy and has a somewhat mild but pleasantly rich flavor, good for snacking with crackers or with fruit. It can aslo be used in cooking. The taste will vary of course, depending on where it is made. Trappist monks make it all over the world. It is even made in the state of Kentucky by some Trappist Cistercian’s at the Abbey of Gethsemani, as well as many other abbeys. The cheese will usually bear the stamp of the particular abbey by which it was made.
After World War II, in 1959, the rights were sold to a major creamery and now the name is used exclusively by Bel Brands. You can read more here.