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.
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.
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.
The farm’s new milking parlour allows for 24 sheep to be milked at once.
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.
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.
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.
I love the sentiment captured in the photo below of a mama with her baby lamb!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, a fishing town on PEI’s north shore, is a well-known tourist destination during the summer months when the population swells.
With its beautiful sandy beach, it has long been a mecca for sunbathers as well as for artists and photographers.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Inside the tent, a stage was set up surrounded by numerous round tables.
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.
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.
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.
This event was very well organized and I did not experience any long line-up at any of the grazing stations.
My first stop was at the Raspberry Point Oyster station where Chef Michael Smith was busy shucking oysters.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
My next stop was at the Blue Mussel Café’s station where they were plating up their house-made charcuterie plates.
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.
The Blue Mussel Café is a busy and popular seasonal restaurant located near the North Rustico lighthouse and close to the Rustico beach.
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.
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.
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!
Coming from a little distance away in Westmoreland, near Crapaud, the PEI Charcuterie station was offering all kinds of their house-made charcuterie.
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.
While folks were enjoying the roving feast of appetizers, North Rustico’s own Olivia Blacquiere provided musical entertainment.
The main meats consisted of a wood-fired mixed grill featuring PEI beef and Heritage Breed Berkshire pork sausage served with potato bannock.
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.
It took a good trailer of wood to get the grillin’ done!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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:
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”.
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 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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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/
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.
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 the event is held. The locations for the cross-country tour celebrating Canada’s regional cuisines are Ottawa, Calgary, Richmond, Summerside, Wolfville, and Montreal. Summerside was the fourth stop on the tour. Known as the #EatTogether campaign, the overarching theme is to get Canadians to come together, sit down over a meal, engage in conversation, and share stories about their favorite dishes and local cuisine. Talking about PEI foods is never a problem for Islanders because we love our foods and love to talk about them! Fishing and agriculture are two of our primary industries on the Island and both generate drool-worthy foods!
President’s Choice (PC) Executive Chef, Tom Filippou, and Cityline show host, Tracy Moore, presented a PEI-themed meal. For readers who are Islanders and those who have visited PEI, you’ll know that PEI food culture revolves around the land and sea. The Island is known for great food – think potatoes, mussels, and lobsters. I asked Chef Filippou what inspired the dishes they chose to feature for the PEI-themed meal. He said that President’s Choice surveyed Canadians about what foods resonated with them and, when it came to PEI, our potatoes, lobsters, and mussels topped the list. He says those foods are amazing as they are but he put his own stamp on them by, for example, using lobster in a traditional Mac ‘n Cheese dish and cooking the pasta for it in the stock in which the lobster was steamed, thus deepening the lobster flavor in the dish. He says Summerside was a good choice as one of the six venues because the Island has such a rich history of seafood and agriculture and has so much to offer (for a menu that is regionally inspired).
The meal started with big bowls of mussels steamed in local PEI beer, followed by breaded chicken cutlets, potato salad, garlic bread, and the lobster Mac ‘n Cheese.
This rustic potato salad made with mini potatoes was amazing!
For dessert, diners enjoyed yummy sticky date pudding with toffee sauce along with butter tarts.
Asked what inspired the idea for the #EatTogether campaign, Chef Filippou says that food brings people together so the idea of a pop-up dinner party in the middle of a supermarket seemed like a great idea. People lead busy lives and many seem to spend a lot of time on their electronic devices and less time connecting with, and getting to know, each other so the aim is to get people to slow down a bit, take a deep breath, sit down at a table together, and enjoy good food and each other’s company. What better way to set the example than on a busy Saturday morning with shoppers hurrying about to pick up groceries. Imagine whirling in with a grocery cart and the first thing you come across is a beautifully set long table alongside the produce section! I have to say it was a very impressive sight, especially from the vantage point of the store’s upper level.
The photo below shows the area of the store where the celebrity meet and greet was held. Have to love that backdrop of bags of PEI potatoes!
People live busy fast-paced lives with family members hurrying off to activities in different directions and many live and breathe being connected to their phones and computers/electronic devices. It seems, in many homes, the routine of regular family meal times where family members all sit down together over a prepared meal, decompress, and discuss the happenings of their day and, well, just get to know one another, may be going by the wayside. President’s Choice did some research on this topic and learned that only 38% of Canadians eat dinner together 4-6 times a week. 45% watch TV while eating, 15% listen to the radio, and 14% are on the Internet.
