Ancestors of the Canadienne cattle first arrived in Quebec between 1608 and 1610, traveling from the Normandy and Brittany regions of France. These cows were selected for hardiness and their ability to produce in the harsh environment of the New World. The Canadienne were the only dairy breed to be developed in North America. They remained very popular in Canada and the Northeastern United States until the early 1800s. Although selected to survive the rugged climates, their characteristics were not favored by most dairy producers. The introduction of larger European cattle breeds and ensuing industrialization of agriculture led to the breed’s threatened extinction by the late 1800s.
The Canadienne are also known as the Black Jerseys. They are a medium-sized breed averaging 1,000 pounds and are typically dark in color. Canadienne are known for being hardy and producing high-quality milk on low-quality forage. They are long-lived producers, often calving into their teens.
The Canadienne is critically endangered, with a global population estimated between 1,000 and 3,000 animals. Small herds are located in Canada, the U.S. and France, with most of the cattle found in the province of Quebec.
Canadienne Dairy Production
A new cheese made exclusively with milk from Canadienne cows: “Le 1608”
In the fall of 2007, Laiterie Charlevoix, a small dairy operation in Quebec, began developing a new cheese made exclusively using milk from Canadienne cattle. This artisanal cheese, called “Le 1608,” utilizes traditional methods of collection, processing and aging – resulting in a semi-soft, pale yellow cheese with a sharp orange rind. It was originally developed to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the settlement of Quebec and the arrival of the Canadienne cow to North America.