Category Archives: Field Trips

Lobster Suppers – A Time-honoured PEI Tradition

People visit Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest province, for all kinds of reasons but many will tell you it’s for the beautiful beaches, stunning scenery, fine golf courses, and fabulous food – ahhhhh, yes, the food and, more specifically, the seafood.  Most people, when PEI is mentioned, will immediately say that we are known for our high-quality seafood, including mussels, oysters, and lobster.

For many years, the Island has been known for its “lobster suppers”. That is to say, they are restaurant venues that specialize in serving meals where lobster tends to be the star. As anyone who has eaten at a traditional PEI lobster supper will attest, they are the full meal deal.  For the most part, these lobster suppers are traditionally served in big community halls or large restaurant facilities.  Over the years, there have been several lobster supper enterprises come and go but, at the time of writing, two have endured for decades and they are really only about a 10-15 minute drive from each other.  With such a rich long history, I recently sat down with the general managers from both the New Glasgow Lobster Suppers and the Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers to find out how these suppers started and why they have enjoyed such enduring popularity.

New Glasgow Lobster Suppers – New Glasgow, PEI

Exterior of New Glasgow Lobster Suppers Building
New Glasgow Lobster Suppers, New Glasgow, PEI, Canada

Nestled in the heart of the rolling hills of rural New Glasgow along the scenic River Clyde and not far from North Rustico and Cavendish, the New Glasgow Lobster Suppers (NGLS) have been operating since 1958.  This makes them the longest running lobster suppers on the Island. When I asked general manager, Carl Nicholson, to explain their long success, he said it’s due to their freshness of product (lobsters are cooked daily) with all rolls, pies, and salads made daily on the premises. He also said that, since the suppers began, they have only had two managers, including himself, so there is an element of consistency in operation. With decades of experience behind them, they’ve clearly found the secret to staying in business.

How New Glasgow Lobster Suppers happened to start is, itself, an interesting story.  A group of young farmers in the area, known as the Junior Farmers Group, decided they wanted some kind of community centre.  The group of young farmers in their twenties and thirties came together and bought a small canteen from the Covehead Racetrack for $210 and moved it to New Glasgow.  In June, 1958, to pay for this building, they held a fundraising event that happened to have lobster for supper and a dance afterward.  The princely sum of $1.50 got you supper and the dance.  The building, small and primitive by any standards, had no kitchen facilities and only had make-shift tables made from saw horses with old doors on top and there were no chairs, just benches.

A kitchen and washrooms were added in 1962 and the group continued to serve one lobster supper per year until 1964 when they started serving the suppers once a week during July and August. They gradually increased service to two days a week on Wednesdays and Saturdays. By 1967, lobster suppers were served five days per week and a cook was hired. As business grew, they expanded the kitchen and hired their first manager in 1969.  As their current manager, Carl, says, “it is a true testament to sustainability [of the lobster suppers], only growing and expanding as demand grew and they were able to pay for each expansion”.

By 1972, six local couples bought out the shares of the other Junior Farmers who had been part of the initial enterprise and, in 1973, they added on a big extension to the building to accommodate the growing lobster supper demand. The original building is still within the walls of the current structure. A grand opening was held in 1974 when then-PEI Premier Alex Campbell brought along Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and Margaret Trudeau who happened to be on the Island at the time.  Mrs. Trudeau cut the ribbon to officially open the newly-expanded New Glasgow Lobster Suppers.

Over the years, various changes have occurred and, since 1980, two of the original six families – the MacRaes and Nicholsons – have run the suppers, now making it a third generation run family business.

One thing that has not changed at New Glasgow Lobster Suppers is their deeply-rooted connection to the local community and their family-oriented work environment.  The operation now sees members from the third generation of families working in the restaurant. Grandchildren are now working where their grandparents got their start in the working world. A seasonal employer of over 100 people, New Glasgow has provided summer employment for many local people over its long history with many funding their education through working summers at the lobster suppers.  It is not uncommon to hear of judges, lawyers, and other professionals having had their first job washing dishes or waiting on tables at the New Glasgow Lobster Suppers.

What’s for Dinner?

Dinners are served in a large banquet style hall that has a seating capacity of 500.

