I had the pleasure this past weekend of visiting my brother-in-law Dan and his wife Jenn in Belleville, Ontario, which is about a two hour drive from Toronto. The surrounding countryside of Prince Edward County (or ‘The County’, as it’s known by locals) has been getting a lot of attention over the past couple of years as an up-and-coming destination for food and wine lovers. Despite its proximity to Toronto, it’s a world away from the hustle and bustle of the big city. We toured the county and spent the day sampling some of the best food and wine it has to offer. Here are some of the highlights:
Our first stop was Fifth Town Artisan Cheese in Picton. Established this year, Fifth Town makes artisanal cheeses from local sheep and goat’s milk. Their aim is to be socially and environmentally sustainable and their facility is a brand new, state-of-the art LEED-certified building. There is a small boutique where you can taste samples of their cheese and buy products and related books. We sampled a number of their cheeses including Improv, an aged goat cheese, Counting Sheep, a mild and creamy sheep’s cheese and Operetta, a smooth and creamy goat’s cheese with a wonderful texture and mild flavour. They were also kind enough to provide us with a sheet of tasting notes and local wine and cider pairing suggestions.
Our next stop was County Cider Company near Waupoos. They specialize in apple cider, apple wine and ice cider. Their apple ciders and wines are crisp and refreshing and the award-winning ice cider is the perfect accompaniment to dessert or a cheese course. They also have a small terrace where they serve light lunches with a wonderful view of Prince Edward Bay and Waupoos Island.
As we were leaving County Cider, we passed a fruit stand selling apples at Orchard Coast Farms. The trees in the orchards were heavy with ripening fruit so naturally we had to pull over and get some to snack on. I bought a peck (1/4 bushel) of honeycrisps and they were fantastic. Firm, crisp and juicy, they had the flavour and texture you only get from fresh picked apples in the late summer and autumn.
After filling up on apples, we headed to Long Dog Vineyard and Winery. Long Dog is a small winery in Milford producing excellent wines, including an outstanding pinot noir. It’s a favourite winery of Dan and Jenn’s and they visit often. Unfortunately, their wines aren’t available at Ontario liquor stores yet so I picked up a Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris for my wine collection. A short distance from Long Dog is Vicki’s Veggies, a family-owned farm that supplies a number of area restaurants. They also have a small roadside stand selling organic, heirloom vegetables as well as seeds and homemade pies. We were a bit late in the day getting there so there wasn’t a lot left (and no one seemed to be around) but there was a box where you could deposit payment for any vegetables you were interested in. It was very charming and quaint and reminded me of a by-gone era. We were fortunate enough to try some of Vicki’s produce later that evening and it was delicious.
Before breaking from all the touring and tasting for dinner we stopped briefly at Black Prince Winery and Huff Estates. Huff is a very modern winery with a small inn on the premises and they make some great rieslings, rosés and ice wine as well as a few reds. Some Black Prince and Huff wines are available at Ontario liquor stores and they are worth seeking out.
We finished our whirlwind day with dinner at the renowned County restaurant Harvest. Harvest is owned by Chef Michael Potters and his wife Karin. Michael had been a chef in Toronto but decided to leave the big city for a quieter life in The County. The restaurant’s first incarnation was The Milford Bistro, a modest little restaurant in Milford. They moved to a larger building a couple of years later in nearby Picton. The interior is warm and welcoming with rich, rust coloured walls, wood tables and artwork by local artist Susan Wallis. The menu is constantly evolving to reflect what’s in season and they source ingredients from local purveyors such as Vicki’s and Fifth Town. The wine list features a mix of imported wines and local offerings. The night we visited Chef Potter was in the kitchen and the menu was heavy on seasonal produce such as heirloom beets and carrots, local corn and tomatoes. To start, Dan had an heirloom tomato salad with Fifth Town goat’s cheese and a sherry vinaigrette while I choose the scallops with corn. Jenn had the corn chowder with smoky paprika and shrimp. Along with some fresh, warm bread and butter, it was a great start to the meal. For his main course, Dan ordered corn cakes made with fresh corn and cornmeal and served alongside pickled beets, french green beans, heirloom carrots and corn foam. Jenn and I both opted for the beef tenderloin served with delicate, airy potato gnocchi, sauteed spinach, mushrooms and tiny, sweet heirloom carrots. The beef was tender and juicy and both servings were cooked precisely as ordered – no small feat since we each like them cooked to a different degree (I prefer medium-rare whereas Jenn likes hers cooked medium-well). To accompany our meal, we choose a local Norman Hardie Pinot Noir. To finish the meal, we tried a trio of desserts and sampled each others: Dan had three miniature creme brûlées (jasmine tea, vanilla and bitter chocolate), Jenn had a strawberry tart and I opted for Karin’s classic chocolate cake. As we left the restaurant stuffed but happy, we all agreed that it was the perfect way to end our food and wine adventure in The County.
For further information about the food and wine scene in The County, check out the Taste Trail website.
Many thanks to Dan and Jenn for their hospitality and for seeking out great places to visit. Check out my recipe for Tomato Salad with Goat Cheese and Sherry Vinaigrette that was inspired by our Harvest dinner!