The Origins of OKA
In the afternoon of February 18, 1893, Frère Alphonse Juin knocked on the door of the Oka Abbey in Deux-Montagnes, Quebec. The struggling monastery was in desperate need of a way to make ends meet, and the 50-year-old monk from Entrammes, France, was a godsend with a solution: the secret recipe for the award-winning Port-du-Salut cheese.
In the stone caves below the Abbey, Frère Juin set up a simple workshop. Milk from local cows was mixed with a well-guarded list of ingredients in big, iron pots. Without a thermometer to work with, the monk would occasionally dip his finger into the mix and, when it was heated just right, motion to his apprentice to remove the pot from the fire.
The cheese was then poured into molds, washed with a secret solution, and left to ripen on special cypress planks imported from South Carolina.
Thanks to the unique natural resources of the area and Frère Juin’s ability to distribute the Abbey’s wares, OKA cheese became an astounding success—winning first prize at the Montreal Exhibition in 1893 and again at the Quebec Exhibition the following year.
For almost three-quarters of a century, the monks at Oka Abbey continued to support themselves with their renowned OKA cheese. But changing times and a commitment to their vows of simplicity and poverty led the monks to decide that it was time to pass their secret on.
Since 1981, Agropur has been in charge of the production of OKA. It is still made in the very same cellars on the Abbey grounds using the same well-guarded recipe passed down from Frère Juin. In fact, many of the monk’s original religious artifacts still adorn the cellar walls, keeping watch over new hands practicing a century-old trade.
Celebrate Canada’s very first fine cheese and taste the tradition firsthand.