Québec has a lot to savor; from Montréal’s cosmopolitan eateries to its rustic chic country auberges, Québec has become a gourmand paradise.
To explore the country’s culinary core, depart Montréal and set out along Québec’s back roads where die-hard foodies and the culinary curious will find the sources of Montréal’s locavore food movement – the culinary regions of Lanaudiére (www.lanaudiere.ca/en) and Mauricie (www.tourismemauricie.com ). Both agricultural regions have a variety of farms, ranches, sugar shacks and food producers. All are easy to find thanks to local food trail maps and signage like those found in Lanaudiére.
Drive through Lanaudiére and follow the oval red signs marked Chemins de Campagne posted along the roadside. Each marks the location of one of Lanaudiere’s authentic food producers and purveyors, for example, La Terre des Bisons (www.terredesions.com), a French-Canadian buffalo and elk ranch. La Terre des Bisons provides fresh meat to local chefs, as well as gourmet items for sale to visitors. Step inside the shop and sample its famous bison rillettes, a gourmet treat best described a rustic paté made with shredded bison meat and spices.
Down the road in nearby Sainte-Marcelle-de Kildare you’ll fine Simon Turcotte, who turned his childhood affection for homemade jams into a thriving cottage business (www.confiturier.ca). Simon specializes in unique spread blends that combine locally grown fruits and herbs. Top sellers are rose jelly with wild raspberry, strawberry with Chinese 5-spice and Simon’s most popular fruit spread, pear, vanilla and grapefruit. As one browses the shop Simon happily helps customers consider serving options beyond spreading his jams on toasts — recommending instead whisking into a sauce or as a side served with artisan cheese.
Nearby Vignoble Saint-Gabriel, an expansive vineyard covering the hillsides just outside Kildare, produces wines from the 10 different varietals of grapes. Sample and enjoy a glass while strolling the vineyards and touring its adjacent Saint-Gabriel’s Antique Tractor Museum, which houses 60 plus vintage tractors dating from the 1930s – 1950s
Transitioning from Lanaudiére to its neighboring culinary region of Mauricie. Located midway between Montréal and Québec City, Mauricie encompasses diverse landscapes from picturesque shorelines stretching along the St Lawrence and Saint Mauricie Rivers to its lush boreal forests. To immerse oneself in the area’s natural beauty, plan to stay at one of Québec’s luxurious auberges. The Auberge le Baluchon (www.baluchon.com) features outdoor actives such as hiking, biking and horse-drawn carriage rides, along with a full service spa gourmet restaurant overseen by award-winning chef Yan Gabriel Gauthier.
In addition to indulging the senses, such accommodations provide a convenient headquarters for day-tripping through Mauricie, convenient to vineyards and farms, including the lavender fields of Passion Lavande.
Mauricie’s signature food products include cherries, cheese and maple syrup. The Cherry Orchard, Le Temps des Cerises (www.letempsdescerises.ca) produces a wide selection of jams, sauces and dressings from its yearly cherry harvest. These items are available in its cozy gift shop attached to the Le Temps des Cerises restaurant, Le Cerisaie, where cherry soup, cherry relish-topped burgers and cherry beer are its menu standouts.
While wandering through Mauricie, plan a day to picnic with items purchased from shops and farmsteads like F.X. Pichet Fromagerie (www.fromageriefxpichet.com). F.X. Pichet Fromagerie is an organically managed dairy operated by Michel Pichet and his wife Marie-Claude Harvey whose dairy produces all the milk used in its cheeses, sold at its cheese shop a short drive away. The fromagerie’s most celebrated pick, the semi-firm, nutty flavored Baluchon, named the 2009 Grand Prix Champion by the Canadian cheese and dairy association.
Experiencing Quebec’s traditional foodways isn’t complete without a visit to a sugar shack. Cabane Sucre Chez Dany (www.cabanechezdany.com), located in Trois-Rivieres in the heart of Mauricie, preserves the traditional art of maple syrup making with demonstrations while offering historically inspired dinners where one can dine as people did in old Québec, circa 1800.
Cabene Sucre Chez Dany is housed in a reconstructed French-Canadian log cabin and welcomes the hungry daily for lunch and dinner. The sugar shack’s menu’s features French Canadian pea soup, meat pies, maple ham and maple snow taffy. All are served as an all-you-can-eat throwdown, complete with toe-tapping French-Canadian folk music. Before or after dinner take the trip to the sugar shack and grab and sample fresh made maple snow taffy.
Québec’s new food regions of Lanudiére and Mauricie are best visited from spring through fall. However, those coming to view maple sugaring, the season begins late winter to early spring. Pick the time of year you like best and be prepared to bring your appetite.
Previously published in Examiner.