As if its bucolic farmland, colourful church spires
and rolling green hills were not enough, Quebec’s Île d’Orléans has another
trick up its sleeve. Full of fertile soil and Normandy-style farmhouses, this verdant
island in the middle of the St Lawrence River is also quickly becoming the epicentre
of Québec’s agritourism movement.
Farmers, chefs and artisans all along the narrow
island, located just a 15-minute drive northeast from Québec City, are helping local
restaurants construct dishes solely with local ingredients, from fish to fowl,
wine to cider, bread to cheese and a dazzling array of organic produce.
Bring your own wine and tuck into a truly unique
experience at Au Goût d’Autrefois,
where a husband-and-wife chef team sources ingredients from their own backyard.
Jacques Legros and Lise Marcotte raise ducks, geese, guinea fowl, pheasants and
wild turkeys, and keep a colourful garden of organic grains and vegetables. The
fowl are raised in an ethically and ecologically sound manner, and the geese are
not force-fed to produce the foie gras on offer. Opt for a conservative four-course
menu ($35 Canadian) or splurge on the 12-course extravaganza ($125 Canadian),
either of which might include roast goose and barley soup or apple-cider smoked
turkey with wild rice.
French expat Bernard Monna of manufacturer Cassis Monna et Filles turns his many
varieties of blackcurrants, known in Québec as gadelle noire, into award-winning crème de cassis (blackcurrant liquor), wine and jam. The rustic and
cosy onsite restaurant, La Monnaguette,
serves local specialties that employ his star ingredient, such as goat-cheese
salad with blackcurrant coulis or duck confit with cassis jam.
It is a sin to leave the island without indulging in
the most Québécois of all commodities: maple syrup. Sunday brunch at Relais des Pins, a sugar shack with a light
and airy wooden dining room, is a bountiful banquet of maple-glazed ham, traditional
Québécois tourtière (a pie filled
with finely diced pork, veal and beef), maple-hued baked beans and plenty of
pancakes to soak up the never-ending supply of homemade syrup. Despite the
cloying image that maple syrup may evoke, the talented chefs here are adept at churning
out light and savoury local dishes with a multitude of flavours.
For a little history with your island food, try Les Ancêtres, a regal manor dating to the
18th Century, where the perfect view of the misty Montmorency Falls on
the mainland only enhances the local bison tartare or Québécois stew. On a
sunny day, the best table on the island is next to the little babbling waterfall
on the patio at Le Moulin de St-Laurent,
a 300-year-old flour mill with a menu that changes weekly depending on what
local produce is available.
For a more casual affair, assemble your own picnic. Hit
up the island’s bakery La Boulange
for tasty takeaways such pizza or sandwiches bursting with locally-produced fillings.
The first cheese made in the Americas was in 1635 on Île d’Orléans, and cheese
shop Les Fromages de l’Île
d’Orléans proudly continues the tradition. For portable potables, Domaine Steinbach produces five
ciders from their organic orchard. Try pairing the ice cider, Cristal de Glace,
with a jar of their homemade maple-onion confit for a perfect marriage. If you
are looking for a more decadent combination, pick up a bottle of red at local
winery Isle de Bacchus, and pay a
visit to Chocolaterie de l’Île
d’Orléans, where artisans produce creative chocolate concoctions using cocoa
beans imported from Belgium. At the southwest tip of the island, the dramatic,
rocky shoreline has spectacular views of Old Québec, and the public park makes for
a great picnic spot.
It is an easy commute back to Québec City for
the night, but a more rewarding experience is a farm stay on the island. The
tastefully decorated stone cottage Dans les bras de Morphée, nestled in a
quiet corner of the island, offers a bed-and-breakfast experience to remember. Using
what can be found in the several acres of gardens, streams and farmland
surrounding the home, professional chef and host Marc Cadieux constructs
extravagant three-course breakfasts that make good use of fresh-picked fruits, hand-pressed
juices and honey and jams made on-site. Just-baked pastries complement the
cheese, meats and pâtés, either homemade or sourced locally from the island.
The article 'In Québec, an island of local food' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.