So, for the 32 people who dined at the communal table in the produce section of the Summerside Atlantic Superstore on a Saturday morning, it didn’t take long for them to connect with their fellow diners and for the storytelling to begin. Food arrived on the table and conversations soon turned to food-related subjects and stories about the foods in their kitchens and what food means to special events like birthdays and holidays throughout the year.
Once the initial photos of the two celebrity hosts were taken, the electronic devices actually disappeared and, dare I say it – wait for it….. were actually forgotten about and strangers simply talked with each other over a tasty meal. Tracy Moore and Chef Tom Filippou proved to be entertaining and engaging hosts and people easily opened up to them talking about their own culinary influences.
This was a well executed event and a tip of the hat is due to the PC culinary team that pulled this event together to showcase PEI foods. Well done! To check out the PC #EatTogether video, click on this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vDuA9OPyp6I
Disclosure: I was invited to attend this event so that I could share my experience with my blog readers. My opinions and impressions of it are my own.
Setting Day on Prince Edward Island can only mean one thing…..it heralds the opening of the spring lobster fishery and a fresh feed of PEI lobster from the cold Atlantic waters will follow soon after!
Lobster fishers spend many weeks in advance of Setting Day preparing their lobster traps and fishing boats for the upcoming season.
As the time grows closer to Setting Day, visits to Island wharves are an interesting activity. Boats, looking all spiffy, are in the water, and wharves are stacked high with traps just waiting to become the deep sea inns for lobster. This year, I visited six Island wharves in the two days leading up to Setting Day.
I like to visit wharves the eve of Setting Day. The boats are heavy laden with traps, fishers are checking and double-checking their gear, and the conversations are animated with excitement and anticipation of the upcoming lobster season. There will be claims as to who owns the fastest boat, who will sail out first, and so on. The mood is jovial and a lot of good-natured banter can be heard.
I’m not sure I could figure out the ropes of this business but they sure are colorful!
So, too, are the many different colors of buoys.
PEI has two lobster seasons. The first runs from May until the end of June and the second from August until October. Some claim (and I agree) that the lobster that is caught in the early season is the most tasty and tender as it comes from the colder waters.
On PEI, the spring fishery tends to get the most attention because these are the boats that are first out of the gate to open the fishery season. There is a lot of hype associated with Setting Day.
North Rustico is one of the more colorful fishing ports and draws a lot of summer tourists who enjoy watching the activity of the fishing boats.
Regardless whether one is directly involved in the fishery or not, Setting Day is a big deal for many Islanders. This is the day that fishers head out with their boats for the first time in the season to lay the traps to catch the lobsters.
There are many wharves around the Island and the same common scene plays out – friends, neighbours, and family members get up long before daybreak and head to nearby wharves or beaches to watch the parade of boats as they head out with their loads of traps. It’s a sign of support to the fishers for the work they do.
The last couple of years, I have headed to French River which is about 45 minutes from Charlottetown. Boats are not permitted to leave the harbour until 6:00am but spectators need to be in place by about 5:40am as boats pull away from the wharves and get in to position for take-off and they lose no time when the clock strikes 6:00am. As one fisherman told me, come 6:00am, it’s “game on” and it’s very competitive as the boats charge out to sea to the cheers and delight of the bystanders! If you have never stood on a beach on PEI at sunrise and watched dozens of lobster boats heading out to work, you have missed a magical and moving experience.
In 2017, when this article is being written, Setting Day was on Saturday, April 29th. Island lobster fishers don’t fish on Sundays so the first haul from the traps will be on Monday. With the exception of Sundays, fishers check their traps daily during lobster season. Close to 1000 boats were expected to leave the wharves on Setting Day this year.
A few years ago, I happened to be in North Lake, in the Islander’s eastern part of the province, mid-morning, as the lobster boats were coming back in with their daily catch. It’s a beehive of activity when they all arrive back in port with crates full of lobster!
North Lake is a large harbour and it’s really cool to watch the boats enter the port through this narrow entrance. Sometimes, it’s almost a traffic jam on the “North Lake Freeway” as the boats converge to come into the wharf with their catch.
Heading for a “parking spot” to unload the catch.
Unloading the day’s catch.
Here’s a look at what’s in those crates!
While there are many recipes that call for lobster as an ingredient, Islanders typically eat the steamed lobster straight from the shell for their first feed of the season.
Served hot or cold, according to one’s preference, lobster is a divine treat when dipped in melted butter. On PEI, lobster is most commonly served with potato salad, coleslaw, sometimes other kinds of salads and, of course, homemade rolls.
You can find my recipe for potato salad here and for my pan rolls here.
