Category Archives: Field Trips

Chill Out with Great Ice Cream in PEI

Strawberry Rhubarb Ice Cream

It’s hard to think of summer without thinking of ice cream.  Those hot, sultry summer days just seem to beg for an ice cream fix.

Here, on PEI, we have no shortage of ice cream venues to choose from.  Whether you are a soft-serve ice cream fan or a hard ice cream aficionado, you’ll find lots to choose from.  After a summer of research (full disclosure – the waistline may have been harmed by this initiative!), here’s the scoop on my favorite places on the Island for hard ice cream and for soft-serve ice cream. Readers will note that opinions expressed are my own based on personal experience at all venues mentioned below.  None of the establishments knew I was sampling their products for this review. This is not a sponsored post and I received no compensation in any form for my reviews.

My review is broken down into two parts – hard ice cream and soft-serve ice cream. Readers will note that I was not reviewing every product sold by dairy bars and ice cream parlours. Rather I was reviewing two very specific products – hard ice cream and soft-serve ice cream. This to say that, for example, a dairy bar that specializes in, or is most known for, its soft-serve ice cream, may also serve other frozen products such as hard ice cream, too. In that example, if I was reviewing their soft-serve product, that’s all I was reviewing from that particular dairy bar.  Likewise, if a business is known primarily for its hard ice cream but also sells, for example, frozen yogurt or sherbet, I only reviewed their hard ice cream product(s). Of those I sampled in 2018, what follows were my top favorites.

For Best Hard Ice Cream

Two locations that specialize in the production of the traditional hard ice cream stood out for me:

COWS Inc.

Creamery Location: 12 Milky Way (397 Capital Drive), Charlottetown, PEI
(11 Canadian locations + 1 in Beijing, China)

COWS Creamery, PEI
COWS Creamery, PEI

Churning out delectable flavours since 1983, the flagship creamery is located on the aptly-named “Milky Way” just off of one of the famous roundabouts outside Charlottetown.  This venue is open year-round so locals do not have to go through withdrawal due to seasonal closures (phew!).  Other COWS locations, however, may be seasonal.

The Truck That Says It All!
The Truck That Says It All!

Apart from the high-quality ice cream (yup, 16% butter fat), COWS is legendary for its creative and unique ice cream flavour names often involving a play on words related to anything “cow” – like Cownadian Maple, Fluff ‘n Udder, Messie Bessie, and Moo Crunch, for example.

COWS Ice Cream Flavours
COWS Ice Cream Flavours

When I visit a COWS location, I go in with the best intentions to try a new flavour but, once I’m standing in front of the display case, I inevitably choose “Wowie Cowie”, a delectable concoction of vanilla ice cream, English toffee marble, chocolate flakes, and Moo Crunch.  Ice cream is available in dishes or cones but their handmade waffle cones are hard to pass up! In my view, the cones are part of the “udderly” wonderful COWS ice cream experience!

COWS' Wowie Cowie Ice Cream
COWS’ Wowie Cowie Ice Cream

There is no indoor seating at this COWS location though there are some nearby picnic tables outside.  Some COWS locations may have indoor seating available. Tours of the creamery at this location are also available.

Scooping COWS Ice Cream
Scooping COWS Ice Cream

One of the things that makes COWS ice cream extra special is that it is available exclusively at COWS stores so heading to a COWS outlet just makes the experience that much extra special because you know you can’t buy it at the local supermarket.  You can check out the story I earlier wrote on COWS here.

Holman’s Ice Cream Parlour

286 Fitzroy Street, Summerside, PEI

Holman's Ice Cream Parlour, Summerside, PEI
Holman’s Ice Cream Parlour, Summerside, PEI

The newbies on the Island ice cream scene, this family-owned and operated ice cream parlour opened its doors in 2016 and is quickly earning a reputation for high quality homemade ice cream.

Located in a heritage home, known as the Holman Homestead, in Summerside, this ice cream parlour has fast become a favorite stop for ice cream aficionados.  Much of the charm of the historical property has been maintained and gives an air of stepping back in time to a vintage ice cream parlour.

Holman's Ice Cream Parlour, Summerside, PEI
Holman’s Ice Cream Parlour, Summerside, PEI

The premium homemade hard ice cream, manufactured on the premises, is made with all-natural ingredients.  Several flavours of ice cream are available – my favorite is the Salted Caramel though I have heard rave reviews of their Cookies and Cream variety.

Ice Cream
“Salted Caramel” Ice Cream – Holman’s Ice Cream Parlour, Summerside, PEI

Ice cream is available in cones or dishes but, as you walk up the sidewalk toward the house, you can catch the tantalizing waft of the waffle cones being made – it’s hard not have one of those cones and they don’t disappoint!

At Holman's Ice Cream Parlour, Summerside, PEI
At Holman’s Ice Cream Parlour, Summerside, PEI

The parlour also offers sundaes, banana splits, and soda fountain floats made with their homemade ice cream.

Ice Cream Sundae at Holman's Ice Cream Parlour, Summerside, PEI
Ice Cream Sundae at Holman’s Ice Cream Parlour, Summerside, PEI

They also make sherbets and have at least one variety of ice cream made with sheep’s milk.  Service is provided by friendly staff.  Eat inside or, on lovely weather days, enjoy the ice cream in the garden.  The ice cream from Holman’s is made all the more special because it is only available at their Ice Cream Parlour and you won’t find it in the frozen dairy section of any supermarket.  Open seasonally.  (Hint – In my view, it’s worth the drive to Summerside just to have an ice cream at Holman’s!  Just sayin’, this might have happened on more than one occasion….for research purposes, of course, you know….just sayin’…..)

For Best Soft-Serve Ice Cream

Two locations that are known primarily for their soft-serve ice cream particularly caught my attention.

Sunny’s Dairy Bar – New Discovery 2018

559 Water Street, Summerside, PEI

Ice Cream Dairy Bar
Sunny’s Dairy Bar, Summerside, PEI

This dairy bar came recommended to me by a couple of folks who thought I should check it out.  Can soft-serve ice cream really be all that different from one place to another? Yes, it can and Sunny’s proves it!

Opened in 2011, in the west end of Summerside, this is a traditional style dairy bar in that you place your order at the window and take your ice cream back to your vehicle or to the Green Shore Park across the street.  There is no indoor seating.

This dairy bar was a new discovery for me this year and I will be back!  I opted for a Hot Fudge Sundae, my all-time favorite. The ice cream was the creamiest and richest I have ever had and the hot fudge topping was, well …. sublime!

Hot Fudge Sundae at Sunny's Dairy Bar, Summerside, PEI
Hot Fudge Sundae at Sunny’s Dairy Bar, Summerside, PEI

Sunny’s has a long list of ice cream treats on its menu, too numerous to mention here.  Portion sizes are very generous.  I ordered a small sundae and, as can be seen in the photo, it is a very generous helping! Open seasonally, this is definitely a place to check out for ice cream in Summerside!

Frosty Treat Dairy Bar

Two (2) locations – Original at 109 Victoria Street West and new one in 2018 at 25010 Veteran’s Memorial Highway, both in Kensington, PEI

Frosty Treat Dairy Bar #1 in Kensington, PEI
Frosty Treat Dairy Bar #1 in Kensington, PEI

A long-time favorite with Islanders, this traditional-style dairy bar is well known for its catchy TV ads “Don’t Drive By! Drive In!” For many Islanders, it will come as no surprise as to why Frosty Treat made my list of “go-to” places for yummy ice cream in PEI.  Frosty Treat has been synonymous with great soft-serve ice cream for many years and the frequent line-ups at the dairy bar window on hot summer days and evenings attest to this.

This popular ice cream bar serves up creamy soft-serve ice cream that will satisfy any craving for soft swirly ice cream.  Other ice cream treats are also available on Frosty’s menu.

Frosty Treat has been a summer tradition for us for many years.  Their Hot Fudge Sundae, in particular, is a perennial favorite. Open seasonally.

Hot Fudge Sundae from Frosty Treat Dairy Bar, Kensington, PEI
Hot Fudge Sundae from Frosty Treat Dairy Bar, Kensington, PEI

If you are in the Kensington area, “don’t drive by, drive in” to one of the Frosty Treat locations for a cool ice cream treat.

Frosty Treat #2 Location in Kensington, PEI
Frosty Treat #2 Location in Kensington, PEI

Special Mention

Somerset Ice Cream Bar – New Discovery 2018

2 Somerset Street, Kinkora, PEI

Somerset Dairy Bar, Kinkora, PEI
Somerset Dairy Bar, Kinkora, PEI

Located in the small rural village of Kinkora, midway between Charlottetown and Summerside, the Somerset Ice Cream Bar opened for business in summer 2018.  What makes this ice cream bar unique, and what earned it a special mention in this article, is that its owner and operator is a young entrepreneur, still in high school (yes, you read that right)!

Soft-serve Ice Cream
Ice Cream from Somerset Dairy Bar, Kinkora, PEI

Many cones of generous-sized portions of creamy swirled soft-serve ice cream were served out of this new dairy bar this past summer.  In traditional dairy bar style, orders are placed at the window.  There is no indoor seating but there are benches on the deck around the dairy bar and limited picnic table seating. Open seasonally.

If you are traveling Rte 225 between Summerside and Charlottetown, make it a plan to stop for a tasty treat at this ice cream bar.

So, this is what the waistline could handle this summer!  Again readers will note that some of these establishments also serve other types of ice cream and ice cream related treats.  However, the purpose of my exercise this summer was to simply find great establishments that specialized in, or were best known for, either hard ice cream or soft-serve ice cream.  Others may have differing opinions on my choices but, based on my personal experience on the days I visited the venues, I had great ice cream and service at each of these five (5) venues this year.  In my view, you can’t go wrong with an ice cream treat from any of these five (5) venues. All establishments have active social media accounts (and some have websites) that you can check out for more information and hours and season of operation.

Strawberry Rhubarb Ripple Ice Cream

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Cooking Classes at The Table Culinary Studio in PEI

"Bounty of the Sea" Cooking Class at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
“Bounty of the Sea” Cooking Class at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

Tucked away on the Graham’s Road (Route 8), in the picturesque rural community of New London, Prince Edward Island, you will find The Table Culinary Studio that offers short (between 3.5 and 4.5 hours) cooking classes that focus primarily on cooking with fresh, local Island foods.  This experience is a great way to learn about the Island food culture.

The Gently Rolling Hills of New London, PEI
The Gently Rolling Hills of New London, PEI

The rural setting is quintessential PEI. Fields in shades of green contrasted with the Island’s iconic red soil take visitors to the heart of some of the Island’s most fertile farm land.

