Head for the hills
An hour east of Ottawa, in pretty Petite-Nation, farms and gastronomic businesses woo food lovers from far and wide and they do it in the spirit of co-operation
It’s almost too easy to glom onto the bucolic beauty of the Petite-Nation area of West Quebec, never more so than when the tour buses bring in folks to marvel at the autumn leaves of its forest-covered hills.
But beyond that first, visual impression, the region boasts treat after treat for the tastebuds, too. It happily rewards Ottawa food aficionados willing to make the hour’s drive east and, if need be, scuffle a bit in French. (If these efforts seem too much trouble, some Petite-Nation products can be ordered online through marcheoutaouais.com.) The growing number of diverse, food-related entrepreneurs — from farmers to winemakers; artisan cheese-makers to chocolatiers and restaurateurs — more than reward the efforts.
A good place to immerse yourself in this community of producers — at least until it closes for the season on Oct. 20 — is the Petite Nation Farmers’ Market in Ripon, which opened last year in a tidy new building on Route 317. On Fridays (2 to 7 p.m.) and Saturdays (9 a.m. to 2 p.m.), the market showcases the bounty of 20-odd producers, many helmed by husband-and-wife teams, and the bonhomie and collaborative spirit that unites them.
Take for example, the three Petite-Nation vineyards that, in the last few years, have begun production, with notable results, putting their faith in grapes that can persevere in West Quebec’s variable climate. Domaine Mont-Vézeau, Domaine des Météores and Côte St.-Charles vineyards have joined with Verger Croque-Pomme, which among other things makes cider, to show off their wares at an all-in-one kiosk. Between them, they make 15 different bottles, with the rosé from Domaine des Météores, an organic winery, having become so popular that its 2011 vintage has sold out.
Not only do the wineries collaborate with one another, they also work hand-in-hand with other regional producers, showcasing their goods — that is, when they’re not having them over for lunch, dinner or dessert. As Chantal Ippersiel, co-owner of Domaine des Météores, says: “Sometimes from morning to night, all I eat is local food.”
An example: At the boutique on its property, Domaine Mont-Vézeau sells the too-tempting chocolates made at Chocomotive in nearby Montebello, which complement its strawberry and fortified Port-style wine. In another natural fit, Domaine Mont-Vézeau has also sold cheeses from Fromagerie Les Folies Bergères in St-Sixte. As if by reciprocity, the cheesemaker uses the winemaker’s strawberry wine to wash the rind of one of its products, a firm cheese called La Capriole.
“It’s good when you can work with other producers in the region,” says Domaine Mont-Vézeau’s co-owner, Linda Boulianne. “It makes a nice combination.”
In the same spirit, farmer Brian Maloney serves Boulianne’s wine when his business, La Ferme Brylee in Thurso, near the junction of Highway 50 and Route 317, serves its grass-fed beef and lamb to customers. “Our red is excellent with their meat,” Boulianne volunteers.
For the past three years, Maloney, a 53-year-old fourth-generation farmer whose farm marked its centennial this summer, has served his products at unique country-table (table champêtre) dinners for between 10 and 72 people. His game-changer is a homemade, wood-fired barbecue, modelled after the parrilla grills of Argentina, which allows Maloney to serve “gaucho platters” teeming with steaks and sausages to his meat-loving guests in plain, rustic surroundings.
The Argentine approach — to be found nowhere else in Quebec, Maloney believes — makes sense because the beef in that hyper-carnivorous South American country is grass-fed, as are Maloney’s animals. (Not only are his cattle kept off grain, but they’re hormone- and antibiotic-free as well.).
“We’re raising these animals the same way my grandfather did when everybody was eating healthy meats and healthy food,” Maloney says.
Parrilla cooking, he adds, is meant to preserve the unique flavour of the grass-fed meat, which reflects the terroir as surely as do wines. “It’s all about what they eat,” Maloney says, asserting that this year’s steaks have been “awesome” and “very, very flavourful.” He will be serving them into October, the weather willing. “I’d love to be able to catch the leaf crowd.”
More signs of co-operation among West Quebec producers: Among the foodstuffs for sale at La Ferme Brylee, along with the frozen beef, sausages and tasty empanadas (Latin American pastries stuffed with ground beef as per the gaucho-themed dinners) are frozen chicken from Ferme aux Saveurs des Monts in nearby Val-des-Monts.