Once I have had that first feed of lobster, I am ready to use it as an ingredient in other dishes. One of my more popular recipes is the one for Lobster Cakes. You can access my recipe for these tasty savory cakes here.
Another favorite recipe for using lobster is Lobster Newburg. It is lovely served in puff pastry shells. And, of course, there is always the perennial favorite – Lobster Rolls! A couple of great places to get lobster rolls on PEI are Richard’s Seafood Eatery on the wharf in Covehead and at Dave’s Lobster in Charlottetown.
And the great lobster that we enjoy comes thanks to the fishers who head out, sometimes in rolling seas, to fish the lobster.
And, other times, the fishers get to see the most amazing sunrises!
Lobster fishing is a big part of the Island culture and way of life. The seafood sector is one of PEI’s main industries. PEI has some very picturesque harbours and wharves like French River seen in the photograph below. It is so popular with photographers that a lookout has been created so that people can safely pull off the road to photograph its beauty.
As I finish this posting, the first catches of the season are in…..now, where is that lobster bib…….
The craft beer brewing industry continues to grow thanks to consumers with a thirst for traditional hand-crafted beer and a demand for unique locally-made artisanal products. While not a huge industry on PEI, craft breweries are starting to emerge….and with remarkable success. As Upstreet Craft Brewing in Charlottetown, PEI, celebrates its first birthday, I thought it was time I paid a visit so I recently journeyed “upstreet” to meet Joey Seaman, one of the owners, for a tour and chat about the brewery.
I began by asking Joey where the name “Upstreet” came from. He says that upstreet, means “anywhere but where you are” and, colloquially, if you are downtown and someone asks where you’re going, chances are you might say “I’m heading up the street” and, since the location of the brewery is ‘just up the street’ from downtown Charlottetown, it became the name of the brewery.
Upstreet Craft Brewing began operation in June 2015 when three friends, who were long-time hobby home beer brewers, decided to take the leap, leave the security of their careers, and co-found a craft brewery in their hometown. This trio – Joey Seaman, Mike Hogan, and Mitch Cobb — have turned their hobby and passion into a growing success story.
The three partners are very hands-on at the brewery. Mike is the beer engineer who brews all the beer while Mitch looks after general management and operations and Joey takes care of sales.
The brewery currently has 19 employees and is a beehive of activity.
Craft beer is brewed in the traditional way in small batches using 4 main ingredients – barley, hops, yeast, and water. One of the trademarks of a craft brewery is that it offers the opportunity to experiment with ingredients and flavors because small batches of the beer can be produced. This is in contrast to industry giants that produce huge quantities of the same beers year in and year out. Craft breweries, on the other hand, are small enough that they can keep experimenting and come up with fresh new flavours that keeps customers returning. They can also produce small quantities of seasonal beers that are likely only to be purchased during a short period. Upstreet is currently brewing six batches of beer, four times a week. This translates into about 10,000 litres of beer a week. The brewery has built a strong local customer base that has meant Upstreet is presently at maximum capacity. To double their capacity and meet growing demand, the brewery just recently added two more fermentation tanks and they still can’t fully meet demand. In fact, at the time of writing, they have a wait list of 15 restaurants/bars wanting to sell their beer.
The brewery produces four mainstay flagship beers – Rhuby Social (Strawberry Rhubarb Witbier), Commons Czech Style Pilsner, Do Good-er (an American pale ale), and White Noize (a white IPA). Joey says their most popular beer is the Commons Pilsner which he describes as a clean crisp beer.
In addition, the brewery has brewed over 10 different beers, including seasonal brews, in the first year of operation. This includes specialty flavors like Imperial Pumpkin Ale brewed last autumn and Vanilla Cranberry Stout during the Christmas holiday season.
You won’t find canned beer at Upstreet. Instead, they use tall slim brown bottles that give a classic feel to the Upstreet beer experience.
Each bottle is labeled with an eye-catching unique label that contains information to educate the consumer on the beer product and experience. So, look for a beer profile on each bottle that will tell you the level of hoppiness and a description of the color and flavour.
Check under each bottle cap for a unique PEI colloquial saying – great conversation pieces! The owners solicited submissions from the public of typical PEI sayings and received over 2000 suggestions in 48 hours – yes, we Islanders have lots of colloquial sayings!
As many readers will know, a growing sector of the alcoholic beverage industry is pairing foods with the different beverages. Many will be aware of food and wine pairings but there is also a burgeoning trend to pair craft beer with good food. The label on each bottle of Upstreet beer will also give a good food pairing suggestion, the type of event in which it might be enjoyed and even a suggestion for best listening tunes by which to enjoy the beer. For example:
White Noize, a strong beer, would pair well with a hearty chili that might be enjoyed after a day of skiing and while listening to some chill beats.