Interior of New Glasgow Lobster Suppers, New Glasgow, PEI
Interior of New Glasgow Lobster Suppers in New Glasgow, PEI, Canada

Patrons order their entrée and pay for their dinners upon arrival and then are escorted to a table by a hostess.  Lobster dinners are priced based on the size of the lobster (1 lb – 4 lb lobsters are available). Tables for different sized groups are available, starting with tables for two.  Don’t expect a quiet, intimate romantic dining experience as these suppers are casual and are modeled after a church or community hall supper.

Lobster in the shell
Lobster in the shell at New Glasgow Lobster Suppers, PEI

Primarily, the number one entrée will be lobster served in the shell, hot or cold, with lots of melted butter for dipping that succulent lobster.

Dipping lobster claw in melted butter
Dipping lobster claw in melted butter at New Glasgow Lobster Suppers, PEI

However, if lobster is not your thing, a number of alternative entrée options, including chicken, steak, pasta, haddock, scallops, ham, and salmon, are available.

Bowl of seafood chowder and homemade roll at New Glasgow Lobster Suppers
Seafood Chowder from the New Glasgow Lobster Suppers in New Glasgow, PEI

All meals include appetizers of chowder or soup, steamed PEI mussels, and large puffy homemade rolls and sliced bread; salad plate (coleslaw, potato salad, and green garden salad); desserts consisting mainly of homemade pies; and non-alcoholic beverages. The facility is licenced and there are additional charges for alcoholic beverages.

Basket of homemade rolls and bread at New Glasgow Lobster Suppers
Homemade rolls and bread at New Glasgow Lobster Suppers, PEI

Dinner is a plated meal brought to the table by your server and the servers are very obliging to photograph you dressed in your plastic bib and all ready to tuck into an amazing meal. Gratuity is extra and at the patron’s discretion.

Plates of lobster and salad at New Glasgow Lobster Suppers
Plates of lobster and salads at New Glasgow Lobster Suppers in New Glasgow, PEI

Several of the restaurant’s staff have worked with the organization for years, returning year after year, a testament to how grounded New Glasgow Lobster Suppers and their staff are in the local community. At time of writing, the same baker has been making all the pies onsite at New Glasgow Lobster Suppers since 1976, often arriving at 5am.  Pastry is homemade onsite and the Suppers are well-known for their lemon pie with the mile-high meringue. It’s not uncommon for the baker to turn out 60 lemon pies on any given day….and that’s just one kind of pie available! They make a mighty fine coconut cream pie, too.

Slice of Coconut Cream Pie at New Glasgow Lobster Suppers
Coconut Cream Pie at New Glasgow Lobster Suppers

The restaurant accommodates special dietary restrictions such as gluten-free and vegan diets; however, it is always advisable to call ahead of your visit to discuss your particular dietary needs. A children’s menu is available making New Glasgow Lobster Suppers a family-friendly dining experience.

PEI has two lobster seasons with a break in between.  The first season runs from May – June and the second from August – October. To ensure a continuous supply of fresh lobster, New Glasgow Lobster Suppers has a salt-water holding tank with capacity to hold 20,000 lbs of lobster onsite at a time and is replenished throughout the season. New Glasgow Lobster Suppers buys thousands of pounds of lobster when the spring lobster season opens.  While different sizes of lobster are available, their most popular is the 1 lb lobster dinner. On average, they’ll crack open around 50,000 lbs of lobster a season.  And, of course, there are the world-famous PEI mussels that are served as an appetizer and the suppers will go through about 70,000 pounds of those in a season!

Lobster, rolls, and salad plate at New Glasgow Lobster Suppers
Lobster, rolls, and salad plate at New Glasgow Lobster Suppers

When asked what, in his opinion, sets New Glasgow Lobster Suppers apart from other similar suppers, Carl says it’s a combination of their focus on quality and freshness of food, consistency of product, and the local, friendly wait staff and table service they provide. And, he says, at the heart of it, it’s about two of the original six families working in business alongside their employees and everybody working together.  Everyone, regardless of their employment status, pitches in with the work that makes New Glasgow Lobster Suppers the experience it is to their patrons.

Salad Plate at New Glasgow Lobster Suppers
Salad Plate at New Glasgow Lobster Suppers

A visit to New Glasgow Lobster Suppers is a time-honored tradition for many Islanders and tourists alike.  Carl tells me a man was recently paying for his meal and he informed Carl that this year’s annual visit was his 40th meal at New Glasgow Lobster Suppers.  Operating seasonally from mid-May until early October, the restaurant is open seven days a week from 4pm until 8pm (8:30pm in July and August). When you go, keep an eye out for spotting celebrities.  Prime ministers, famous hockey players, and movie filmmakers, actors, and directors are known to have dined at the New Glasgow Lobster Suppers.