Field of Potatoes in PEI's Red Soil
Field of Potatoes in PEI’s Red Soil

Just down the road is New London Harbour, home to a small lobster fishing fleet and the grounds for other seafood like oysters, quahogs, and mussels.  Not far away, quality food can be sourced from dairy and beef farms, organic farmers, beekeepers, cheesemakers, and garlic growers. Could there be a more authentic location for a PEI culinary studio!

New London Harbour
Lobster Boats at New London Harbour, PEI, Canada

While it is no secret that PEI has lovely scenery to enjoy, spectacular beaches and golf courses, and many attractions to keep visitors busy exploring our Island, many come to the Island knowing that PEI offers great food from the land and sea.

Cavendish Beach, PEI
Cavendish Beach, PEI

Our potatoes, oysters, mussels, and lobster, in particular, are shipped all over the world and these Island products are well known, respected, and sought after for their high quality.

PEI Potatoes
PEI Potatoes

So, what better way to experience the Island foods first hand than to take a short cooking class to learn more about them and how they can be prepared.

The Table Culinary Studio (formerly Annie’s Table) has been in operation since 2012, offering an array of short cooking classes on a myriad of topics.  Under new ownership in 2016, The Table, with owner/chef Derrick Hoare at the helm, continues with the tradition of engaging culinary aficionados in ways to prepare local Island foods such as lobster, oysters, mussels, scallops, beef, cheese, and so forth.  The focus is very much on using fresh local ingredients that are in season and, by extension, acquainting participants with the rich Island food culture.

The Table offers a number of hands-on cooking classes that include (at the time of writing) Bounty of the Sea, Black Gold (cured garlic), Farm to Table, Marilla’s Table, Hive to Table, Let Them Eat Beef, Oyster Obsession, Say Cheese, Vivacious Vegan, Applelicious, Artisan Bread, Gluten Free Gourmet, and Helping Hands.  The Table operates seasonally from May to October to coincide with the Island’s tourism season.  Several of the cooking classes involve field trips to farms and other local food producers to see, first-hand, how food is grown or produced and to pick up some local ingredients to bring back to The Table to be used in the class that follows.  This form of experiential tourism provides the opportunity for the learners to create wonderful memories of their vacation time in PEI, connect directly with PEI food producers, and to learn more about the Island’s food culture and the role that farming, fishing, and other food production play in the Island’s economy and way of life.

I recently participated in the “Bounty of the Sea” cooking class at The Table which is located within walking distance to the house in which famed Island authoress Lucy Maud Montgomery was born and not far by vehicle to the resort municipality of Cavendish.

Birthplace of authoress Lucy Maud Montgomery, New London, PEI
Birthplace of authoress Lucy Maud Montgomery, New London, PEI

But, before I take you on the adventure with me, here is a brief description of the venue and what a cooking class is like at The Table.

The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

What makes this culinary studio unique is its venue.  It is located in a small white repurposed country church, very typical of so many seen in several Island communities.  Inside the church, the pews have been removed and, in their place, is a large harvest table where, in a few hours time, class participants will gather to enjoy the lavish spread of the morning’s cooking. The church’s altar has been elevated to a loft setting and the building is tastefully furnished.

Students Gather at the Harvest Table Following a Cooking Class at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
Students Gather at the Harvest Table Following a Cooking Class at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

The original altar and choir loft locations have been transformed into an open teaching kitchen.

The Kitchen at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
The Kitchen at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

Class size is small and intimate – only a maximum of 10 participants per cooking class.  This ensures that each person has a front row view as the culinary team teaches the cooking or baking techniques in the open-style kitchen. It also allows for participants to be actively engaged and participating in the cooking or baking activities.

The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

The culinary team consists of owner/chef Derrick Hoare, Executive Chef Michael Bradley, and Events Coordinator Christine Morgan. The atmosphere is unhurried and very sociable. Strangers become friends over the commonality of food. With a growing hunger for knowledge about where one’s food comes from and how it is grown, produced, or harvested, cooking classes appeal to most age demographics and skill levels. No need to worry if you are not an experienced or accomplished cook – the classes offer something for everyone, including a scrumptious meal after the class in the beautifully appointed old country church.

So, now on to my adventure as a participant in The Table’s “Bounty of the Sea” cooking class.  After morning coffee upon arrival, everyone got suited up with their aprons and side towels.

At The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
At The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

The class began with Chef Derrick giving a brief talk on lobster fishing on PEI, recounting his own experiences going out on a fishing boat to learn, first-hand, about lobster fishing on the Island.  Chef Michael then gave a short biology lesson on how to identify the gender of a lobster.

Executive Chef Michael Bradley at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
Executive Chef Michael Bradley at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

It’s a good thing those lobsters were banded because, if you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of having a finger caught in the claws of one, you are likely to end up with a broken finger – they’re strong!

Lobsters
Fiesty Lobsters

Everyone was given a lobster and instructed on how to carefully de-band them before placing them in hot water to be cooked. Chef Michael explained how much salt was needed in the water to boil the lobsters and how long they needed to cook.

Cooking Lobsters at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
Cooking Lobsters at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

Chef Derrick kept a watchful eye on the lobsters so they were removed from the pot at just the right time.

Derrick Hoare, Owner/Chef at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
Derrick Hoare, Owner/Chef at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

Next came the lesson on how to crack open a lobster.

Cooked Lobster
Cooked Lobster

Chef Michael capably gave instructions as each student cracked open a lobster to reveal the succulent meat inside.

Meat from the Lobster
Meat from the Lobster

Yes, a basic table knife will do the trick!

Cracking Open Lobsters
Cracking Open Lobsters

Having never made homemade pasta before, I was particularly interested in the procedure.

Making Homemade Pasta at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
Making Homemade Pasta at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

The Table is very accommodating to class participants who have dietary restrictions.  On this day, there were two participants who were gluten-intolerant so a separate station on an adjacent workspace was set up for them to make the gluten-free pasta and Chef Michael alternated between the two groups giving information and instruction on pasta making.

Making Gluten-Free Pasta at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
Making Gluten-Free Pasta at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

Black garlic from nearby Eureka Garlic, not far from Kensington, was used in the pasta to give a unique flavour.  If you have never tasted black garlic, it’s not nearly as garlicky as you might think – I personally think it tastes like a cross between a fig and a prune.  You can check out my story here on Eureka Garlic.

Black Garlic from Eureka Garlic near Kensington, PEI
Black Garlic from Eureka Garlic near Kensington, PEI

The chopped black garlic was kneaded into the pasta dough.

Adding Black Garlic to Pasta Dough
Adding Black Garlic to Pasta Dough

The pasta dough was cut and gathered into circles ready to be dropped into the cooking pot.

Cutting the Pasta Dough
Cutting the Pasta Dough
Homemade Pasta Ready for Cooking
Homemade Pasta Ready for Cooking

With the pasta made, we took a brief break from the food prep to listen to Christine explain how mussels are grown and harvested on PEI.

Christine Morgan Explains How PEI Mussels are Grown and Harvested
Christine Morgan Explains How PEI Mussels are Grown and Harvested

PEI mussels are world famous and they are shipped all over the world.   Mussels are a common food to serve at many events, year-round, on PEI. They are easy to prepare and ever-so-tasty dipped in melted butter!

Steamed PEI Mussels at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
Christine Morgan Serves Up Steamed PEI Mussels at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

Chef Michael then guided the group in making Lobster Bisque.  Once the Mirepoix started cooking, you can only imagine how tantalizing the scent was as it wafted through the old church building.

Stirring the Mirepoix for the Lobster Bisque at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
Stirring the Mirepoix for the Lobster Bisque at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

Ohhhh, that lobster is going to make a dandy lunch – can’t you just taste it!

Lobster Bisque in the Making at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
Lobster Bisque in the Making at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

The third seafood that we learned to cook was scallops, those tasty little morsels!

Cooking Scallops at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
Cooking Scallops at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

The morning went super fast and, before we knew it, it was time for lunch to be served by the culinary team.

Chef Michael Bradley of The Table Culinary Studio Preparing the Lobster Bisque for Serving
Chef Michael Bradley of The Table Culinary Studio Preparing the Bowls of Lobster Bisque for Serving

The table was beautifully set (those of you who follow my food blog regularly know how I love well-set tables).  The napkin at each place setting had either a small lobster trap or lobster napkin ring.

Place Setting at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
Place Setting at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

These napkin rings tied in well with the theme of the morning’s class – “Bounty of the Sea”.

Place Setting at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
Place Setting at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

How inviting does this look! Wouldn’t you love to sit in at this table!

At The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
At The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

Fresh homemade sourdough bread was on the table.

Homemade Sourdough Bread
Homemade Sourdough Bread

The landing at the top of the spiral staircase in the church provided a great vantage point for photography.

Spiral Staircase at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
Spiral Staircase at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

The group assembled at the big harvest table which is the focal point in the middle of the studio. This 12’ table was hand-crafted from old attic boards extracted from the house which The Table’s former owner restored just up the road at New London corner.

Class Lunch at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
Class Lunch at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

How great does this lobster bisque look with that succulent lobster claw!  It tasted even better!

Lobster Bisque
Lobster Bisque

We were very anxious to taste the homemade pasta and it did not disappoint! The pasta in the photo below is gluten-free.

Homemade Pasta Topped with Lobster and Scallops at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
Homemade Pasta Topped with Lobster and Scallops at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

This was accompanied by big bowls of PEI mussels with squeaky cheese topping melting down through the mussels.  If you are a mussel lover, these are hard to resist!

PEI Mussels with Butter at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
PEI Mussels with Butter at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

And as if we weren’t stuffed enough, out came dessert. The dessert in the photo below is a chocolate beet cake.

Chocolate Beet Cake at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
Chocolate Beet Cake at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

And, for the gluten-free dessert, it was a deconstructed blueberry pie which I can attest was simply yummy!

Gluten-free Deconstructed Blueberry Pie - The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
Gluten-free Deconstructed Blueberry Pie – The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

The Table is set with the right ingredients – small class size, fresh local Island foods, quality instruction, hands-on cooking, a shared meal, and a charming venue with a history of its own.  If you are looking for an authentic and affordable cooking experience to allow you to more deeply engage with the local food scene and pick up some cooking tips and skills, check out course offerings at The Table.  With the short half-day classes, visitors can have the best of both worlds – a cooking experience to learn more about local PEI foods in the morning followed by a delicious lunch and then the rest of the day free to explore other Island adventures and sights. For more information on cooking classes and prices, visit The Table Culinary Studio website at: http://www.thetablepei.ca/classes

The Table also offers fine dining in the evening (reservations required).  Click here to read my recent story on The Table’s North Shore Surf and Turf Dinner.

