Cochons tout ronds : Every Year Is the Year of the Pig
From Burgundy to the Eastern Townships, via the Îles de la Madeleine, the career of Patrick Mathey, owner of Les Cochons tout ronds, is that of a pioneer. At the honourable age of 70, the man who gave its credentials to artisanal charcuterie in Québec continues to look after his business, which has been a Jean-Talon Market staple for the last twenty years.
After 55 years working in the kitchen, Patrick Mathey would have every right to slow down to reminisce. However, he’s still resolutely turned to the future: the impending projects for Les Cochons tout ronds, the holiday home he wants to build in Îles de la Madeleine, the upcoming handing down of his business to his son and partners…
It takes a bit of prodding to discover that his culinary journey began at age 14 when he started his apprenticeship in the kitchen of a brasserie in Dijon, France. For four years, he learned the ropes, an expertise that would serve him well in kitchens on both sides of the Atlantic.
“It was the kind of place where we made everything ourselves, from bread to andouillettes. When I left, I knew how to make prosciutto, blood pudding, sausage, salami… I’ve been making charcuterie ever since in my restaurants,” he says in his unique accent, a blend of his French origins and five decades spent in Québec.
It should be noted that Patrick Mathey was born into the right family. Two of his uncles were butchers, while his grandmother from Spain introduced him to the delights of charcuterie at a very early age. Chinese astrology buffs might believe that he was born in the Year of the Pig!
From One Island to Another
Patrick Mathey first came to Montréal for the 1976 Olympic Games as chef for the French women’s team. That’s when he decided to settle in the Belle Province. Good fortune was on his side: within a few days, he landed a job and met the woman who would become the mother of his two boys.
That’s when the restaurant venture begins, first in Montréal, then in Havre-Aubert, Îles de la Madeleine, where he also became an innkeeper.
It’s primarily for a practical reason that Les Cochons tout ronds was born in Îles de la Madeleine in the late 1990s. At the time, the tourist season lasted barely six weeks, so Patrick thought he’d better find something to keep him busy throughout the winter! He also wanted to help out his cheesemaker friend and first partner, Vincent Lalonde, owner of Fromagerie Pied-de-Vent, who had no purpose for the 500 litres of whey he had on his hands every day. “We weren’t going to drink it ourselves,” says Patrick Mathey, deadpan.
The duo had the idea of using this whey to feed a few pigs which Patrick transformed into prosciutto and sausage. From twenty pigs, the livestock soon grew to several hundred carefully raised hogs.
The work of the artisans was quickly noticed. In 2000, Les Cochons tout ronds opened in Jean-Talon Market and sales increased significantly. Word-of-mouth also started spreading internationally. His Culatello di Zibello, a salted, dried and tied raw ham that is particularly hard to produce, was awarded the Culatello d’Oro in the Parma region of Italy. Its blood sausage also won a gold medal at the Mondial du Boudin.
Prosciutto, sausages, ham, bacon, pâtés and cretons: pork meat becomes simply sublime in the hands of Patrick Mathey who has developed his own recipes often inspired by Italian and Spanish techniques. Time also has its say, since a good ham can age for two years before it is finally put on the shelves.
“We never cut corners. We have always worked with beautiful, simple, 100% natural products. We take the best of the pig to make the best sausage, while others often take the worst,” replies Patrick Mathey when asked how he explains the success of Les Cochons tout ronds.
Back to the Mainland
But success also has its drawbacks. “We needed to produce more but couldn’t keep up. We were forced to buy hogs elsewhere and eventually had to give up breeding,” says Patrick.
The company’s expansion also compromised its Îles de la Madeleine anchorage … In 2014, Les Cochons tout ronds moved to Racine, in the Eastern Townships, in a completely refurbished plant, right next to a slaughterhouse.
“We got out of the Îles because things were getting too complicated: the hogs were raised on the mainland, slaughtered in Racine, then were taken to Montréal to travel by ship to Îles de la Madeleine, where they were transported by truck to get to us,” recalls the entrepreneur, who figures the whole process was costing several tens of thousands of dollars.
Not to mention the fact that once Patrick’s prosciuttos and sausages were produced, they had to be sent back to the mainland in order to reach the entrepreneurs’ main market. In the end, it’s without nostalgia that Patrick Mathey left the archipelago to start afresh.
The company will take another turn in a few years when Bruno, Patrick’s 26-year-old son, a Madelinot, takes over Les Cochons tout ronds. But the founder has no intention to let go of his business anytime soon. “I’m in the process of retiring, but I still manage a few things,” says the Burgundian by birth. “In fact, I’m not sure I’ll ever retire. Bruno doesn’t know it yet, but he’s stuck with me for another 20 years!”
Quick Questions to Patrick Mathey
A specialty that is a must from your shop?
Prosciutto. It’s the best you can find in Montréal, in Canada, in North America! I have no qualms about saying so!
How would you describe the atmosphere of the market in a few words?
Jean-Talon Market is exceptional. It’s bustling, it’s crowded, it’s vibrant… There’s no place like it in Québec.
What motivates you to get up so early in the morning?
This job is our life. When you love what you do, you don’t mind getting up on Sundays to go to work!
Text by Benoit Valois-Nadeau, Caribou magazine
Photos by Daphné Caron
Producers, merchants and artisans together make up the Montréal Public Markets’ extended family. For years, often for generations, they’ve been getting up early, experimenting, sometimes starting over, nurturing, harvesting and flourishing! Day after day, they stand proudly behind their stalls as if by their own dining-room table, inviting us to feast. They’re the heart and soul of the markets – their very essence – and the reason we keep coming back. The Family Portrait series aims to pay tribute to all the pillars of our public markets.
Ce projet a été financé par le ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation dans le cadre du Programme d’appui au développement de l’agriculture et de l’agroalimentaire en région.