Charlevoix: Tasting the Seasons in Quebec

The Gouffre River snakes its way through the farmland of Charlevoix. This bird's eye view is possible with Heli-Charlevoix adventures.
The Gouffre River snakes its way through the farmland of Charlevoix. This bird’s eye view is possible with Heli-Charlevoix adventures.

 

Eating your way through Quebec – The Flavor Trail of Charlevoix

By Donnie Sexton

I listened spellbound to Pascal Miche, a Paul Bunyan sized fellow as he talked about his love of tomatoes. 

Local farmers, producers and restaurateurs celebrate the success of The Flavour Trail in Charlevoix, a delightful region of Quebec. (photo courtesy Annie Ferland)
Local farmers, producers, and restaurateurs celebrate the success of The Flavour Trail in Charlevoix, a delightful region of Quebec. (photo courtesy Annie Ferland)

It wasn’t so much his knowledge of this fruit, but the fact that he is the only person on the entire face of this planet that produces tomato wine!

Pascal joins 24 agricultural producers, along with 20 restaurants that make up the La Route Des Saveurs, which translates to The Flavor Trail of Charlevoix.

A Quebec Treasure

Charlevoix is a small region of Quebec, roughly one and a half hours’ drive northeast of Quebec City, Canada.

The mighty Saint Lawrence River defines the eastern edge of this French-speaking area, with the Laurentian Mountains serving as a backdrop.   Charlevoix has long been favored by wealthy US citizens as a summer resort destination. 

It started with President Howard Taft’s visit in 1892 to the village of La Malbaie.  He described the air as “intoxicating like champagne without the morning after hangover.”  Taft bought a summer home there and on his heels followed many Americans. 

Origins of the Trail

Family owned and operated Famille Migneron produces six varieties of cheese which customers can sample in their showroom.
Family owned and operated Famille Migneron produces six varieties of cheese which customers can sample in their showroom.

The Flavor Trail is the result of a handful of locals recognizing strength in their region regarding the quality and integrity of the products they are growing or producing. 

They have done an exceptional job of creating a way to explore Charlevoix through its food and drink. The producers and farmers welcome visitors to stop by and are keen on sharing their stories.  

Add to this gastronomic scene a wealth of outdoor recreation with hiking and biking trails, whale watching on the Saint Lawrence River, fishing, camping, and skiing, and it’s a guarantee that one visit here will not be enough. 

The One and Only Tomato Wine

A roller-coaster of a highway connects the dots on The Flavor Trail.  It would be a hard task to explore each of the stops, so I chose a handful that piqued my interest. 

Pascal Miche holds the distinction of being the only person in the world to produce tomato wine.
Pascal Miche holds the distinction of being the only person in the world to produce tomato wine. Donnie Sexton photos.

Omerto, home of the tomato wine, was at the top of the list.  Pascal had just finished the task of planting 6,000 tomato plants that will eventually yield 12,000 liters of his wine. 

He chatted up tomatoes, explaining that there are 30,000 different varieties in the world.  Through knowledge passed down from his great-grandfather in Belgium and his own research, Pascal had on settled on six types to work with. 

Asked if deer are a problem, he explained that he covers the plants with nets he makes out of human hair that wards off the critters.  This begged the question as to where the hair came from.  “Beauty salons of course,” he said with his hearty laugh.

Vodka and Cheese in One Stop

Rumor had it that something unusual was brewing at Famille Migneron, which was reason enough to make this stop on the Trail.  Set back on a country road flanked by green fields, this family-owned farm is home to award-winning cheese in six varieties.

A view of the Saint Lawrence River from the porch of Auberge des Falaises, another stop on The Flavour Trail for outstanding food and lovely accommodations.
A view of the Saint Lawrence River from the porch of Auberge des Falaises, another stop on The Flavour Trail for outstanding food and lovely accommodations.

Not content to let the whey byproduct from the cheese production go to waste, they have been experimenting successfully with turning that whey into vodka. They expect to have their first bottles available for sale by the end of 2018. 

A kitchen tour at Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu reveals a massive pot chock full of ingredients in a day long simmer, with the end result being a rich stock for various dishes.
A kitchen tour at Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu reveals a massive pot chock full of ingredients in a day-long simmer, with the end result being a rich stock for various dishes.

Faux Bergers

Attached to the cheese shop at Famille Migneron is the restaurant Faux Bergers, which features the inventive cuisine of Sylvain Dervieux and Emile Tremblay.

There is no menu, but dinner guests are treated to a six-course feast based on what the chefs have dreamed up each day.   

Their philosophy is one of not wanting to have anything go to waste.  They are willing to take whatever their suppliers have in excess at the end of the day to create their “dishes of the moment.”    

Epicurean Delights

The producers who are part of the Trail are very diverse, but one thing they share in common is welcoming visitors.  The smell of freshly baked bread from Boulangerie Pains d’Exclamation is proof that man can live by bread alone.  Melt-in-Your-Mouth chocolates can be found at Chocolaterie Cynthia. 