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Cooking Classes in PEI
Cooking Classes at The Table Culinary Studio in PEI
Cooking Classes in PEI
Cooking Classes at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
Cooking Classes in Prince Edward Island
Cooking Class at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

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My thanks to The Table Culinary Studio for the opportunity to experience their “Bounty of the Sea” cooking class and for the fine hospitality. My participation in the class was complimentary for the purpose of conducting a review of the “Bounty of the Sea” cooking class. However, this in no way influenced my opinions of the class experience. All opinions expressed in this review are purely my own.

Feasting at The Table in New London, PEI

  At The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
At The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

One of the things most of us enjoy about travel is the opportunity to sample foods local to a region.  It’s part of the charm of a place and makes for great vacation memories.  At one time, vacationers went to a destination, did some sightseeing, took in some typical tourist attractions (amusement parks, museums, beaches, etc.), and ate at whatever restaurant they happened upon at meal time. Today’s travelers, generally speaking, are more interested in diversified travel experiences than they are simply going to a place so they can check it off their bucket list of places they have been.  Many seek out adventures that allow them to participate in activities, experience the uniqueness and authenticity of a place, mingle with the locals, and learn more about local foods and ways to prepare them.

Grilled PEI Oysters Topped With A Black Garlic Cream Sauce and Bacon Jam (at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI)
Grilled PEI Oysters Topped With A Black Garlic Cream Sauce and Bacon Jam (at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI)

One of the best ways to learn about a place and its culture is through its local food.  In fact, many travelers choose destinations based on the local food scene, food festivals and events, unique dining experiences, and opportunities to participate in culinary classes. Many, therefore, seek out experiences that allow them to connect more fully with a region and what better way to do that than through food, especially if it is experiential cuisine where you learn something about the foods you are eating.

The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

I was recently a guest at the North Shore Surf and Turf Dinner at The Table Culinary Studio which hosts themed communal-style dinners featuring Prince Edward Island foods throughout the summer months.  Today, I am going to share my dining experience at The Table with you.

The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

The Table Culinary Studio is the successor of Annie’s Table Culinary Studio which was started by Annie Leroux in 2012.  You can click here for my story on Annie’s Table Culinary Studio.  Current owner, Derrick Hoare (himself a trained chef), had been a long-time summer resident on PEI for many years, was retiring from his career in the health care profession, and was looking for his next adventure.  He contemplated buying a traditional restaurant in PEI but decided that was not his style.  When Annie’s Table became available for sale, Derrick liked the concept Annie had begun so he bought the business which he began operating in 2016. In addition to keeping the tradition of offering short culinary courses, he added themed evening dining to the menu and renamed the business to The Table Culinary Studio.

Derrick Hoare, Owner/Chef at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
Derrick Hoare, Owner/Chef at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

Set in the small rural community of New London, not far from the resort municipality of Cavendish (the hometown of the fictional Anne of Green Gables – you may have heard of her!), you will find The Table on Route 8 or, as the locals would simply say, the Grahams Road.

At The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
At The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

With a backdrop of green fertile rolling countryside, The Table is located in a repurposed former United Church that is tastefully furnished with quality antiques.  Several of the elements of the decommissioned church have been incorporated into the décor, including the pulpit that now occupies a prominent position overlooking the dining hall.

Interior of the re-purposed country church that is now The Table Culinary Studio
Interior of the Re-purposed Country Church that is now The Table Culinary Studio

The entire venue is open concept so diners can watch the culinary team prepare the meal.  This unique dining experience will make you feel like you are more at an intimate dinner party with a private chef catering than at a restaurant.

At The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
At The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

Open seasonally, seven nights a week, for themed dinners that feature local Island foods that come from the land and the sea, The Table can accommodate up to 18 guests an evening, one seating only.  Tickets for the dinner must be reserved in advance  (by phone or email) and the menu for each evening is a set menu – you eat whatever is being prepared that night which takes the pressure off of studying a menu and trying to decide what to have. Drinks are at extra cost and are payable at the end of the evening along with the dinner.

The themed dinners range from the Traditional Island Feast to the Island Dinner Party to Isle and Fire to the North Shore Surf and Turf and all focus on fresh local foods harvested or fished nearby. Seating is at one long harvest table in the middle of the old church and food is served family style which is to say that the main meal, on large platters, arrives at the table and guests pass the platters around, serving themselves.  There are no individual tables.

At the Surf and Turf Dinner at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
At the Surf and Turf Dinner at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

It seems only fitting that communal dining would be the style of dining at The Table given that it is in a decommissioned church.  Communal dining dates back to biblical times – you know, the breaking of bread together.  The concept of individual tables for dining did not start until a long time after these origins.  Some may find it requires some stepping out of the comfort zone to attend a dinner with strangers all seated at the same table but, when you think about it, church and community potluck dinners have been around for ages and they are traditionally served at long communal tables where you don’t necessarily know the people seated around you.  We do a lot of cruising and have never requested a table for two in the ship’s dining room simply because we like to meet new people and inject some new conversation into meal times when traveling. So, sitting down to a meal alongside people I have not met before is quite comfortable and familiar for me. After all, the chances are that they are all food enthusiasts, too!

One of the lovely parts of this type of experiential dining is that you get to interact with those preparing the meal.  In contrast, if you go into a traditional style restaurant, you are seated, have limited contact with the wait staff, and most likely never see the chefs let alone have any direct contact with them.  At The Table, there are lots of opportunities to communicate directly with the owner/chef Derrick, executive chef Michael Bradley, oyster shucker George Dowdle, and The Table’s event planner, Christine Morgan. Together, this is the culinary team at The Table.

Chef Michael Smith, Executive Chef at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
Executive Chef Michael Smith at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

The Table benefits from having a talented and enthusiastic young chef. With over ten years of experience in professional kitchens, Chef Michael Bradley is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown.  Chef Michael has been at The Table from the beginning, starting as an intern and working his way up to become the executive chef.

Outdoor Reception at the Surf and Turf Dinner at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
Outdoor Reception at the Surf and Turf Dinner at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

I truly felt like I was at someone’s private dinner party.  It was a perfect sunny summer evening as guests arrived for the event which started on the side lawn of the church.  When I arrived, local aquaculturalist, George Dowdle, was busy shucking oysters that he had fished from the nearby Southwest River only hours before the dinner.

Aquaculturalist, George Dowdle, Shucking Oysters at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
Aquaculturalist, George Dowdle, Shucking Oysters at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

Guests soon became preoccupied with consuming the fresh raw oysters which were served with a choice of three sauces:  Asian Thai, Lemon Herb, and Pomegranate Herb.  It wasn’t long before everyone felt comfortable and at home with each other as the conversations quickly turned to discussions about the food.

Freshly shucked oysters at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
Freshly Shucked Oysters at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
PEI Oysters on the Grill at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
PEI Oysters on the Grill at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

Not quite into slurping raw oysters? Chef Michael also has a unique way of serving grilled oysters. He first puts the oysters on the open fire grill to warm them up, then shucks them and tops them with a black garlic cream sauce and bacon jam, then puts them back on the grill to re-heat them.  Simply sublime!

PEI Oysters hot off the grill and served with black garlic cream sauce and bacon jam
PEI Oysters Hot off the Grill and Served with Black Garlic Cream Sauce and Bacon Jam

While clams sometimes take a back seat in popularity to mussels and oysters, The Table includes them as part of the meal.

PEI Clams (at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI)
PEI Clams (at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI)

When we had our fill of oysters, out came the cheese and charcuterie trays.

Cheese Tray at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
Cheese Tray at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

On this evening, The Table served their own homemade black garlic crackers alongside an assortment of cheeses from Ferme Isle St Jean in Rustico and Glasgow Glen Farm in New Glasgow. This was rounded out by pickled beets, pickled carrots, pickled spruce tips, and rhubarb chutney (all made in-house at The Table).

Condiments on the Charcuterie Tray at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
Condiments on the Charcuterie Tray at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

While guests were busy noshing on the appetizers, Chef Michael was preparing the sirloin tip roast with a black garlic espresso rub. Cooked over an open fire, you can only imagine how tantalizing the scent was!

Executive Chef, Michael Bradley preps the grill for the sirloin tip beef
Executive Chef, Michael Bradley Preps the Grill for the Sirloin Tip Roast
Grilling the Sirloin Tip Beef Over an Open Fire at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
Grilling the Sirloin Tip Beef Over an Open Fire at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

Then, Chef Michael demonstrated how they cook the mussels in a fire pit with seaweed and smoke.

Executive Chef at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI, Prepares the Cooking Pit to Cook the Mussels
Executive Chef at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI, Prepares the Cooking Pit to Cook the Mussels

The mussels are placed in wet pillowcases which give the moisture the mussels need to open.

Placing bags of Mussels in the Fire Pit at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
Placing Bags of Mussels in the Fire Pit at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
Covering bags of PEI Mussels with Seaweed for Cooking in the Fire Pit at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
Covering Bags of PEI Mussels with Seaweed for Cooking in the Fire Pit at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
Fire Pit for Cooking Mussels at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
Fire Pit for Cooking Mussels at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
Fire Pit for Cooking Mussels at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
Fire Pit for Cooking Mussels at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

Guests leisurely made their way inside the church where the meal was served.  The big 12-foot long handmade harvest table occupies much of the space that once would have been filled with church pews.

The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

By this time, guests were very comfortable in the company of each other and, since there were three Islanders present, the conversation soon turned to various aspects of how local foods are produced and farming and fishing, in general.  Food is such a commonality and ice breaker!

Communal Dining at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
Communal Dining at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

The meal began with a plated salad highlighted by the skirt steak from Atlantic Beef Products in Albany. The steak had been marinated in an onion garlic marinade.

Salad with skirt steak at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
Salad with Skirt Steak at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

The boards of housemade sourdough bread were served with a black garlic spread as well as honey butter.

Bread Board at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
Bread Board at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

Before each course was presented, Chef Michael came tableside to explain what the course consisted of and how it was prepared.

Executive Chef, Michael Bradley, at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
Executive Chef, Michael Bradley, at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

Next came huge platters of bountiful mixed seasonal vegetables with the fire-grilled sirloin tip roast.

Platters of Vegetables and Sirloin Tip Roast at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
Platters of Vegetables and Sirloin Tip Roast at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

The veggies (along with the salad greens) came from nearby Alexander Fresh Vegetables in Hope River. These were very attractively presented platters.

