This summer has been one more for wine sipping on the screened porch (given all the rain!) rather than tripping to winery visits.
One weekend, I hopped in my car for an adventure to Quebec’s Eastern Townships. My discovery involved stocking up on delicious Ontario and Quebec artisan cheeses and a lovely Quebec Rose wine.
Our cheese trip started with visits to Glengarry Cheesemaking new facility near Lancaster (Ontario), and l’Abbaye Saint-Benoit-du-Lac, where a congregation of Benedictine monks whose practices include a range of agricultural endeavors, including cheese-making.
We headed down Highway 417 on one of the overcast July days, looking for the exit to highway 34, leading to Alexandria and Lancaster. The rain held off, and just before we arrived at Lancaster (literally at the access to the 401) we found Glengarry’s facility and shop. The shop includes a great display counter with the many varieties of pasteurized cow cheese they produce, other local delicacies such as dried apples chips, as well as windows looking upon the cheese-making facilities. We tasted a wide range of cheeses, each one seemingly more appetizing than the last. While we enjoyed all of them, I’ll mention in particular:
Figaro – yes, it made me feel like singing! It is a buttery, delicately flavored, melt-in-your-mouth cheese that was delightful on a crisp cracker – or on one of those slightly sweet apple crisps. Left out on the counter that evening for 15 minutes before serving, it was literally like butter!
Alexandran – named for the local area, it’s a washed rind semi-soft cheese with a lovely nutty flavor. Serve it on its own or with some dried fruits and a nice glass of port.
Barely Blue – this delicate blue cheese was a big hit. Its firm texture, delicate veining and characteristic flavor. This would be a great match with an apple ice wine, perhaps from La Face Cachee de la Pomme, located near Hemmingford, Quebec.
After fighting our way through Montreal’s ‘big dig’ traffic jam (is every bridge under construction?), we meandered along back roads of the Eastern Townships until we found our way to l’Orpailleur, located just outside the town of Dunham. A pioneer in the Quebec wine industry, the winery was founded in 1982 by two daring Frenchmen – Herve Durand and Charles-Henri de Coussergues – and their Quebecois partner, Frank Furtado. By hilling up the vines in the winter, they were able to ensure their survival and, in 1985, produced their first vintage. The tasting room reminds me of a rustic Quebec country home, with large maples overhanging the wraparound veranda. Once inside we were warmly welcomed and invited to visit the small wine museum. We tasted a number of l’Orpailleur (it means gold gatherer) wines, including their fabulous rose produced from a blend of hybrid grapes and a sweet white wine produced from Seyval Blanc, called Vin de Marquise. Recently, we sipped the l’Orpailleur Rose wine with friends as we sat on the deck enjoying our mid-August heat wave.
The next day, we were determined to visit l’Abbaye Saint-Benoit-du-Lac and its local shop. The Abbey was founded in the early 1900s by monks escaping anti-clerical laws in France. The original building was completed in 1941, and includes incredible brick and tile work. According to the material at the monastery, Saint Benedict said that to be a true monk, man must live by the work of his hands. The work of the monks of Saint-Benoit-du-Lac includes a cheese factory (in operation since 1943), an orchard, a cider factory, a farm and a store, which is open to the public. After visitng the site and listening to the monks lyrical chants, we wandered through the store, which was practically mobbed by avid shoppers. Not only were the famous cheeses available, but also cider, homemade pies and tarts, honey, preserves and a variety of products from other monastic orders in Quebec. Of the cheeses, we purchased a range including l’Ermite, their savory blue cheese, Frere Jacques, a mild washed rind soft cheese, and Le Moine, a Gruyere-style cheese.
We came away with bags of cheeses for ourselves and our hosts, and then sat down on a veranda overlooking Lake Memphramagog to sip l’Orpailleur Rose and sample our purchases. Sipping local wine & nibbling on artisan cheese – there is no better way to spend a afternoon!
If you want a nice little overnight or weekend getaway, consider a trip to the Eastern Townships, with a stop in Lancaster on the way. In addition to l’Orpailleur, there are number of other wineries in the area, as well as lovely inns, spas and restaurants. Like Ontario’s Prince Edward County, the Eastern Townships is an easy drive from Ottawa, and a gourmand’s paradise. Contact me if I can help you plan a wine and cheese trip.