Rhuby Social, a tart and refreshing beer, would compliment spicy Asian foods and is a beer that could become a patio favorite while listening to the classics. Last fall, I attended a beer and food pairing event that was part of the PEI Fall Flavours Culinary Festival. Celebrity chefs Anna and Michael Olson recommended Upstreet’s Rhuby Social be paired with seafood such as PEI mussels, clams, and white fish.
Commons Pilsner would go well at a beach day event with Island seafood while listening to acoustic campfire jams.
The Do Good-er, the brewery’s “go-to” house party beer, would be a good choice for a BBQ while listening to some rock.
In addition to their bottled beers, the Brewery also sells growlers at the brewery. And, of course, they also sell and deliver kegs of beer to restaurants and bars and there are over 30 venues in Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia currently carrying the Upstreet products.
Joey says that, while their patrons come from all walks of life, he finds the largest growing market for craft beer is the female population who tend to like the dark beers and those that would be classed as bold, hoppy beers. New and creative flavours of beer may be contributors to that trend.
The brewery is not only a production facility. It, like many craft breweries, has a taproom onsite. The taproom, which can accommodate about 90 people, is a mix of industrial and eclectic décor. Be sure to check out the bar counter repurposed from an old elm tree that had to be taken down in the city.
While Upstreet does not have a full-fledged restaurant per se on site, it does have a chef as part of the team and the taproom does offer snack foods and tapas/small plates with a menu that changes according to season. However, don’t look for table service at Upstreet – in keeping with the casual atmosphere, you simply go to the bar to place both your drink and food order.
Upstreet Craft Brewing is very community minded. The brewery offers its taproom as a community space for locals to come and hang out. In fact, several groups meet at the brewery to socialize, including a group of local knitters! The brewery also hosts adult coloring nights and other community events and there is always a good selection of board games for patrons to enjoy over a glass of cold beer. In addition, the brewery offers a venue for local musicians to share their musical talents with patrons. The brewery is also a strong supporter of the local arts, music, and culture scene and, in fact, a percentage from the sale of every bottle of Do-Good-er beer goes to a “do good” fund to support local arts and culture.
The brewery, located at 41 Allen Street in Charlottetown, PEI, is open 7 days a week, noon to midnight.
As is my tradition when I visit a local producer, I develop a recipe or two using their product.
Click here for the link to my recipe for steaming PEI mussels in Upstreet Craft Brewing’s Rhuby Social beer and here for the link to my recipe for Rhubarb and Beer Barbeque Sauce, also using Rhuby Social beer.
If you are a fan of Chef Michael Smith, one of Canada’s top celebrity chefs and noted cookbook author, you probably know he and his wife, Chastity, bought The Inn at Bay Fortune in eastern Prince Edward Island late last spring. This was the Inn where Chef Michael once worked and where his first TV show, The Inn Chef, was filmed.
Early in the summer, Chef Michael completely renovated and transformed the kitchen and dining experience at the Inn. Named for its newly-constructed 25-foot brick-lined, wood-burning fire over, through, and about which the meal is cooked, FireWorks Restaurant opened for the 2015 tourist season to rave reviews.
On Sundays this fall, the Inn celebrates the harvest season by hosting what the culinary team refers to as “Islander Day“.
Offered on a slightly different scale and lower price point than their usual evening feast (which is priced at $80 per guest + HST at time of writing), the Sunday event offers a three-course (I’d say it’s four courses, counting the salad) harvest menu that includes fresh bread baked in their wood-fired brick oven served with brown butter, turkey-vegetable soup, green salad, a choice of entree (Beef Stew, Pork Loin, or Halibut) served with garden-fresh vegetables and, as a finale, a freshly-baked harvest dessert. Reservations are not accepted for the Sunday event but the meal is served continuously, on a first come first served basis, from 12 noon until 7pm. The restaurant has the capacity to serve about 50 people at a time. The cost for the Sunday meal is $40 per adult guest and $20 per child under age 12 + HST.
At the beginning of this year, we made a commitment to, once a month, dine at a restaurant we’ve not eaten at before and we’ve stuck to it so, this past Sunday, my mom and I made our way to the new FireWorks Restaurant at the Inn at Bay Fortune which is about a 45-50 minute drive east from Charlottetown. And, the experience did not disappoint, especially since Chef Michael himself was in the kitchen on this particular day! This is one busy guy who travels a lot so we were quite thrilled that he was on the Island in his FireWorks kitchen on the day we chose to dine at his new restaurant.