Platter of Vegetables and Sirloin Tip Roast at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
Platter of Vegetables and Sirloin Tip Roast at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

Then, the seafood platters arrived.  All those mussels that had been cooking in the fire pit emerged from the pillowcases and formed the base for lobster claws and tails.

Lobsters and Mussels at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
Lobsters and Mussels at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

The lobster, fished from boats out of nearby French River Harbour, had been par-cooked with a garlic butter and then was finished on the grill outside.

French River Harbour, PEI
French River Harbour, PEI

The green sauce accompanying the mussels was a garden pesto cream sauce.

Lobster and Mussels at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI
Lobster and Mussels at The Table Culinary Studio, New London, PEI

By this time, I was stuffed and thought I would just roll home but, wait, dessert was to come!  Dessert was a blood orange infused carrot cake with orange cream cheese icing. I didn’t get a photo of it because I was too busy enjoying the gluten-free option that was a deconstructed strawberry pie made with a strawberry balsamic reduction and gluten-free pastry lattice, all topped with lactose-free ice cream.

Gluten-Free Dessert at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI.
Gluten-Free Dessert at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI.

The Table prides itself on using the best of what is fresh and local.  Most foods for their themed dinners come from under 10 km away and are farmed and fished by friends and neighbours. So, you know that when you dine at The Table, food will not have traveled thousands of miles before it has reached your plate. In fact, you can seek out the same food suppliers to purchase high quality local PEI products.

I asked Christine if they ever get families for their dinners.  She tells me, although 90% of their clientele are adults, parents are welcome to bring their children and they do often have families in attendance.  Patrons should note, however, that there is no children’s menu offered so the wee folk eat the same food as the adults.

What I have described above is the meal for the Surf and Turf dinner.  I inquired if the meal ingredients are identical for this particular dinner every night.  Christine informs me that the appetizers, vegetables, and dessert do vary by what is seasonally available.  So, if you are having the Surf and Turf dinner at The Table after having read this post, you’ll be aware that the meal ingredients may not be 100% identical to what I enjoyed in early July.

So, if you want to really immerse yourself in local PEI foods and have a totally relaxing evening in the beautiful countryside of Prince Edward Island while feasting on carefully prepared dishes in a unique setting, you should check out The Table Culinary Studio. If you have dietary restrictions, be sure to advise of that when making your reservation and, to the extent possible, the culinary team at The Table will do all they can to accommodate special dietary needs.

For more information on dining options at The Table, and to make reservations, check out their website at http://www.thetablepei.ca/dining .

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Dinner at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
Dinner at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
Dinner at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI
Dinner at The Table Culinary Studio in New London, PEI

My thanks to The Table Culinary Studio for the opportunity to experience their North Shore Surf and Turf Dinner and for the fine hospitality. My dinner at the The Table Culinary Studio was complimentary for the purpose of conducting a review of the North Shore Surf and Turf dinner. However, this in no way influenced my opinions of the dinner experience. All opinions expressed in this review are purely my own.

Aw, Shucks! The Merroir of PEI Malpeque Oysters

PEI Malpeque Oysters
PEI Malpeque Oysters

Prince Edward Island is well-known for its variety of high quality shellfish – think lobster, mussels, and oysters, in particular.  Today, however, my blog posting is all about the world-famous PEI Malpeque oysters. According to the PEI Government website (https://www.princeedwardisland.ca/en/information/agriculture-and-fisheries/oysters ), the Island is Canada’s second largest oyster producing province and is the largest oyster producing province in the Atlantic region. It’s not uncommon in my travels to find PEI Malpeque Oysters on a restaurant menu.  No matter the variety or brand of oysters from PEI, or what part of the Island they are fished or farmed, they are generally all referred to as “Malpeques”.  How that came to be is, itself, an interesting story.

PEI oysters have a long history with the government issuing leases for oyster fishing back as far as the mid-1800s to those wishing to fish oysters from the ocean seabed.  The oysters were made famous at the 1900 Paris World Fair where, in an oyster-tasting contest, they were crowned the world’s best oysters. The oysters were simply named for Malpeque Bay on the Island’s north shore from where the winning oysters were fished.

However, the oyster industry on PEI was stricken in 1915 when disease wiped out about 90% of the Island’s oyster population. Miraculously, however, the oysters in Malpeque Bay survived.  Seed (which is basically a tiny version of an adult oyster) from these oysters was gathered and spread throughout other bodies of water around the Island and the oyster industry rebounded. To this day, over 100 years later, all oysters produced on PEI are considered to be direct descendants of oysters from Malpeque Bay. So, that’s why all PEI oysters, regardless from what part of the Island they come, or what variety or brand they are, are called “Malpeques”.  Who knew PEI oysters had lineage and a family tree! So, while there is one species – the Malpeques – there can be any number of varieties and brands. A little more about the varieties of “Malpeques” a bit later.

To find out more about the oyster industry on PEI, I paid a visit to the Raspberry Point Oyster Co., one of the Island’s largest oyster growing operators, processors, and exporters.  At the company’s hub operations center in Bayview near Cavendish on PEI’s north shore, I caught up with James Power, oyster connoisseur and manager of the Raspberry Point Oyster Co.

James Power, Manager, Raspberry Point Oyster Co., PEI
James Power, Manager, Raspberry Point Oyster Co., PEI

James lives and breathes oysters and you would be hard pressed to find anyone any more passionate about the oyster industry than James.  And, with good reason.  Oyster sales are brisk for the Raspberry Point Oyster Co., growing year over year.  James tells me that more than 10M oysters are cultured annually from the company’s farming operations in New London Bay, Rustico, and Oyster Bed Bridge/Rustico Bay. While the majority (about 90%) of their sales are in North America (with Montreal, Toronto, and Boston accounting for about 75% of sales), they regularly ship internationally all over the world that includes weekly shipments to the Netherlands as well as regular shipments to places like Belgium, France, Hong Kong, China, and Singapore. Small wonder, then, why it’s generally not too surprising to find PEI oysters on restaurant menus in all corners of the world!

Both oyster fishing and oyster farming exist on PEI.  The traditional method of oyster fishing is done through the use of manually-operated large wooden tongs.

Oyster Fishing on PEI
Oyster Fishing on PEI

If you travel around the shores, bays, rivers, and estuaries of PEI, a common sight from spring to fall will be dozens of little dories each manned by a lone fisher using long wooden tongs with rakes at the ends to scoop up the oysters. These are independent local oyster fishers who buy licenses from the federal government allowing them to fish wild oysters on any public fishing grounds.

Oyster Fishing
Oyster Fishing

These oysters are known as bottom culture oysters that are slow to mature taking, on average, 5-7 years to grow to the desired market size of 3” – 3½“.  Bottom culture oysters grow slowly because there is less natural food available to them. Oysters harvested by these small independent fishers are sold to oyster processing plants.

Oyster Fishing in Summerside, PEI
Oyster Fishing in Summerside, PEI

The other method of producing oysters is to raise, culture, or grow the oysters, a practice commonly known as “oyster farming” and that’s the method used by large commercial growers for mass production needed to meet demands from around the world. Growers lease ground, that is not public fishing ground, in which to grow their oysters.

There are two methods of oyster aquaculture – bottom culture and off-bottom (sometimes known as top, floating, or surface culture) and Raspberry Point Oyster Co. uses both methods. With bottom culture oysters, grown in water depth between 3’ and 8’, the grower spreads the oyster seed on the seabed. James says their top culture oysters are grown in water that is between 8’ and 15’ deep.  The oyster seed is purchased from hatcheries and from oyster farmers who catch wild spat, or larvae in collectors like the ones in the photo below. Once the oysters are big enough, they will be transferred to netted bags to grow, safe from predators like starfish and crabs.

Oyster Spat Collectors
Oyster Spat Collectors

All oysters at Raspberry Point Oyster Co. are started as top culture in floating mesh bags and then some are moved to bottom culture areas. The type of culture (bottom or top) used is often chosen on the basis of local growing conditions. Some parts of leased areas are too shallow for top culture and others might have too soft a seabed for bottom culture oysters. Using the two methods of farming, therefore, allows the Raspberry Point Oyster Co. to maximize the growing areas in their leases and also allows oysters to develop with different flavours, colors (they range from brown/white, gray to green), and appearance. Generally, the larger oyster seed is spread on the seabed because the oysters’ advanced size makes it more difficult for crabs and starfish to get at them.

Colors and Textures of PEI Oysters
Colors, Shapes, and Textures of PEI Oysters

When the bottom culture oysters have grown to market size, specialized oyster harvesters that use water pressure, scoop up the oysters.  The oysters come up from the seabed on to an escalator and those that are of the desired size are harvested while ones not quite of sufficient size are returned to the seabed bottom to allow them to continue to grow.  Bottom culture oysters usually take 5-7 years to grow to market size and this is because there is usually less water flow and food on the sea bed than is available for surface culture oysters. Oyster farmers do not need to provide special food for their oysters as the bivalves draw all the necessary nutrients from their seawater habitat along with naturally occurring plankton and plant life.  So long as the mollusks have clean water and care is taken to limit their predators access, oysters will grow naturally on their own.

The other method of growing oysters is top culture, often referred to as surface or floating culture. With advances in oyster growing technology and methods, today’s floating aquaculture speeds up the rate of maturation allowing for top culture oysters to be grown in about 3-5 years.  There is usually more constant water flow as the result of wave action during tidal changes and more natural food supplies nearer the water’s surface so oysters grown as top culture in floating bags just at or under the water surface are able to grow to market size sooner.  Top culture oyster farming involves growing the oysters in mesh bags that float in basket-like cages around the water surface level.

Floating Cage for Top Culture Oysters
Floating Cage for Top Culture Oysters
Floating Cage for Top Culture Oysters
Floating Cage for Top Culture Oysters

The baskets are constructed so that the water is able to flush through, bringing food to the mollusks and keeping them cleaner than those grown in the mud on the seabed bottom. The baskets are regularly flipped and the water flow and waves rock the baskets and chip away, or manicure, the rough edges of the oysters, giving them a more desirable looking shell. This also allows for seaweed, barnacles, and other organisms that find their way into the baskets to be exposed to sunlight and dry out and not become an infestation to the growing oysters. The bags inside the floating baskets also help to protect the oysters against predators. So, if you see rows of these floating cages in a body of water around the Island, you’ll know they’re filled with growing oysters.