For travelers with a sweet tooth and a craving for chocolate or gelato, Chocolaterie Cynthia in Baie-St-Paul is a must stop. (photo courtesy Chocolaterie Cynthia)
For travelers with a sweet tooth and a craving for chocolate or gelato, Chocolaterie Cynthia in Baie-St-Paul is a must stop. (photo courtesy Chocolaterie Cynthia)

Volières Baie-Saint-Paul is a family owned farm that supplies the local restaurants with rabbit, guinea fowl, quail, and ring-necked pheasant. Cidrerie et Vergers Pedneault is a cider mill producing not only ciders, but vinegar, jellies, honey, and jams. 

I’m not a beer lover, but MicroBrasserie Charlevoix gets rave reviews for their microbrews. 

The largest emu farm in Canada, Emeu Charlevoix, boasts over 400 birds.  They not only supply hormone free emu meat to restaurants, but they produce a variety of emu beauty products and oils.

Unemployed Man Pudding

It’s one thing to pay a visit to the producers and hear their stories first-hand, but capping it off with some remarkable meals is frosting on the cake. 

My first dinner in Charlevoix was at the Chez Truchon, a historic inn and bistro.  It is owned by Dominique Truchon, one of the creators of The Flavor Trail.  

Famille Migneron, award-winning cheese producers, share a portion of their land with the restaurant Faux Bergers.
Famille Migneron, award-winning cheese producers, share a portion of their land with the restaurant Faux Bergers.

It was here, after a delectable dinner, I would fall in love with Pouding Chômeur à la Crème D’érable (unemployed pudding with maple cream).   This cake-like dessert is a French Canadian classic created by factory workers during the great depression in Quebec. 

Personalized hotel toiletries are a treat in Charlevoix.
Personalized hotel toiletries are a treat in the Charlevoix Fairmont.

Personalized Toiletries!

My final overnight and dinner in Charlevoix found me at the opulent Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu, a substantial stop on The Flavour Trail. Hugging the banks of the Saint Lawrence River, this castle-like property in the town of La Malbaie was the setting for the 2018 G7 Summit.   

Fairmont won me over long before dinner when I checked into my room and found toiletries personalized with my name!  Wow – talk about a sweet touch!  

At Table et Terroir, one of Fairmont’s restaurants, the chef’s special of the day was a beautifully plated tuna tartare.  The selection of desserts was so artfully presented, it was almost a sin to cut into any of them.

Following the Trail

The Flavour Trail’s website is useful in planning the stops, and once on the ground in Charlevoix, there are several locations to pick up a printed guide of the Trail.  Even though Charlevoix is a French-speaking region of Canada, most in the service industry speak English, so visitors shouldn’t be concerned about any language barrier.

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As a photographer, I’ve always been willing to skip meals to be at the right place at the right time to get the shots. But the more I travel, I’m learning how food and drink plays a critical role in defining the essence of a place and heightening one’s experience.  It’s not always about the photos. 

Come winter when a cold, snowy day keeps me inside, I’m going to try my hand at making Pouding Chômeur and pair it with a glass of Omerto, a sweet reminder of my time in Charlevoix.  Come spring, I’m going to make some ‘hair nets” to cover my flowers and see if that keeps the deer from munching on them. 

TitleCategoryAddressDescription
La Malbaie, Quebec La Malbaie, QC, Canada
Omerto 328 Rang Saint Antoine Nord, Baie-Saint-Paul, Québec G3Z 2C3, Canada
Famille Migneron 1339 Boulevard Mgr de Laval, Baie-Saint-Paul, QC G3Z 2X6, Canada
Faux Bergers 1339 Boulevard Mgr de Laval, Baie-Saint-Paul, QC G3Z 2X6, Canada
Boulangerie Pains d'Exclamation 398 Rue Saint Étienne, La Malbaie, QC G5A 1S8, Canada
Chocolaterie Cynthia 66-3 Rue Saint Jean Baptiste, Baie-Saint-Paul, QC G3Z 1M4, Canada
Volières Baie-Saint-Paul 162 Rang Saint Antoine N, Baie-Saint-Paul, QC G3Z 2C2, Canada
Cidrerie et Vergers Pedneault 3384 Chemin des Coudriers, L'Isle-aux-Coudres, QC G0A 3J0, Canada
MicroBrasserie Charlevoix 6, Paul-René Tremblay Street Baie-Saint-Paul, Qc G3Z 3E4
Emeu Charlevoix 06 Rue Saint Édouard, Saint-Urbain, QC G0A 4K0, Canada
Chez Truchon 1065 Rue Richelieu, La Malbaie, QC G5A 2X8, Canada
Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu 181, rue Richelieu La Malbaie Charlevoix Quebec, Canada G5A 1X7
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Donnie Sexton has moved on from a very long stint as staff photographer and media relations manager for the Montana Office of Tourism. Her path is now focused on feeding her addiction to travel and sharing her journeys in both words and photography. www.donniesexton.com