While I don’t normally write restaurant reviews per se on my food blog or write about my dining-out experiences, I felt this one is in keeping with my blog’s focus of eating local foods when possible and is sufficiently unique that it merits a blog posting so, here goes!
We arrived mid-afternoon to find a large limo and several cars in the parking lot so we weren’t the only ones who decided to head to the small country community of Bay Fortune to dine at FireWorks in the middle of a Sunday afternoon in late October.
We were greeted by a very personable and friendly hostess who explained how the meal experience would unfold and she was quick to point out that we were to be sure and take all kinds of photos if we wished and we were invited to roam freely about the kitchen which was at the end of the long closed-in sunporch dining room.
This is quite extraordinary to be offered this opportunity because this is a working kitchen and there were a number of the team cuisine and servers busy at their work. It was a beehive of activity and no one made me feel like I was in their way as I scurried about taking photographs.
Learning from the master! I think there was a good bit of knowledge transfer and training taking place in the kitchen on Sunday and who better to learn from!
Dinner is served, family-style, at long communal block-style tables so, if you are looking for a private table for two or four, you won’t find that at FireWorks. Guests are seated as they arrive and as space is available at any of the four large tables. Two of the long tables are situated on the front of the Inn in a closed-in sunporch that overlooks Bay Fortune.
One of the tables is actually in the kitchen so you really get the feeling that dining is family style and non-pretentious.
I almost felt like I was simply dining in a friend’s home kitchen…well, except for the fact that most of us don’t have a professional culinary team catering to us nor do many of us have a brick oven or an open fire….but, other than that….
The fourth table seats eight and is in a more private dining room just off the kitchen and behind the sunporch.
I don’t mind this communal style of dining as I am quite accustomed to it as I am a regular cruiser where I’m often seated at tables for 8 or 10 with people I don’t know. On this Sunday evening, we lucked in as a group of four ladies soon joined us at one of the long tables in the sunporch and were very open to dinner conversation making for a pleasant meal and overall dining experience.
We were no sooner seated than a server brought a small loaf of fresh-baked 12-grain red fife sourdough bread and a small jar of butter. Lots of Mason jars are visible on the table as the larger ones are used as water glasses.
In keeping with FireWorks’ focus on local and regional fare, all of the vegetables used in the meal were grown onsite in the Inn’s gardens and the meat and fish locally sourced. The entire meal was cooked over an open fire or in the large brick oven.
The kitchen makes use of lots of heavy cast-iron pots for cooking over the open fire seen in the background in the photo below. In keeping with the rustic theme, note the blocks of wood that are used for stationing the hot pots. Use of natural wood in the decor is prevalent, even on the tables.
Chef Michael soon arrived at the table with bowls of piping hot turkey vegetable soup accompanied by a light and flaky biscuit hung over the soup bowl rim.
This was followed by a small green salad that I neglected to take a photo of but here is a list of the salad’s ingredients that was posted on the wall.
I wandered into the kitchen area just as Chef Michael was plating our meal. I just had to check up on him (lol)!
Satisfied he was doing a great job, I hurried back to the table in time for Chef Michael to arrive with our dinners. And, no, my dinner did not slide off the plate….it’s just the split second that I captured the photo of Chef Michael serving my dinner that makes it look like it’s about to slide off the plate!
We each chose to have the smoke house pork belly and loin with apple sauce which was served with brown butter rösti potatoes which were ever so tasty. Side vegetables included roasted cauliflower straight from the wood-fired brick oven, slightly charred cherry tomatoes, and braised red cabbage.
And, for dessert, we had a very seasonal dessert: Wood-fired apple cranberry crisp that was served with cranberry ice cream and pumpkin seed brittle.
Throughout the meal, Chef Michael’s wife, Chastity, accompanied by musicians Reg Ballagh and Jon Rehder, provided dinner music from the vantage point of the Inn’s nearby cozy sitting room.
So, I would class this experience as the full meal deal! If you find yourself on Prince Edward Island on a Sunday between now and November 15, 2015, and are looking for a unique dining experience, I recommend a visit to FireWorks Restaurant at the Inn at Bay Fortune. And, if you are planning a vacation on our lovely Island next summer, FireWorks plans to re-open in early May when they will be offering their daily full-scale feast each evening for which reservations are taken.
For more information on dining at FireWorks, visit the Inn at Bay Fortune website.
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