Floating Cages of Oysters in New London Bay, PEI
Floating Cages of Oysters in New London Bay, PEI
Floating Cages of Oysters in New London Bay, PEI
Floating Cages of Oysters in New London Bay, PEI

Once oysters, either bottom or top cultures, have reached their market size, they are brought into the processing plant where they are culled, graded for size and shape, washed, counted, boxed, and are shipped to customers around the world.

Oysters Arriving at the Processing Plant
Oysters Arriving at the Processing Plant
Grading and Sorting Oysters
Grading and Sorting Oysters
Washing the Oysters
Washing the Oysters
Quality Controlling the Oysters Just Before They Are Boxed for Shipping
Quality Controlling the Oysters Just Before They Are Boxed for Shipping
A Box of "Lucky Limes" Oysters from Raspberry Point Oyster Company in PEI
A Box of “Lucky Limes” Oysters from Raspberry Point Oyster Co. in PEI
Inside the Processing Plant at Raspberry Point Oyster Company, Bayview, PEI
Inside the Processing Plant at Raspberry Point Oyster Company, Bayview, PEI
Bags of Oysters at the Raspberry Point Oyster Co.
Bags of Oysters at the Raspberry Point Oyster Co.
Inside the Cold Storage Room at Raspberry Point Oyster Co. in Bayview, PEI
Inside the Cold Storage Room at Raspberry Point Oyster Co. in Bayview, PEI

Because this industry is now year-round, oysters not needed for immediate shipment are put into trays like the ones shown to the left in the photo below and placed back out into shallow water until needed.

Oyster Trays
Oyster Trays

Since they are already graded, counted, and sorted by variety, they can quickly be retrieved and shipped when orders come in year-round.

The barge in the photo below is returning to shore with a load of trays filled with graded and sorted oysters which will soon be on their way somewhere in the world to fill orders!

Barge Returning to Shore with a Load of Oysters Ready for Market
Barge Returning to Shore with a Load of Oysters Ready for Market
Offloading Oysters Ready for Market
Offloading Oysters Ready for Market

Oysters like cold water but, in PEI’s cold winters, they can’t stay up near the water’s surface where they would freeze. So, for top culture/surface grown oysters, the Raspberry Point Oyster Co. sinks aluminum cages filled with oysters into 15’ – 20’ of water each winter. At the time of writing, the company prepared upwards of 1000 aluminum cages that they filled and sunk with 7000 graded and sorted oysters per cage at the end of November. Locations of cages are marked by a metal pole and the oyster harvesters head out over the ice to retrieve the oysters to fill winter shipments, making the Island’s oyster farming a year-round industry.

Preparing to Saw Through Ice to Retrieve Oyster Cages (Photo submitted by James Power, Raspberry Point Oyster Co.)
Preparing to Saw Through Ice to Retrieve Oyster Cages (Photo submitted by James Power, Raspberry Point Oyster Co.)

Sometimes, the ice is so thick that workers have to use a high-powered saw (shown in photo above) to cut through the thick ice so that tethered divers can dive in and locate the cages and hook them up to a hydraulic lift that will pull them out of the water.

Diving Under the Ice to Retrieve Oyster Cages Sunk for the Winter (Photo Submitted by James Power, Raspberry Point Oyster Co.)
Diving Under the Ice to Retrieve Oyster Cages Sunk for the Winter (Photo Submitted by James Power, Raspberry Point Oyster Co.)
Retrieved Oyster Cage Filled with Oysters Ready for Market (Photo Submitted by James Power, Raspberry Point Oyster Co.)
Retrieved Oyster Cage Filled with Oysters Ready for Market (Photo Submitted by James Power, Raspberry Point Oyster Co.)

The oysters are then hauled on a sled towed behind a four-wheeler or, if the ice is sufficiently thick, by a truck, back to the processing and shipping plant.

The varieties of oysters on PEI are often (though not always) named for the body of water in which they are grown. The Raspberry Point Oyster Co. draws its name from a little point of land on the Homestead Trail in nearby Cavendish.  Readers from outside PEI will likely associate the Cavendish name as the setting for famed authoress Lucy Maud Montgomery’s famous Anne of Green Gables series of books. A number of years ago, Scott and Charles Linkletter, the owners of Raspberry Point’s forerunner company, The PEI Oyster Company, had a lease to fish oysters in this area so they renamed the company to the Raspberry Point Oyster Co. Today, still owned and operated by the Linkletter family, Raspberry Point Oyster Co. has six varieties of Malpeque oysters on the market:

  • Raspberry Point – Bearing the company name, this variety of 3” oysters is grown as bottom culture in leases in New London Bay. The Raspberry Point variety is the company’s most popular oyster.
  • Lucky Limes – These are 3” oysters, also bottom grown in a lease along the Homestead Trail in New London Bay. The water in this area is filled with algae and that’s what turns the oyster shells green, thus the “lime” in the name.

    Box of Lucky Lime Variety of Oysters from Raspberry Point Oyster Co.
    Box of Lucky Lime Variety of Oysters from Raspberry Point Oyster Co.
  • Shiny Sea – At 2½“ in size, these are considered to be the “baby brother” of the larger 3” Raspberry Point variety. These bottom cultures are also grown in New London Bay.
  • Pickle Point – These are top-culture oysters as they are grown nearer the water’s surface in floating bags in New London Bay.
  • Daisy Bay – These 3” oysters are top-culture, or surface culture, grown in North Rustico.
  • Irish Point – Considered to be cocktail size oysters, these 2½“ oysters are also surface cultures and are grown in North Rustico.

Controls are in place to ensure sustainability of the Island’s oyster industry. Only so many leases are granted by the government to avoid overfishing.  The mollusks, themselves, help to ensure their species continue to survive as they act as great filters to clean the water of toxins by filtering algae and phytoplankton from the water.

According to James, the nature of the water flow and the shape of the seed oyster will basically determine the final shape of the oyster. While James will say that the perfect oyster is very much an individual’s own taste, he says the perfect shaped oyster, in his opinion, is a rounded tear-drop shape that is 3” long by 2” wide. The perfect flavour should consist of a clean, salty taste and a sweet finish.  The meat should be a little bit, but not too, fatty because nothing should interfere with the natural salty taste.

Power says oysters are like terroir is to wine – the flavour of each variety is built on the content of the bay or stream in which the oysters are grown and each oyster will look and taste a little different from the next one.  Since the oysters are coming from the sea and the French word for sea is “mer”, perhaps the term “merroir”, as some have coined it, might be the best description! Power says true oyster connoisseurs can identify the different flavour profiles in raw oysters.  Oysters grown in waters that have more of a rock base may have a mineral-rich flavour (though none of Raspberry Point oysters have this terroir/merroir) while others grown elsewhere may have a slight vegetable taste picked up from whatever vegetation or algae may be in their water habitat.

Power also says the oyster meat and flavour change with the seasons.  In summer, the oysters are thin and salty – the bivalves are more interested in reproduction than getting fat so keeping their svelte figure is obviously their concern!  In the fall (September – October), the waters are getting colder and the oysters will start building up fat for the cold winter months.  When the water temperature gets down to 5°C, the oysters shut down and hibernate inside their hard shells, living off the fat they built up in the fall. So, if you are eating oysters that come from icy waters, they’re likely to be quite plump and perhaps just a little sweeter.  In the spring, the oysters still stay fat but, as the snow melts, it dilutes the natural salt in the water so the oysters will taste less salty.

Oysters are low in fat, high in protein, and are a good source of iron and zinc.  They are also a source of, amongst others, Vitamins B12 and C along with Thiamin, Magnesium, and Phosphorus.

PEI Oysters
PEI Oysters

Oysters are most often served raw on the half shell on a bed of ice with freshly squeezed lemon or, sometimes, with a peppery shallot mignonette.  Chef Michael Smith often serves oysters with a Bloody Mary Ice seen in the photo below.

Shucked PEI Oysters Served with Bloody Mary Ice
Shucked PEI Oysters Served with Bloody Mary Ice

Oysters are shucked using a special short, blunt knife made for this purpose. Power says he believes oysters are popular, especially eaten raw, because they are an all-natural food, not processed or transformed.  Oyster bars are very popular and an emerging trend is to pair oysters with wines, beers, and whiskey. Fresh oysters are available at most fish markets on PEI as well as the larger supermarkets. On PEI, many restaurants serve raw oysters and, at many Fall Flavours Festival events each September, oysters are a staple, like they were at the 2017 “A Taste of Rustico” event where Chef Michael Smith (in photo below) was busy shucking Raspberry Point oysters.

Chef Michael Smith Shucking Raspberry Point Oysters at "Taste of Rustico" Fall Flavours event 2017
Chef Michael Smith Shucking Raspberry Point Oysters at “Taste of Rustico” Fall Flavours event 2017
Raspberry Point Oysters at Taste of Rustico Event 2017
Raspberry Point Oysters at Taste of Rustico Event 2017

So, the next time you are slurping back one of the plump briny Prince Edward Island oysters, you’ll now know a little bit more about how the Island oysters are produced, the flavour profile of an Island oyster, and you’ll be enjoying a unique terroir (or perhaps it’s “merroir”) taste from waters in and around Prince Edward Island on Canada’s East Coast.

Plump PEI Oysters
Plump PEI Oysters

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Oyster Farming
Oyster Farming

Rustico Sheep Farm Produces Cheese and Yogurt

On PEI, there are a number of small-scale farmers who are producing artisan-quality food products. Produced on small-scale, it allows the producer to focus on quality and on producing products, or varieties of products, that larger-scale producers might not. I recently paid a visit to the Ferme Isle Saint-Jean in Rustico PEI.

Snack Time at Ferme Isle Saint-Jean, Rustico, PEI
Snack Time at Ferme Isle Saint-Jean, Rustico, PEI

Owned and operated by Deirdre and Gabriel Mercier, the new farmers bravely forged ahead in 2015 with dreams of becoming cheesemakers using sheep’s milk. When Deirdre’s family home and small hobby farm became available for sale, the couple decided the time was right to pursue their entrepreneurship dreams in Deirdre’s home community of Rustico. Gabriel attends to the day-to-day farm operations and the yogurt and cheese making while Deirdre looks after the farm’s bookkeeping.

Isle Saint-Jean Sheep Farm in Rustico, PEI
Ferme Isle Saint-Jean in Rustico, PEI

Currently, the Merciers are milking 104 sheep that produce, on average, between 1 – 1½ litres of milk each a day.  They have two breeds of sheep. The first, East Friesian dairy sheep, originate in northern Germany and are, according to Gabriel, the highest milk-producing sheep. The second breed, the Lacaune, are a dairying sheep breed originating in southern France. The Lacaunes produce less milk than the East Friesians but their milk has a higher fat and protein content.

