A little while ago I got the chance to spend some time in the Laurentians region in Quebec, an incredibly diverse region with something for everybody with 6 Quebec Farm to Table Discoveries: Chemin du Terroir.
After leaving Montreal you’re greeted with the flat open spaces of Mirabel which lends itself quite nicely to farming. Take a turn off the highway and you find yourself heading up into the mountains where you’ll find resorts that cater to the winter lovers with their gorgeous ski hills.
After spending two days in Mont Tremblant, we headed down to Mirabel which is known for their agricultural tourism, and meant more food in my belly.
What to Do
Bois de Belle-Rivière Regional Park
Our first stop was at the Bois de Belle-Rivière regional park in Mirabel where we met up with Mr. Stéphane Michaud, the park’s General Manager. Stéphane was the consummate host, welcoming us and then giving us a complete tour of the park all the while telling us about the amenities available to visitors. From disk golf to cottage rentals to ponds stocked with trout to horseback riding, this park has it all.
Quebec Farm to Table Discoveries in the Lower Laurentians
1. Mirabel Quebec Maple Festival | Mirabel Fête l’Érable du Québec
The main reason we were at the park was to participate in the Mirabel Fête l’Érable du Québec, loosely translated to the Mirabel Quebec Maple Festival, which was basically a celebration of all things maple syrup. Part of the festival was the many stalls that visiting vendors had set up, there to showcase their products many of which, of course, were made with maple syrup.
One of the really interesting things we saw were the old and new sugar shacks. For those who aren’t familiar, a sugar shack is where maple water is brought to be boiled down to produce maple syrup. In the olden days maple trees were tapped and then the water would drip into pails which would then need to be collected. In the modern shack there is no need for collecting pails. All the trees are tapped and then have tubes attached which then goes all the way to the sugar shack, eliminating the need for collecting.
2. La Tournée des Chefs Goûtez le Québec
We also had the opportunity to be part of La Tournée des Chefs Goûtez le Québec. This event consisted of chefs from various restaurants creating amuse-bouche sized bites. One of my favourites was the foie gras with a little blueberry compote on pancakes. I’m a sucker for foie gras so it’s no surprise that I wanted to keep this tray completely to myself. I have no shame in admitting that I didn’t want to share.
Chemin du Terroir
The next day we headed out to traverse the “Chemin du Terroir”. This is a signposted trail that took us through more than 226 kilometres of country backroads where we stopped in at four family owned and operated farms.
3. Les Serres Stéphane Bertrand
Our first stop was at Les Serres Stéphane Bertrand, the largest producer of pink tomatoes in Quebec. All of their tomatoes are grown hydroponically in massive New Holland glass greenhouses which allow for year-round production of four million kilos of tomatoes per year.
This company is committed to reducing greenhouse gases, so much so that half of a $15M investment in 2015 went towards upgrading their heating system to use residual biomass rather than one that would run on natural gas. Combine that with the use of heat shields, insulated walls and polycarbonate and glass materials and they prevent as much carbon dioxide that’s emitted from 2400 cars from entering the atmosphere.
A tour of the greenhouses allowed us to see how the tomatoes are cultivated, picked, sorted, and packed, all by hand. During the tour we were given some tomatoes to try right off the vine. I know you’re going to ask and the answer is yes, it did taste much better than the ones we buy in the grocery stores at home.
Our second stop on the Chemin du Terroir was at Intermiel. Owners Viviane and Christian Macle, teachers in their previous lives, started Intermiel in 1976. Christian, who had been passionate about beekeeping since his childhood, bought the property and the couple transformed it into a bee farm over time. They started it off with about 100 beehives and have grown since then to around 10,000 today.
Annually they welcome more than 100,000 visitors. Drawing on the teaching background Viviane and Christian have also created educational programs where both children and adults can learn about the whole honey making process, which includes the chance to don a full beekeeper’s outfit and assist a beekeeper in opening up a hive. The thing that I will always remember is the loud buzzing that came from the hive as we removed the top.
Along with their award winning honey, Intermiel also produces some delicious honey based wines and mead, a liquor made by fermenting honey, water and various spices.
5. La Roche des Brises
We weren’t done with wine tasting as our next stop on the tour was at La Roche des Brises. The vineyard, which is in in St-Joseph-du-Lac, has about 37,500 grape vines. This vineyard benefits from an exceptional micro-climate, being both close to lake Deux-Montagnes and sheltered by mountains. Many of their wines have won awards and you can taste them all in their gorgeous wood panelled tasting room.
6. Vergers Lafrance
Our last stop was at Verger Lafrance. Three generations of apple growers have worked to make this one of the largest apple orchards in the region. This establishment is an orchard, a cider house, a boutique and a distillery all under one roof where the apple is the star of the show. Apple picking is offered from the end of July right through to October but the bar is open year round where you can sample many of their apple based liquors. I was able to sample some of their apple cider vermouth, and boy was that tasty.
All in all the experience of driving the Chemin du Terroir and visiting just some of the independently owned businesses was quite enjoyable. Meeting the owners and hearing their stories of how they built their business from the ground up to the international successes they are today was quite inspirational.
What was even more enjoyable was how accessible they all were. Stéphane Bertrand sat and ate tomato sandwiches with us at lunch, Gina Pratt from La Roche des Brises walked us through our wine tasting, and Eleanor Macle, Viviane’s daughter, was our personal tour guide at Intermiel.
If you’re ever in the Lower Laurentians, I highly suggest experiencing Quebec Farm to Table Discoveries along the Chemin du Terroir 226 kilometre “trail” and searching out some of these places. You’re bound to meet some fascinating people, enjoy some fantastic local products, and learn a lot about the heritage of the land and people..
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This post was written by contributor Davindra Ramnarine, of Goat Roti Chronicles, on behalf of This Lil Piglet.
Davindra, a food and travel writer from Mississauga, Ontario shares his love of food, the food industry and his travels along the way.
Disclosure: I was invited by Destination Québec to experience the area and epicurean festival for an honest review. All opinions are 100% my own or that of my contributors.