Famous for its cheese and maple syrup, Quebec City’s food trail serves up a cornucopia of French tastes in Quebec City restaurants and markets.
French brie and camembert makers must have thrown their arms in the air in despair when an article in France’s national newspaper, Le Parisien wrote “Whatever the lovers of pate cuite, lait cru and d’affinages fermiers may think, the best cheese in the world is not French, but Canadian.”
Well, such generosity of praise from the French – where centuries of cheese-making traditions has earned France the crown of cheese capital of the world – occurred when a little-known Quebec goat’s milk cheese beat 2,440 entries from 34 countries for the title of World Champion at the 2009 World Cheese Awards.
Since then, Quebec’s food scene has grown from strength to strength.
Le Cendrillon (Cinderella), produced by La Maison Alexis de Portneuf, 50 kilometres north of Quebec City, is one of 300 varieties of cheese produced in Quebec.
The Canadians have perfected the art of making cheese with raw cows, goats or sheep’s milk, in the style of France’s fromages au lait cru.
One of the best things about Canadian cheese is that it is affordable. Le Cendrillon sells for about C$5 (for 125 grams).
At the specialty cheese shop, which has hundreds of different kinds of Quebec cheese, Andree Tremblay slices me a piece of creamy Riopelle. The cheese has the texture of soft butter and melts in my mouth.
Riopelle is a local cheese named after the late Quebec painter Jean-Paul Riopelle who, like the cheese, had ties to Ile-aux-Grues, an island on the St Lawrence River known for excellent cheese making.
Tremblay’s favourite is Bleu d’Elizabeth, a rich sweet blue cheese.
I tear myself away from La Fromagere to explore the rest of the market where many local farmers sell produce directly to the public. Les Clos de la Chapelle’s farm in L’Ange-Gardien specialises in organic produce such as baby spinach, lettuces, yellow carrots, Espelette pepper and Swiss chard. Claude Begin’s farm in Chateau-Richer cultivates 50 varieties of herbs and grows winter squashes.
Quebeckers also come here buy products such as honey, fruit-based delicacies from Ile d’Orleans and Quebec-made liqueurs. There are croissants, baguettes, jams, and home-made apple, cranberry and pear ciders.
Aisles are stacked with sacks of apples (C$6 a bag); there are tables laden with enormous punnets of strawberries (C$7) three times the size of the small square tubs sold in Australian supermarkets; there are raspberries, cherries, blackcurrants and gooseberries.
Fruit is grown in such abundance in Quebec that producers have become creative in finding ways of utilising each crop.
Les Jardins du Petit-Pre Bilodeau makes apple products such as home-made jellies, syrups, apple butter and apple juice.
I’m plied with sparkling cider, straw-coloured light cider and ice nectar, perfect with terrines, foie gras and cheese.
As Quebec is the cradle of French civilisation in North America, it’s fitting that Quebec City is the centre for French-style cuisine.
The streets of the picturesque Old Town were once lined with warehouses that stocked grain and dry goods.
There are trendy bistros and cafes everywhere you look.
The abundance of local produce is an inspiration to the city’s chefs.
You could spend hundreds of dollars dining in style at fine-dining establishments but there are also plenty of excellent cheaper options to discover in the picturesque historic cobblestone area.
At the boutique Hotel Priori, a European-style breakfast is included in the tariff. And the hotel’s restaurant Toast is as its name implies, the toast of the town. On the menu is a variety of local fare such as a fresh New Brunswick salmon smoked and roasted in-house.
I pop into Restaurant Le Pain Beni for lunch. $18 buys me two courses, an apricot soup for appetizer and a main course of butternut spaghetti squash, bulgur risotto and scallops cooked with fresh mint. The main looks as good as it tastes and the atmosphere is convivial.
Not all fare in Quebec is gourmet.
Putine, the region’s popular fast food is a high-calorie snack of fries, gravy and cheese curds.
According to one legend, the favourite snack food came about by accident when a drunken bar patron dropped his cheese curds onto a neighbour’s plate of French fries and gravy.
Quebeckers are particularly fond of maple syrup, the sweet nectar that Quebec’s aboriginal, or First Nations, inhabitants discovered centuries ago by watching squirrels chew on maple branches and feast on the sap in springtime.
In olden times, families had to wait until spring for the sap to run to stock up on sugar for the entire year. These days, an annual trip to a sugar shack is a Quebec tradition.
Quebeckers tuck into a traditional high cholesterol and carbohydrate meal where everything from ham to omelettes, baked beans to oreilles de crisse, Quebec’s version of pork rinds, is cooked with maple syrup.
Many sugar shacks cater for curious visitors all year round.
At Cabane a sucre l’En-Tailleur, on Ile D’Orleans, I learn how the maple sap is turned into syrup. It takes 40 litres of sap to produce one litre of syrup. Hot taffy is poured onto fresh snow frozen in a trough. I roll the taffy around on a stick and pop it into my mouth. It’s a scrumptious sweet treat.
Discover Quebec City
Quebec City is a delightful city to spend a few days walking around. Visit Quebec City for French flavour, charming cobblestone streets and great food.
While in Quebec, visit the lovely Monteregie region for autumn leaves and ice cider.