New Glasgow Lobster Suppers is located at 605 Route 258, in New Glasgow, PEI.  For more information, visit their website

Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers – North Rustico, PEI

Fisherman's Wharf Lobster Suppers, North Rustico, PEI
Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers, North Rustico, PEI

There is something quaint and charming about a small rural PEI town that has a working fishing harbour.  North Rustico, which also has a fine beach, has long been a treasured location for tourists, artists, and Islanders.  In close proximity to the resort municipality of Cavendish, North Rustico swells in size with visitors in the summer. In the heart of the town is a large restaurant establishment known as “Fisherman’s Wharf” that sits just on the edge of the harbour. That’s where my stop today has found me chatting with general manager, Troy Howatt, and current owner, Amy MacPherson, who along with her husband, Forbes, now owns and operates the Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers.

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

These lobster suppers began operating in 1980 when the original owner, Albert Dow, purchased a small existing restaurant on the same location as Fisherman’s Wharf sits today.  So the story goes, Mr. Dow would see the sightseeing buses from Charlottetown pass by and wondered where they were heading and, more to the point, where they would be dining on their excursion.  It wasn’t long until those big red double-decker buses were stopping at Dow’s restaurant that began serving cafeteria-style lunches for the bus tour industry. Back in the early 1980s, the buffet lunch, including lobster, cost only $9.99.

Apart from the increase in price for the dinners, other changes have occurred at Fisherman’s Wharf over the years including an expansion of facilities to increase serving capacity. This, of course, requires a large staff which now numbers over 100 seasonal employees. The restaurant enjoys great staff loyalty as several staff members have worked at Fisherman’s Wharf for many years, including one server who has been with the restaurant since it began in 1980. Troy, himself, has worked at Fisherman’s Wharf since 1986, working his way up to become the general manager.

What’s for Dinner?

Dinners are served in a restaurant setting that has a seating capacity of 500 (two dining rooms).  As with New Glasgow Lobster Suppers, patrons order and pay for their meal before eating and are then seated by a host(ess).  The ambiance has a distinctive rustic, nautical theme in keeping with its close proximity to the harbour.  Individuals are seated at wooden tables that seat four or six.

Dining table at Fisherman's Wharf Lobster Suppers, North Rustico, PEI
Dining table at Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers, North Rustico, PEI

The suppers have maintained their self-serve buffet style that was in operation when the suppers first began serving the motor coach market which is still a major part of their clientele. It is not uncommon, as was the case during my visit, to see a large motor coach pull up to the door and unload a large group of tourists for a traditional Fisherman’s Wharf lobster supper.  When you see a block of tables with bibs on the chair backs, it’s a sign that a bus tour is imminently expected.

Lobster Bibs Awaiting Diners
Lobster Bibs Awaiting Diners at Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers, North Rustico, PEI

 

Obviously, lobster is the most popular entrée.

Lobster in the shell served with melted butter at Fisherman's Wharf Lobster Suppers
Lobster in the shell served with melted butter at Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers, North Rustico, PEI, Canada

It’s the customer’s choice to have the lobster served, in the shell, hot or cold, and, yes, there will be lots of melted butter for dipping the juicy, plump chunks of lobster.

Dipping lobster claw in melted butter
Dipping Lobster Claw in Melted Butter at Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers, North Rustico, PEI

There are plenty of alternative meal options available for those who are not lobster fans.  Steak, scallops, breaded shrimp, snow crab, haddock, and rotisserie chicken are entrée options.

Salad bar at Fisherman's Wharf Lobster Suppers
Small Segment of the 60-foot long Salad Bar at Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers in North Rustico, PEI

All meals include access to the 60-foot salad bar that, in addition to being comprised of some 30 salads, also includes seafood chowder, and mussels.

Bowl of Seafood Chowder at Fisherman's Wharf Lobster Suppers, North Rustico, PEI
Bowl of Seafood Chowder at Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers, North Rustico, PEI

Yes, those tasty PEI steamed mussels are included, too!