Sheep Herd
Sheep at Ferme Isle Saint-Jean in Rustico, PEI (Photo courtesy of Isle Saint-Jean Farm)

The farm’s new milking parlour allows for 24 sheep to be milked at once.

Sheep Milk Dairy Milking Parlour
Milking the Sheep at Ferme Isle Saint-Jean Sheep in Rustico, PEI (Photo courtesy Ferm Isle Saint-Jean)

Gabriel is new to a career in farming having spent nearly 10 years in military service. He spent time on a work term on a farm in Quebec followed by a month working in a cheese plant – Nouvelle France Fromagerie – and has taken a course in cheesemaking in Quebec.

Currently, the farm is producing yogurt and cheese by transporting the milk to a cheese factory in Mont Carmel, PEI, where Gabriel goes to make the products. Some cheese is made in a facility in New Brunswick that has an aging room for the cheese, some of which takes time to ripen. In addition, the farm also has lamb sausages available which are made for them by Island Taylored Meats.

Cheese and Yogurt Produced by Ferme Isle Saint-Jean, Rustico, PEI (Photo courtesy of Ferme Isle Saint-Jean)
Cheese and Yogurt Produced by Ferme Isle Saint-Jean, Rustico, PEI (Photo courtesy of Ferme Isle Saint-Jean)

When asked what the biggest challenges are to sheep farming in PEI, Gabriel says operating costs, labour involved, and the long days and 24/7 commitment as the sheep are milked twice a day during lactation for the first 90 days after giving birth then once a day afterwards.

Baby Lambs at Ferme Isle Saint-Jean, Rustico, PEI (Photo courtesy Ferme Isle Saint-Jean)
Baby Lambs at Ferme Isle Saint-Jean, Rustico, PEI (Photo courtesy Ferme Isle Saint-Jean)

Particularly during lambing seasons, the days can be very long as the lambs start arriving in February when it is cold on PEI and so attention is required to ensure they quickly get their first drink and are kept warm.

Young Lambs at Ferme Isle Saint-Jean, Rustico, PEI (Photo courtesy Ferme Isle Saint-Jean)
Young Lambs at Ferme Isle Saint-Jean, Rustico, PEI (Photo courtesy Ferme Isle Saint-Jean)

I love the sentiment captured in the photo below of a mama with her baby lamb!

Mama Poses with her Baby Lamb at Ferme Isle Saint-Jean in Rustico, PEI (Photo courtesy Ferme Isle Saint-Jean)
Mama Poses with her Baby Lamb at Ferme Isle Saint-Jean in Rustico, PEI (Photo courtesy Ferme Isle Saint-Jean)

Despite the work and commitment, the Merciers find great satisfaction in sheep farming.  Gabriel says he has a passion for cheesemaking and enjoys taking a raw product and converting it into something else like yogurt and cheese. The other bonus is he gets to see more of his young family than he would if he worked off the farm.

The three cheeses presently made from the farm’s sheep milk are Alexis Doiron, Blue d’acadie, and Patrick Mercier.  The Alexis Doiron, a firm cheese that is not ripened or aged, is made by Gabriel at the plant in Mont Carmel. Gabriel classes this as a table cheese that he particularly likes grated on eggs.  He says this cheese is grillable and is very good barbequed because it doesn’t actually melt.  He also suggests it can be grated on pizza as well.

Grillable Alexis Doiron Cheese from Ferme Isle Saint-Jean, Rustico, PEI (Photo Courtesy Ferme Isle Saint-Jean)
Grillable Alexis Doiron Cheese from Ferme Isle Saint-Jean, Rustico, PEI (Photo Courtesy Ferme Isle Saint-Jean)

The Blue d’acadie is made in a federally-inspected plant with an aging room in New Brunswick.  It is a semi-firm ripened blue cheese that is suberb on burgers or steak, used in a sauce, or as an addition to a cheese tray.

The newest cheese, Patrick Mercier, is made with unpasteurized sheep’s milk and aged at least four months at the same plant in New Brunswick where the Blue d’acadie is made.

Gabriel produces 200 – 500ml jars of yogurt each week. This yogurt is 100% sheep’s milk plus culture and is available unflavored.  Add some pure maple syrup and toss some granola on top for a special treat or top it on your favorite cereal along with some fresh fruit.

Sheep Yogurt with Blueberries on top of Cereal (Photo courtesy Ferme Isle Saint-Jean)
Sheep Yogurt with Blueberries on top of Cereal (Photo courtesy Ferme Isle Saint-Jean)

What about all the wool on those sheep?  The sheep are sheered once a year, in November, which allows them to grow back a wool coat before the really cold weather strikes PEI.  The wool is transported to MacAusland’s Woolen Mills in Bloomfield, PEI, where it is turned into yarn and woven into blankets.

Sheep Shearing at Ferme Isle Saint-Jean in Rustico, PEI
Sheep Shearing at Ferme Isle Saint-Jean in Rustico, PEI (Photo Courtesy Ferme Isle Saint-Jean)

This past summer, the Merciers opened a retail shop on the farm where the cheeses, yogurt, and lamb sausages can be purchased at source and where customers can enjoy some samples of the yogurt and cheeses.  During the winter months, the shop is open by appointment only.

Gabriel Mercier in his Retail Shop at Ferme Isle Saint-Jean, Rustico, PEI
Gabriel Mercier in his Retail Shop at Ferme Isle Saint-Jean, Rustico, PEI

The farm’s products are currently available in several locations including Riverview Country Market, Kent Street Market, Brighton Clover Farm (all in Charlottetown), as well as at the Charlottetown Farmers Market , the Farmed Market and Craft Butchery and the Summerside Farmers Market, both in Summerside, and Gallant’s Country Market in Rustico. Several Island restaurants, including those in the Rustico area, are serving yogurt and cheeses from the farm as part of their menus.

A visit to Ferme Isle Saint-Jean in Rustico, PEI. Sheep dairy farm produces sheep cheese and yogurt.

Taste of North Rustico, PEI – A Rustico Kitchen Party

North Rustico Harbour, PEI
North Rustico Harbour, PEI

Culinary tourism is a steadily growing part of the whole worldwide tourism industry. This has evolved because today’s foodie tourists want to learn more about their chosen vacation destination through experiencing the local food, drink, and culture. Culinary Festivals are quite common in many regions around the world and are a great way for tourists to experience the local cuisine that reflects the authenticity of a destination.  Tourists who seek culinary experiences and adventures are typically looking for food that is simple and rooted with a history in the local area as opposed to gourmet fare that may, or may not, reflect a particular geographic area.

Each year, in September, PEI celebrates its authentic local foods by hosting the PEI Fall Flavours Festival. In 2017, the Festival celebrated 10 years of great gastronomic events. What started as a short 10-day festival to extend the Island tourism shoulder season has now morphed into a full month of culinary events, big and small, that feature PEI’s finest foods….and we certainly are privileged to enjoy an abundance of them.  The Festival lures some of Canada’s best chefs and local culinary stars and these, along with the great PEI food, music, and hospitality, draw thousands of visitors to the Island each September. Many take in three or four of the Fall Flavours culinary events and several return year after year, specifically planning their vacations around the Festival.

In 2017, the Festival introduced three new events – Taste of Georgetown, Taste of Tyne Valley, and Taste of North Rustico.  The idea behind these events is to get visitors out in to some of the smaller Island communities, closer to where our foods are grown, raised, fished, or produced so they can explore that region’s culture, cuisine, and heritage.  It’s also a way to engage local chefs, restaurateurs, and food producers by giving them the opportunity to showcase their products to foodies who are passionate about food and who are interested in learning more about direct food sources and methods of preparation and serving. Many of today’s foodies are looking for an experience to go along with the food.  Each of these three new events provided that experience that combined a glimpse into our local food and music cultural scene. These are the kinds of events that make for great travel memories. Are you ready to have a “Taste of North Rustico” and attend a Rustico Kitchen Party?

North Rustico, PEI
North Rustico, PEI

North Rustico, a fishing town on PEI’s north shore, is a well-known tourist destination during the summer months when the population swells.

North Rustico Beach, PEI
North Rustico Beach, PEI
North Rustico Beach, PEI
North Rustico Beach, PEI

With its beautiful sandy beach, it has long been a mecca for sunbathers as well as for artists and photographers.

Lighthouse at North Rustico, PEI
Lighthouse at North Rustico, PEI

An abundance of picture-perfect scenes abound everywhere in and around the town and it’s always fascinating to watch the fishers heading out to sea and returning with the day’s catch.

Preparing for Setting Day
Eve of Setting Day in the Fishing Village of North Rustico, PEI, Canada

And, after that perfect day of enjoying the sea, sand, and many fine attractions in the area, no doubt appetite is calling. There are a number of seasonal restaurants that operate in North Rustico and which have earned the town a deserved reputation for fine local authentic food, some of which would have been fished earlier in the day and brought to shore by one of the many local fishing boats. North Rustico has long been known, both by Islanders and tourists alike, as a good place to get a great meal. Therefore, it was a very fitting location to host a PEI Fall Flavours culinary event.

Fishing Boats at North Rustico Harbour, PEI
North Rustico Harbour, PEI

With the scenic backdrop of the fishing boats in North Rustico Harbour, the “Taste of North Rustico” event offered tastings from several local restaurants and nearby local food producers and it served up a real old-fashioned kitchen style party complete with local music. A “Taste of North Rustico” proved to be a celebration of the rich culture, authentic food, and heritage of the scenic and bountiful north shore of PEI.

Site of "Taste of North Rustico" PEI Fall Flavours Event
Site of “Taste of North Rustico” PEI Fall Flavours Event
Site of "Taste of North Rustico" PEI Fall Flavours Event
Site of “Taste of North Rustico” PEI Fall Flavours Event

A large tent was erected in a parking lot just beside the harbour and as folks made their way to the tent, their appetites were tantalized by the scent of Island beef and pork sausages cooking over an open fire.

Grilling over a Wood Fire - "Taste of North Rustico" 2017
Grilling over a Wood Fire – “Taste of North Rustico” 2017

Inside the tent, a stage was set up surrounded by numerous round tables.

Tables at Taste of North Rustico Event 2017
Tables at Taste of North Rustico Event 2017

At each place setting, a set of wooden spoons was included as a take-home memento of the evening. These were also put to good use later in the evening to keep time to the lively music.

Taste of North Rustico 2017
Taste of North Rustico 2017

Designed as a “roving feast”, local  chefs, restaurateurs, and food producers had their “grazing” stations set up around the perimeter of the tent where they were serving up delectable food tastings. The 125 patrons who attended were free to choose the order in which they wished to visit the various stations to sample the food options.

