The uniqueness of Canada's Québec Province—with its old world charm and new world creativity—is only topped by its renowned cuisine. While many people may have visited quaint Québec City, the culinary culture truly begins in the bucolic "Eastern Townships," where all the local ingredients are cultivated. So, as any gourmand worth his/her salt would say, "Let's go to the source." A three-night tour of the villages and towns—each with their own specialties—will introduce you to the pleasures of the palette.
Start with a cider making tour, tasting and lunch at Les Vergers de la Colline, where since 1927 the Lasnier Family has been passing down their secrets for exceptional brews made from the emblematic fruit of Québec: the apple. We found this elixir to be a great pairing for almost any course on their menu, especially their Cheese Lasagna.
Next, you should stop at Savon des Cantons and Gourmet par Nature, where you will get an education on what makes their soaps and food products so special (the secret is 70 percent olive oil, shh). Plus, they will organize a soap-making experience that will probably change the way you lather up. Afterwards, don't forget to visit Fromagerie La Station, a family-owned, organic farm that offers cheese made from their own raw cow's milk. Their specialty is rind-washed, French-inspired variants, with our favorite being the Raclette—a slightly sweet, nutty cheese that is great in a grilled sandwich.
Following the dairy trail is Laiterie de Coaticook Ltée, one of the largest ice cream manufacturers in Québec. Their selections include local ingredients, with "Maple Chip and Caramel" being a current favorite. Top off the afternoon at Domaine Ive Hill, where their blackberry aperitifs and artisanal products include jams, jellies, vinegars and honey, all highlighting the locally-cultivated berries from which they are made.
Maybe snuggle in for the night at Ripplecove Lakefront Hotel in Scenic Ayer's Cliff, where the full-service boutique hotel and spa offers great views of the lake and tons of fun activities, like kayaking and cycling. Their restaurant, Le Riverain, offers prix-fixe menus that feature locally-sourced dishes like the pork flank appetizer and the current "in season" fish (we had the striped bass). Both dishes were skillfully executed and paired with wine selections from Le Riverain's impressive cellar, including some of Canada's finest.
If you stop by Le Pleasant Hotel et Café, a 20th century Victorian in the artistic village of Sutton, you'll find modern rooms and a fantastic menu helmed by Chef Nicholas Normandeau. The chef uses local ingredients to create unique menu items like the "Salade de Tomates des Cantons" (made with olive tapenade and feta), which was the best we have ever tasted. The Salmon Tartare with Lemon and Caper Vinaigrette, Diced Red Apple and Pickled Shallots was also a standout, while the "Arctic Char, Quinoa and Ratatouille Salad" was light, ethereal and soul satisfying.
Once you check out of the hotel, make a stop at Union Libre Cidre et Vin. Their fire and ice production of ciders takes this beverage to new levels of refinement. Their tour, tasting room and products are definitely worth a visit. Then when you're done sampling the cider, cross the highway to Vignoble de L'Orpailleur, a winery near the American border where a large array of variances from Québec are produced. Their Sparkling Brut made in the "Methode Traditionelle" of French champagne is especially refined and refreshing, garnering national and international acclaim.
After a wine tasting, dine at the adjacent Tire–Bouchon Restaurant where the chef presents locally-sourced products prepared with sauces made from the winery.
This brief culinary journey of the Eastern Townships of Québec Province is just an introduction to the cornucopia of artisanal products made with love by the passionate locals. Your journey of discovery has just begun!