East of Montreal, a bucolic landscape awaits your appetite
Montrealers have long escaped to the nearby Eastern Townships for vacations and weekend getaways.
Known as the Cantons de l’Est in French, the Townships were once an English-speaking region described as “well-heeled cottagers and gentlemen farmers.” Today they’re increasingly the source of those local delicacies you see all over Montreal’s markets. Want to see where it all comes from? Take a drive about an hour east of the city, and you’ll find yourself in a land of rolling hills, epicurean delights and Quebec’s fledgling wine country.
At the invitation of Quebec’s tourism board, I took a journey through the Eastern Townships to experience the most delicious experiences to be found there. Below, follow along with the dégustation …
Brome and Dunham
The first night of my little getaway was spent at Auberge & Spa West Brome. With cows grazing nearby, I strolled to the on-site Bistro West Brome for dinner, revelling in the beauty and the fresh, crisp air.
In the dining room tomatoes decorate the tables, some nearly the size of your head. The so-called “potage” (soup) garden, growing 80 varieties of organic vegetables and fine herbs, provide the chef with produce needed for daily menus. The soup of tomato vichyssoise puts to use the abundant tomatoes, coupled with the fresh cod entrée (served with massive shrimps) leaves me rather full.
Dinner at Auberge & Spa West Brome
This is where I get my first taste of Quebec wines. At first, I can’t say the wine overly impresses, as it seems too acidic to my taste. But the next day my opinion changes as I’m introduced to two wineries in Dunham, Vignoble de l’Ophailleur and Union Libre Cidre & Vin. Their locally produced wines have yet to reach connoisseurs and markets outside of Quebec, but I see that changing in the near future.
Union Libre is the first cider maker to produce “fire cider”, using heat concentration – a process similar to the way maple syrup is made. The end result is a sweet cider that’s simply delicious. Union Libre also produces a sparkling cider. Four owners with a passion for producing the finest ciders in Quebec formed the company in 2010; after tasting, I knew they had reached their goal.
The orchard at Union Libre
Across the street at the vineyards of Vignoble De L’Orphailleur, the tasting rooms to sample the crisp L’Orpailleur gris. One of their most popular sellers is the L’Orpailleur Rosé Vintage which was out of stock, but luckily, was available for lunch at the restaurant adjoining the winery, called The Tire Bouchon.
This wine was refreshing, lovely for a sunny afternoon outdoor lunch – it nicely complemented our charcuterie and cheese starter. Vignoble De L’Orphailleur is definitely doing something right as most of its wines have won numerous Canadian wine awards.
At another winery, Domaine Les Brome
The next day starts in Compton, about an hour and a half east of Dunham, with a visit to Fromagerie La Station. A cheese dairy with a visitor’s boutique inside a mustard yellow house, La Station produces some of the area’s most beloved cheeses, including Alfred Le Fermier, Hatley and a soft, creamy one called The Comtomme).
Alfred le Fermier, in particular, is the big seller; patrons continually return for tastings and purchases of a cheese described as having a “woodsy aroma [and] a flowery, hazelnut flavour” – perfect for the grilled cheese sandwich that the shop makes to order.
Straight outta Compton, it’s a cheese
Four generations of the Bolduc family have run this farm. Simon-Pierre Bolduc is the cheesemaker, while brother Martin manages day to day operations; Martin introduced us to the cows that produce the raw organic milk for the cheeses. Martin has a special call to prompt the cows to answer and come running – we can’t describe it; this is an experience to see firsthand.
Whoa, fellas, didn’t we say no gang colours?
From the cheesemaker, we head over to the orchards of Le Gros Pierre which grows 21 different varieties of apples, with names (we’re only given the French) including Belle d’Août, Pomme Blanche and Passionata. Visitors pick their own apples and take an open-air trolley ride. Just one bite of the delicious Primgold, a transplant from France, exposes an interior with sweet honey-coloured lines.
The eating doesn’t stop here. At the gift shop, I bite into a slice of pie made on the premises. The pastry isn’t flaky – the texture is rather tough, truth be told – it nevertheless tastes good (enough to wipe the plate clean). If you’re inclined you can see, first hand, the pie making and apple sorting operations in the back of the building. It’s fun to watch how the apple-sorting machine works – it’s reminiscent of that I Love Lucy episode involving chocolates and a conveyor belt.
We finish the day 20 minutes away in Bromont, at Hotel Château-Bromont and enjoy a drink with executive chef Mirsad Basic at Quatre Canards. Chef Basic’s philosophy of using locally sourced ingredients fits well with this region; he maintains a vegetable garden on the property and leans heavily on products sourced from local suppliers.
Lake Brome duck is featured on the menu along with regional cheeses, berries, and meats (the Angus beef filet is sublime). These local ingredients inform the dishes. If I wasn’t impressed enough by filet de boeuf angus and accompaniments, I was sold by the follow-up deserts – a work of art, all leaving me well-sated. It was a lucky thing I had an extremely comfortable room to retire to.
A few more spots for edible souvenirs
If you have a sweet tooth, before you leave the region put Le Musée du Chocolat de Bromont on the visit list. Michelle Bilodeau has been running this established for more than 25 years. It’s part museum, part shop and part café, where you can sip the creamiest hot chocolate and sample chocolates from the store’s offerings. The museum part features exhibits and antiquities relating to the early production of chocolate confectionery – and extremely large chocolate sculptures.
Savon des Cantons: Shop for natural soap or you can make your own.
Microbrasserie la Memphré: Located in Magog, featuring artisanal beers using natural ingredients.