Consider a trip to Montérégie, the agricultural territory on the south side of the St. Lawrence lowland, just outside of Montreal, midway between Quebec and Ottawa.
I toured the area recently, as a guest of the Department of Tourism of Quebec. Montérégie is an interesting blend of culture, heritage and agricultural tourism with lots outdoor activities, including hundreds of miles of bikeways. Consider touring — as we did — the cider mills, orchards and vineyards for tastings and to discover the owners’ passion for their libations and terrior. Each stop described below is unique in its facility and beverage making, and is welcoming in their own way.
We began our tour at Verger Labonté (2291, boul. Perrot, Notre-Dame-de-l’Île-Perrot; www.vergerlabonte.com) where the innovative proprietor Nathalie Gervais creates three corn mazes yearly, tailored to different age groups. She makes it into an educational game having visitors uncover hidden clues related to the current theme as they find their way through the mazes.
Visit her orchards to pick your own apples and pumpkins and to enjoy the mazes August through November. And be sure to sample her house made, moist, preservative-free apple muffins, also available in many Montreal supermarkets.
Next we began the cider route in this garden of Quebec, abundant in regional terroir products. You’ll find and sample still cider, sparkling ciders, apple liqueur wines, apple brandy and ice cider (also known as apple ice wine) — with each facility making it in different way. Some were made from apples frozen on the tree, others from apples frozen after being picked and others from apple juice frozen before being fermentied into wine.
In the Hemmingford region, we stopped at Cidrerie La Face Cachée de la Pomme (617, route 202, Hemmingford; www.lafacecachee.com) and met videographer turned cider-maker Francois Chartier, who wanted to create something world-class to represent the terrior of the region. His Neige apple ice “wines,” that have won many awards, was served at a state dinner in 2009 when President Obama visited Canada.
Neither he, nor those fabulous wines, should be missed.
Another nearby smaller cider producer who has roots in Brittany is Cidrerie artisanale du Minot (376, chemin Covey-Hill, Hemmingford; www.duminot.com). There you’ll meet Robert Demoy and see their old family press dating back to the 19th century that he and his wife brought with them.
Before continuing our tour, we stopped for lunch at Witsend Resto Pub 488, rue Frontière, Hemmingford (450) 247-3597 for their specialty of fresh fish and delicious chips ($15) served with a house salad with a maple vinaigrette.
Our next stops along the route were to sample the wines of Vignoble du Domaine St-Jacques (615, boul. Edouard-VII, Saint-Jacques-le-Mineur; www.domainest-jacques.com) andVignoble Morou (238, route 221, Saint-Cyprien-de-Napierville; www.vignoblemorou.com) before heading to dinner in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. At the latter — run by Yvon Roy an accountant turned winemaker and his about-to-retire wife — you can assist the estate picking grapes — and enjoying the food and wine of the region. It’s free, but you muse register in advance.
Resto Le Comptoir (700, rue Gadbois, Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu; www.restolecomptoir.ca) — open Wednesday through Saturday evenings only — has chef Jean-Mathieu Bouchard cooking his small plates – from Ardennes Pork Belly, leeks and cauliflower puree ($10) to my favorit,e a ethereal seared foie gras on bread putting ($18) – all unusual, tasty and made from local ingredients.
If you have kids with you, a stop at Ferme Guyon (1001, rue Patrick Farrar, Chambly, www.fermeguyon.com) is a must. They sell fresh foods, freshly baked goods, sundries and garden items. And it’s an educational farmhouse with a petting zoo, plus a butterfly arch with over 800 species of butterflies.
Fromagerie Au gré des Champs (400, rang Sait-Édouard, Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, www.augredeschamps.com) is not to be misses. It’s an organic farm selling their wonderful raw milk cheeses — Point-blanc, Gré Champs, D’Iberville, Monnoir, Péningouin — from a small cheese shop on the premises. All the milk is from their Brown Swiss cows.
Then head to a chocolate shop Chocolaterie Ody/Au Domaine des Petits Fruits (101 – 4e Rang Sud, Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu; www.domainepetitsfruits.net). Be sure to wander their beautiful grounds before continuing your tour to sample more cider and wine.
At Cidrerie Michel Jodoin (1130, Petite Caroline, Rougemont; www.micheljodoin.ca) — try their unusual roses — still, sparkling and the world’s only ice cider rose — made from red-flesh apples.
The most unusual tasting is at Domaine De Lavoie (100, rang de la Montagne, Rougemont; www.de-lavoie.com). Instead of just standing in a tasting room, they take you on a tour around the facility, offering a tasting at each spot along their route.
Our final dinner was at Restaurant L’Espiègle (1834, des Cascades, Saint-Hyacinthe; www.lespiegle.com) where — depending on the weather you can dine inside or out in a building that dates back to 1876, we dined on pork tenderloin, which is the specialty of the house.
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