As well, Maloney uses vegetables from La Ferme du Ruisseau Noir, a high-end organic farm in Ripon, for his dinners. Most of what this business produces —miniature vegetables including pattypan squash, seedless eggplants, sublime tomatoes and potatoes, as well as marmalades — wind up on the plates of customers of discerning West Quebec restaurants such as the acclaimed Le Baccarat in the Casino du Lac-Leamy.
Producing impeccable high-end vegetables is so labour-intensive that Ruisseau Noir co-owner Lynda Ann McSween says staffing a boutique on her farm is out of the question. However, she and her husband, Jacques Royer, do sell to the public at the Petite-Nation Farmers’ Market. “It’s our village. We can’t not be at our market,” she says. A former dental hygienist now living her dream as a farmer, McSween explains her career choice by stating: “I love eating. We love to eat, work and experiment.” She’s visibly gratified that chefs are giving her farm credit on their menus and pairing her marmalades with their foie gras, just as Maloney is putting her products on his table. “The region is very effervescent,” McSween says. “We all work together.”
Selected Petite-Nation destinations
Petite-Nation Farmers’ Market
1268, Route 317, Ripon, QC
Open May until Oct. 20, Fridays 2-7 p.m., Saturdays 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.
524, Route 317, Thurso, QC, 819-985-3882
This fourth-generation farm produces grass-fed beef and lamb. It offers meals with meats grilled Argentine “parrilla” style for groups of 10 to 72 people. Frozen meats, sausages and other goods for sale on site. Visits by reservation only.
La Fermette du Huitième Ciel
Saint-André-Avellin, QC, 819-983-1753
This small producer sells roasts, sausages and osso bucco from its milk-fed wild boars.
191, chemin St-André, Ripon, QC, 819-983-1497
There’s a butcher’s shop on the property specializing in meats, sausages and charcuterie. It also sells the farm’s canned maple syrup.
La Ferme du Ruisseau Noir
7, Rang 5 Sud, Ripon, QC, 819-983-1576
This business sells its specialty vegetables and marmalades for the most part to restaurants such as Le Baccarat, but it also has a kiosk at the Petite-Nation Farmers’ Market.
Les Fruits de la Terre
51, montée Meunier, Ripon, 819-743-1541
Pick your own fruit by appointment from June to October. In December, the farm sells cut-your-own Christmas trees.
28, montée Bernt, Thurso, QC, 819-281-2061
Thirty varieties of apples, pumpkins and squash are available “pick-your-own.” A kiosk selling cider and other local products is on site.
Le Domaine Du Mont-Vézeau
365, Route 321, Ripon, QC, 819-428-3391
Maker of red, white and Port-style wines as well as a popular strawberry wine. Visitors can pick their own strawberries in early summer.
Domaine des Météores
203 Chemin du lac Grosleau, Route 317, Ripon, QC, 819-428-1652,
An organic winery.
Fromagerie Les Folies Bergères
955, Route 317, St-Sixte, QC, 819-983-4010
This artisan cheese factory specializes in cheese made from ewes’ milk.
687-A rue Notre-Dame, Montebello, QC, 819-309-0541, fromagerie-montebello.ca
Fresh curds and specialty cheeses.
Chocomotive Garde de Montebello
502, rue Notre-Dame, Montebello, QC, 819-423-5737
This chocolate factory uses only organic, fair-trade chocolate, sugar and cocoa. Bistro on site.
Le Café du Bistrot
198, Principale Saint-André-Avellin, QC, 819-983-3966, cafedubistrot.com
A colourful café with everything from wood-oven pizzas to steak, duck, pasta and seafood.
Bistro Fleur du Thym
533, Route 315, Lac-Simon, QC, 819-428-2826
A charming bistro serving local ingredients.
Domaine Mont-Vézeau strawberry wine vinaigrette
Éric Gonzalez, chef at Montreal’s Auberge St-Gabriel
1 cup (250 mL) Domaine Mont-Vézeau Zéphyr strawberry wine
cup (125 mL) sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon (15 mL) Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cups (375 mL) grapeseed oil
1. Whisk together the wine, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper.
2. Continue whisking and gradually add the grapeseed oil until the dressing is well-mixed.
3. Serve over fresh local greens with sliced strawberries, chopped pecans and your choice of cheese.