Quebec’s Eastern Townships has historically been the place Montrealers escape to for vacations and weekend getaways. Just east of Montreal, about an hour’s drive and you’re in rolling hills and Quebec’s Wine Country, the heart of bucolic delights.
The first night of my little getaway was spent at Auberge & Spa West Brome. As I arrived the sun was beginning to set casting shadows on the brilliant fall foliage and the cows grazing nearby. I strolled to Bistro West Brome for dinner, reveling in the beauty and the fresh crisp air, realizing it has been 10 years since my last visit to the Eastern Townships.
In the dining room, tomatoes decorate the tables, some almost the size of my head. The ‘potage’ garden, with 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. This is where I get my first taste of Quebec Wines. I can’t say the wine overly impressed, as it seemed rather acidic to my taste. But the next day my opinion changes as I’m introduced to the Vignoble de l’Ophailleur and the Union Libre Cidre & Vin. These locally produced wines have yet to reach connoisseurs and markets outside of Quebec, but I see that changing in the near future.
At Union Libre Cidre & Vin in Dunham, I sip a delicious Fire Cider produced on their 75-acre property which is lined with apple orchards and vines. Union Libre is the first cider maker to produce “fire cider”, it uses the same process employed to make maple syrup. The end result is a sweet cider that’s simply delicious. They also produce Icewines and 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.
After Cider we cross the street to the vineyards of Vignoble De L’Orphailleur and 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 Tire Bouchon restaurant adjoining the winery. This wine was refreshing and perfect for a sunny afternoon outdoor lunch and totally complemented our Charcuterie and cheese starter. Vignoble De L’Orphailleur is definitely doing something right as most of their wines have won numerous awards – L’orpailleur Rosé Vintage recently won the Double Gold / All Canadian Wine Championship / 2016.
The next day starts with a visit to Fromagerie La Station, Compton, one of the top producers of quality cheese in the area – Alfred Le Firmier, Hatley and Comtomme (a soft creamy cheese). Alfred le Firmier, is the big seller and patrons continually return for tastings and purchases.
Four generations of the Bolduc family have run this farm where the cheese store and ripening rooms are located. Simon-Pierre Bolduc is the cheese maker, 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, which prompts the cows to answer and come running, thinking its time to head in, an experience to see firsthand. Back at the shop, we taste all three kinds of cheese, while Simon-Pierre and Martin rib each other to our amusement. There’s a strong connectivity within the family. My favourite cheese is the Alfred Le Firmier, which is aged for eight months on wooden boards; it has a floral and nutty texture, perfect for the grilled cheese sandwich the shop makes to order.
From the cheese maker, we head over to the apple orchards of Le Gros Pierre, Compton, where they grow 21 different varieties of apples with names like Belle d’Août, Pomme Blanche and Passionata . You can pick your own apples and take an open-air trolley ride, which I did. I hopped off the trolley to pick a few Primgold apples, one to eat and others to bring back with me. 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 Le Gros Pierre store, I bite into a slice of pie made on the premises. The pastry isn’t flakey, rather a tough texture, but it tastes good, no trouble wiping 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 – reminds me of that episode of “I Love Lucy” picking chocolates off a conveyor belt. Some apples are packed into bags for sale, while others are fed into a machine to be sliced for pies.
If you’re in the mood for apple chips, apple sorbet (made by Que du Bonheur) or even a single serving of apple pie with chocolate ganache, le Gros Pierre has you covered.
We finish the day at Hotel Chateau Bromont and 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. Lac Brome Canard is featured on the menu along with local cheeses, berries, and meats. These all form the basis of his creations. When you eat at Quatre Canard you are basically eating all the regional food groups. If I wasn’t impressed enough by filet de boeuf angus and accompaniments I was thrown by the follow-up deserts, a work of art, all leaving me well sated.
I retired to my, extremely comfortable room, at Chateau Bromont where a spiral staircase in the bedroom leads to an upstairs sitting room.
If you have a sweet tooth, before you leave the Eastern Townships put Le Musée du Chocolat de Bromont on the visit list. Michelle Bilodeau has been running this established for over 25 years, it’s part café, part shop, and museum. It’s here I sip the creamiest hot chocolate and sample chocolates from the store’s offering. Back of the building houses the chocolate museum featuring antiquities related 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 features artisan beers using natural ingredients.
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If your stopping in Montreal then read our article Digging into Montreal’s Food Scene
Want to start planning your getaway in the Townships? Visit the Eastern Townships Tourism website for more information: www.easterntownships.org
This article was originally posted in BillyYtz.com.