Mayor of North Rustico, PEI - Anne Kirk
Mayor of North Rustico, PEI – Anne Kirk

There was certainly passion and pride in place displayed by the town of North Rustico as their mayor, Anne Kirk, greeted patrons at the entrance to the tent.  She, herself, is quite entertaining and she had a lot of fun on stage with Chef Michael Smith, presenting him with bottles of her homemade pickles and beets and coaxing him to sample them to see if they’d be safe to serve to her family and friends!  I later caught her capably playing the wooden spoons to the rhythm of the music.

Chef Michael Smith with the Mayor of North Rustico, PEI - Anne Kirk ("Taste of North Rustico" 2017)
Chef Michael Smith with the Mayor of North Rustico, PEI – Anne Kirk (“Taste of North Rustico” 2017)

This event was very well organized and I did not experience any long line-up at any of the grazing stations.

Raspberry Point Oysters ("Taste of North Rustico" 2017)
Raspberry Point Oysters (“Taste of North Rustico” 2017)

My first stop was at the Raspberry Point Oyster station where Chef Michael Smith was busy shucking oysters.

Chef Michael Smith shucking Raspberry Point Oysters ("Taste of North Rustico" 2017)
Chef Michael Smith shucking Raspberry Point Oysters (“Taste of North Rustico” 2017)

No matter how hard he coaxed (he tried at the Taste of Georgetown event, too), I just could not slurp a raw oyster!   For this, he denounced me for not being a “good Island girl” and, of course, I unwittingly made things worse by asking the unthinkable…”do you ever cook the oysters?”  Let’s just say we need to be thankful Chef Michael didn’t have a coronary on the spot!  I got the evil eye look and was quickly informed that one only cooks inferior quality oysters, never PEI oysters!

Chef Michael Smith shucking Raspberry Point Oysters ("Taste of North Rustico" 2017)
Chef Michael Smith shucking Raspberry Point Oysters (“Taste of North Rustico” 2017)

But, on the upside, I gave him a good grade on his oyster shucking skills! He claims he’s shucked a few……a few thousand oysters that is!

Chef Michael Smith shucking Raspberry Point Oysters ("Taste of North Rustico" 2017)
Chef Michael Smith shucking Raspberry Point Oysters (“Taste of North Rustico” 2017)

I then made my way over to the station of PEI Fisherman’s Wharf Restaurant where they were serving up bowls of piping hot seafood chowder made with scallops, haddock, shrimp, and lobster in a traditional rue base.

Serving up Seafood Chowder from Fisherman's Wharf ("Taste of North Rustico" 2017)
Serving up Seafood Chowder from Fisherman’s Wharf (“Taste of North Rustico” 2017)

Perhaps you have heard of Fisherman’s Wharf Restaurant – they are famous for their traditional PEI lobster supper that also boasts a 60’ long salad bar. This is a very popular destination for many visitors to our Island.

Fisherman's Wharf Restaurant, North Rustico, PEI
Fisherman’s Wharf Restaurant, North Rustico, PEI

I also had to try one of the yummy fish tacos from their Pier 15 restaurant. Made with crispy haddock bits wrapped in corn tortillas and topped with pico de gallo, jalapeno lime slaw, and cilantro sour cream, these were a hot ticket item!

Putting the finishing touches on the Fish Taco from Pier 15 at Fisherman's Wharf ("Taste of North Rustico" 2017)
Putting the finishing touches on the Fish Taco from Pier 15 at Fisherman’s Wharf (“Taste of North Rustico” 2017)
Fish Taco from Pier 15 at Fisherman's Wharf ("Taste of North Rustico" 2017)
Fish Taco from Pier 15 at Fisherman’s Wharf (“Taste of North Rustico” 2017)

My next stop was at the Blue Mussel Café’s station where they were plating up their house-made charcuterie plates.

Preparing the Charcuterie Plates from Blue Mussel Café ("Taste of North Rustico" 2017)
Preparing the Charcuterie Plates from Blue Mussel Café (“Taste of North Rustico” 2017)
House Made Charcuterie Plates from Blue Mussel Café ("Taste of North Rustico" 2017)
House Made Charcuterie Plates from Blue Mussel Café (“Taste of North Rustico” 2017)

This was a very bountiful plate featuring roasted beet salmon gravlax, house smoked mackerel, local cheeses, apple blueberry chutney, pickled harvest vegetables, and a micro green salad.

House Made Charcuterie Plates from Blue Mussel Café ("Taste of North Rustico" 2017)
House Made Charcuterie Plates from Blue Mussel Café (“Taste of North Rustico” 2017)

The Blue Mussel Café is a busy and popular seasonal restaurant located near the North Rustico lighthouse and close to the Rustico beach.

Blue Mussel Café, North Rustico, PEI
Blue Mussel Café, North Rustico, PEI

From there, I made my way to the Yellow House’s station.  The Yellow House is a new restaurant in North Rustico, located right by the harbour. This restaurant has drawn great reviews.

The Yellow House Restaurant, North Rustico, PEI
The Yellow House Restaurant, North Rustico, PEI

You can see why it has quickly become a popular eating spot when you check out their mussel rolls – yes, those are tasty little PEI blue mussels with fennel, orange zest, and dill in a creamy sauce on one of the Yellow House’s signature house rolls.

Mussel Rolls from the Yellow House Restaurant in North Rustico, PEI ("Taste of North Rustico" 2017)
Mussel Rolls from the Yellow House Restaurant in North Rustico, PEI (“Taste of North Rustico” 2017)

They also served mini Acadian meat pies and smoked salmon bubble and squeak with PEI quail eggs but I wasn’t quick enough to get photos!

Jordan Liantzakis from PEI Charcuterie Prepares Trays at "Taste of North Rustico" 2017
Jordan Liantzakis from PEI Charcuterie Prepares Trays at “Taste of North Rustico” 2017

Coming from a little distance away in Westmoreland, near Crapaud, the PEI Charcuterie station was offering all kinds of their house-made charcuterie.

Tray of locally-made Charcuterie from PEI Charcuterie ("Taste of North Rustico" 2017)
Tray of locally-made Charcuterie from PEI Charcuterie (“Taste of North Rustico” 2017)

The folks from Glasgow Glen Farm, home of fine Island-made Gouda cheese, served up a tasty potato corn soup in small mason jars accompanied by buttermilk biscuits.

Homemade Potato and Corn Soup from Glasgow Glen Farm ("Taste of North Rustico" 2017)
Homemade Potato and Corn Soup from Glasgow Glen Farm (“Taste of North Rustico” 2017)

While folks were enjoying the roving feast of appetizers, North Rustico’s own Olivia Blacquiere provided musical entertainment.

Olivia Blacquiere Performing at "Taste of North Rustico" PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event
Olivia Blacquiere Performing at “Taste of North Rustico” PEI Fall Flavours 2017 Event

The main meats consisted of a wood-fired mixed grill featuring PEI beef and Heritage Breed Berkshire pork sausage served with potato bannock.

Grilling over a Wood Fire at "Taste of North Rustico" 2017
Grilling over a Wood Fire at “Taste of North Rustico” 2017

This was overseen by the event’s guest chefs Connie DeSousa (a Top Chef Canada finalist) and John Jackson, co-owners of the Charcut Roast House in Calgary, Alberta.

Guest Chefs Connie DeSousa and John Jacson, Co-owners of Charcut Roast House in Calgary, AB ("Taste of North Rustico" PEI 2017)
Guest Chefs Connie DeSousa and John Jacson, Co-owners of Charcut Roast House in Calgary, AB (“Taste of North Rustico” PEI 2017)

It took a good trailer of wood to get the grillin’ done!

Firing up the Grill at the ""Taste of North Rustico" Event
Firing up the Grill at the “”Taste of North Rustico” Event
Sample of Grilled Beef and Pork at "Taste of North Rustico" 2017
Sample of Grilled Beef and Pork at “Taste of North Rustico” 2017

Upstreet Craft Brewing representatives were on hand serving up some of their famous microbrewed beer as well as their brand new line of soda pop introduced in 2017 – they currently have three flavours available – Strawberry Rhubarb Basil, Apple Ginger Elderflower, and Malt Spice Cola.

Pouring a sample of Upstreet Brewing Company's new soda - "Taste of North Rustico" 2017
Pouring a sample of Upstreet Brewing Company’s new soda – “Taste of North Rustico” 2017

And, for anyone with room left for dessert, the Blue Mussel Café delighted palates with chocolate bourbon mascarpone tartlets while the Yellow House served mini sugar pies.

Chocolate Bourbon Mascarpone Tartlets from the Blue Mussel Café - "Taste of North Rustico" 2017
Chocolate Bourbon Mascarpone Tartlets from the Blue Mussel Café – “Taste of North Rustico” 2017
Tarte au Sucre (Sugar Pie) from The Yellow House - "Taste of North Rustico" 2017
Tarte au Sucre (Sugar Pie) from The Yellow House – “Taste of North Rustico” 2017

Chef interaction is a big part of these types of culinary events. Unlike going to a typical restaurant where patrons would rarely, if ever, see the chef who prepared their meal, these culinary events are built around connection and direct communication with the chefs.  Not only could patrons chat with the chefs at the various grazing stations but, during the evening, Chef Michael Smith hosted an engaging question and answer period with guest chefs Connie DeSouza and John Jackson.

Chef John Jackson (left), Chef Connie DeSousa (center), and Chef MIchael Smith (right) at "Taste of North Rustico" 2017
Chef John Jackson (left), Chef Connie DeSousa (center), and Chef MIchael Smith (right) at “Taste of North Rustico” 2017

Folks were invited to ask them questions and some fun was had when they were asked to tell what their most embarrassing moments were as chefs and which beef they thought was best – PEI’s or Alberta’s. For the record, they capably and diplomatically handled that question very well!

Guest Chefs John Jackson and Connie DeSousa from Charcut Roast House in Calgary, AB, at "Taste of North Rustico" PEI 2017
Guest Chefs John Jackson and Connie DeSousa from Charcut Roast House in Calgary, AB, at “Taste of North Rustico” PEI 2017

A true North Rustico Kitchen Party would not be complete without some great local music.  Brendon Peters and friends provided lively tunes mixed in with some north shore humour.  Toes were tapping, hands were clapping, and those wooden spoons were put to good use.

Brendon Peters and Friends Performing at the Taste of North Rustico Kitchen Party (PEI Fall Flavours Festival 2017)
Brendon Peters and Friends Performing at the Taste of North Rustico Kitchen Party (PEI Fall Flavours Festival 2017)

The carefully designed and executed menu for this event reflected authentic foods local to the North Rustico and surrounding areas and it capably achieved what it intended – it gave visitors a “Taste of North Rustico” foods, culture, and heritage.

The PEI Fall Flavours Festival has grown to be one of PEI’s most anticipated events that offer visitors the opportunity to discover and experience the vast spectrum of food produced on PEI as the culinary events take them right in to the heart of food source locales, like North Rustico.

As I mentioned earlier, some visitors return each year especially to attend several PEI Fall Flavours events.  In fact, four of my tablemates at this event came from Regina, SK, and two of them have come to PEI for the past 10 years that Fall Flavours has existed.  Something I have observed this year from attending several Fall Flavours events and talking with visitors is the far distance that people travel specifically for this Festival and how many of the events they attend, and how long they vacation on the Island as a result of the Festival.  PEI has now earned its reputation as a fine authentic food destination that offers world class culinary experiences and events.

So, if you’re looking for taste bud tempting travel that will allow you to experience wonderful regional food specialities, musical culture, and a chance to explore our special little corner of the world, September is a great time to visit PEI. You’ll find endless opportunities to experience authentic local culture by indulging in our many fine foods and drinks, seeing spectacular scenery, meeting friendly and hospitable Islanders, and discovering talented local musicians.

To read stories I have written about other PEI Fall Flavours Culinary Festival events, follow these links:

PEI Shellfish Festival (2012)
Farm Day in the City (2012)
Savour Victoria (2012)
Toes, Taps, and Taters (2013)
Lobster Party on the Beach (2013)
Applelicious (2013)
The Great Island Grilled Cheese Challenge (2013)
Feast of the Fathers (2014)
Lamb Luau at Crowbush Cove (2014)
Feast and Frolic Dinner (PEI International Shellfish Festival) (2014)
Beef and Blues (2014)
A Taste of New Glasgow (2015)
Beef ‘n Blues (2015)
Chef on Board (2015)
Cooking with Chefs Anna & Michael Olson in Brudenell, PEI (2015)
Le Festin acadien avec homard/Acadian Feast with Lobster (2016)
The Great Big Barbeque (2016)
Mussels on the Hill (2016)
Toes, Taps, & Taters (2017)
Taste of Georgetown (2017)

Mead in Wheatley River, PEI – The Island’s New Honey Wine Meadery

Island Honey Wine Company's Wildflower Mead
Island Honey Wine Company’s Wildflower Honey Mead

In the small rural community of Wheatley River, not far from Hunter River in central PEI, the Island Honey Wine Company meadery produces unique wines made with fermented honey, otherwise known as “mead”.

Island Honey Company
Island Honey Wine Company, Wheatley River, PEI, Canada

Charles and Laura Lipnicki opened the doors to their meadery on July 7, 2017. The couple had vacationed on the Island a few years earlier, fell in love with it and its people, and decided they wanted to become Islanders too, so five years ago, they moved to PEI, first to North Rustico then later settling on to the farm in Wheatley River.

Charles and Laura Lipnicki, Owners of Island Honey Wine Company, Wheatley River, PEI, Canada
Charles and Laura Lipnicki, Owners of Island Honey Wine Company, Wheatley River, PEI, Canada

Charles had been making wine as a hobby for 25 years and always had a fascination with yeast.  Laura has a love of lavender and, having seen fields of lavender in Provence, wanted to have her own lavender field. Opportunity presented itself for location amidst the gentle rolling hills in Wheatley River and Laura now has that beautiful field of 1500 lavender plants and Charles has a new career in winemaking which, interestingly enough, merges with the lavender from the couple’s field, wildflowers, and fruits grown on the farm.

Lavender Field
Section of the Lavender Field in Bloom at Island Honey Wine Company, Wheatley River, PEI (Photo Submitted by Island Honey Wine Company)

In addition to the meadery itself, the couple operates a small certified organic farm called “La Serena” where they have six acres of fruit production that include hascaps, elderberries, and apples and they also raise some sheep, hens, and ducks.

The "grasscutting crew" at the Island Honey Wine Company, Wheatley River, PEI
The “grasscutting crew” at La Serena farm, home of the Island Honey Wine Company, Wheatley River, PEI

Charles says he started the meadery because he likes making “a value-added product that originates with products produced on the farm, products like honey, lavender, and fruits such as haskaps”.

Fermentation Tank at Island Honey Wine Company, Wheatley River, PEI
Fermentation Tank at Island Honey Wine Company, Wheatley River, PEI

Now, I have to be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of flavor of mead. I say this because, several years ago, I was served a glass of mead in a castle in Ireland and, well, the drink was not to my liking.  However, I went on my visit to Island Honey Wine meadery with an open mind and I was more than pleasantly surprised.  The honey wine from the Island meadery is quite lovely.

Island Honey Wine Company's Wildflower Mead
Island Honey Wine Company’s Wildflower Honey Mead

The Island Honey Wine Company is currently producing four different kinds of meads for sale – lavender, wildflower, haskap, and nectar sweet dessert wine.  The products are presently sold only onsite at the meadery but Charles says they will soon be carried by the PEI Liquor Commission in their retail outlets.

Island Honey Wine Company's Wildflower Honey Mead
Island Honey Wine Company’s Wildflower Honey Mead

Of the four meads, I asked Charles which is the most popular.  He says the Wildflower mead is most popular and he believes this is because a glass of this mead takes one on a journey as flavor notes can be found in each taste based on the many different wildflowers the honeybees have visited which transfers into the flavor of the honey they produce. The wildflower wine is the most food-friendly and versatile of the three meads and I’ll talk a bit more about what that means later.

The quality of the mead produced at the Island Honey Wine Company has recently been validated through the winning of  medals at an International Wine competition in Virginia especially for non-grape wines.  The Nectar Sweet wine, with its sweet and lingering taste, secured a silver medal both the Wildflower and Haskap wines attained bronze medals. I think, once you sample their honey-based wines, you’ll understand why the wines have garnered these awards.

Honey
Honey

Honey, a fermentable sugar, is the base for all the meads and only raw honey is used. While the meadery has some beehives on the farm, they don’t have enough for adequate supply for the mead making.  Therefore, they source honey from other local producers. Most of the honey wine is produced in the winter months. According to Charles, the process for making honey-based mead is not a lot different from making traditional grape-based wines and the honey mead will take about 2½ – 3 months fermentation.

Fermentation Tanks
Stainless Steel Fermentation Tanks

Charles says one of his greatest satisfactions of making mead is seeing how people enjoy something that started just as an idea and that turned into a liquid to be enjoyed. Each of the honey wines has its own benefits and uses for certain times and, as Charles says, “each one is a snapshot in time and place with regards to honey because of the different flowers the bees visit“.

each one is a snapshot in time and place with regards to honey because of the different flowers the bees visit

I asked Charles to tell me how he would suggest pairing the three meads with foods.  Here are his recommendations:

Wildflower – With the broadest notes, this is the most food-friendly of the three meads. Pair this honey wine with poultry dishes, cheese, with desserts such as apple pie, or enjoy as a sipping wine after a day at the beach.

Wildflower Honey Mead from the Island Honey Wine Company, Wheatley River, PEI, Canada
Wildflower Honey Mead from the Island Honey Wine Company, Wheatley River, PEI, Canada
Lavender
Lavender

Lavender – This one-of-a-kind mead lends itself to saltier foods. This honey wine is a lovely accompaniment to PEI lobster, brook trout, sharp cheeses, and desserts like walnut baklava.  It also pairs particularly well with charcuterie trays. Charles says this is a unique and intimate wine reminiscent of the intimate relationship the bees share with the lavender flowers.  This is a versatile wine to be shared with good company or simply enjoyed solo with a good book.

Lavender Honey Mead from the Island Honey Wine Company, Wheatley River, PEI, Canada
Lavender Honey Mead from the Island Honey Wine Company, Wheatley River, PEI, Canada
Lavender Honey Mead (Photo Submitted by Island Honey Wine Company)
Lavender Honey Mead (Photo Submitted by Island Honey Wine Company)

Nectar Sweet – Classed as a dessert wine, Nectar Sweet pairs well with Brie cheese, dairy desserts like cheesecakes, crème brulée, and German chocolate cakes and caramel desserts.

Nectar Sweet Honey Mead from the Island Honey Wine Company, Wheatley River, PEI, Canada
Nectar Sweet Honey Mead from the Island Honey Wine Company, Wheatley River, PEI, Canada

You will also find some local artwork in the meadery’s tasting room along with several lavender products including locally-made lavender shortbread, soap, and similar items.

Island Honey Wine Company, Wheatley River, PEI
Inside the Tasting Room and Retail Shop at the Island Honey Wine Company, Wheatley River, PEI
Lavender Shortbread
Lavender Shortbread
Homemade Soaps from the Island Honey Wine Company, Wheatley River, PEI, Canada
Homemade Soaps from the Island Honey Wine Company, Wheatley River, PEI, Canada

Product tasting is available onsite in the newly-constructed meadery.  The wooden tasting bar is made from repurposed wood that came from one of the large old elm trees that had to be removed from the city of Charlottetown.

Charles Lipnicki pours a sample of one of his honey meads made at Island Honey Wine Company in Wheatley River, PEI
Charles Lipnicki pours a sample of one of his honey meads made at Island Honey Wine Company in Wheatley River, PEI
Island Honey Wine Company, Wheatley River, PEI, is PEI's first meadery dedicated to making mead with fermented honey and flowers and fruits from its own farm

The Island Honey Wine Company’s meadery is located at 820 Millboro Road in Wheatley River, in central PEI. For hours of operation and more information, visit their website at https://www.islandhoneywine.ca/

PEI Foods Featured in President’s Choice “#EatTogether” Campaign for Canada 150

There are basically two common, non-controversial, safe topics that can form the basis of a conversation start with just about anyone – the weather and food! And, food is the one that will bring people together!

On Saturday, May 6, 2017, the Atlantic Superstore in Summerside, PEI, was the venue for a luncheon where 32 people sat down to lunch together. Most did not know each other and had not met before Saturday. They happened to show up at the supermarket on a Saturday morning and found themselves invited to dine at a pop-up luncheon in the midst of the produce section.

"Eat Together"
“Eat Together” Event at Atlantic Superstore in Summerside, PEI

You see, Loblaws has this cool Canada 150 project underway to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday.  Six of their supermarkets across Canada have been selected to host one of these special events that features the local foods of the region in which th