Steamed PEI mussels dipped in melted butter
Steamed PEI mussels dipped in melted butter at Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers

Warm homemade rolls are delivered to your table by your server who will also serve the lobster or other entrée of choice.

Basket of warm homemade rolls at Fisherman's Wharf Lobster Suppers
Basket of warm homemade rolls at Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers

Other than that, the meal is basically self-serve at your leisure.

Plate of different salads at Fisherman's Wharf Lobster Suppers
Plate of different salads at Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers

A wide variety of homemade desserts is also available and non-alcoholic beverages are included in the meal price. The facility is licenced and there are additional charges for alcoholic beverages. Gratuity is not automatically included with the meal price and is at the patron’s discretion.

Strawberry Shortcake at Fisherman's Wharf Lobster Suppers
Strawberry Shortcake at Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers in North Rustico, PEI

Fisherman’s Wharf accommodates special dietary restrictions such as gluten-free and vegan diets. To discuss specific dietary needs, it is always a good idea to call ahead of your visit. A children’s menu is available so the whole family can enjoy a meal together.

Lobsters are purchased through Island seafood wholesalers and are held until needed in the onsite lobster holding facility that is filled with sea water piped from the harbour. This allows the lobsters to maintain their fresh sea quality and taste. Various sizes of lobster are available and the most popular size is the 1½ pound lobster though they do get requests for lobsters as large as 3-4 pounds. On average, 650-750 lobsters will be cracked a day in peak tourism season and one guy cracks open every one of them, single-handedly.  I have seen him at work and those hands just fly to make short of the work!

Troy says, in his opinion, what sets Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers apart from others is their state-of-the-art kitchen and their 60-foot long salad bar which has such a huge variety, there is something for everyone.

Segment of 60-foot long salad bar at Fisherman's Wharf Lobster Suppers
Segment of 60-foot long salad bar at Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers

A visit to North Rustico would not be complete without a stop for a meal at Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers. Open daily from mid-May until early October, the restaurant serves meals from 12 noon until 8:30pm (note that hours may be reduced in the shoulder seasons). You never know who you will see at Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers. Several celebrities including those from the film industry, the hockey fame world, and politicians have been spotted dining at the restaurant.

Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers is located at 7230 Rustico Road in North Rustico, PEI. Visit their website for more information.

Tips for Dining at a PEI Lobster Supper

Dining at one of the Island’s Lobster Suppers is a unique experience.  Here are my tips for making the most of it:

      1. There is no need to dress up. These are casual dining venues. Plastic lobster bibs are available and are recommended as, even though the lobsters have been cracked open by the kitchen staff, the meat can be a bit juicy to pull out the of the shell….then there is that lovely dripping melted butter….enough said!
      2. Expect casual surroundings. You won’t be seated at tables with people you do not know but neither is it a quiet, intimate dining experience.
      3. Pace yourself and don’t over-indulge in food! This is the biggest tip of all. There is A LOT of food coming your way at an Island lobster supper. It’s easy to get carried away with the unlimited mussels, fresh rolls, and seafood chowder that start out the meal and to fill up on those.  Save room for the lobster (or alternative entrée) and the desserts.  You’ll want to sample everything.
      4. Plan to spend time at the supper and enjoy the experience. These are not fast food outlets and the meals comprise a lot of food and courses.
      5. In peak season (July and August), there may be some line-ups (especially over the 5pm – 7pm timeframe) so be patient. It gives time to work up a needed appetite for what awaits you.
      6. Don’t expect à la carte menus to be available. The meals are set menu so there is no ordering of special or particular side dishes or customizing a meal.
      7. If you have never been to a PEI lobster supper, it can be daunting when you arrive at the check-in desk and need to make a snap decision on what entrée to order or whether you want your lobster hot or cold and so forth. It’s a good idea to check out the lobster supper’s website before arrival so you have an idea of what you plan to order.
      8. While both New Glasgow Lobster Suppers and Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers can accommodate dietary restrictions, it’s always advisable to call them ahead of your visit to discuss specific dietary concerns and needs. This will help ensure a pleasant dining experience for everyone in the party.

     

    Summary

    Food at an Island lobster supper is plain, downhome hearty fare that is simply prepared.  The lobster is served straight from the shell with no additions or sauces added to it. This allows the pure authentic taste of the lobster to be enjoyed. The potato salads will be homemade and be just like most Islanders know potato salad to be and that they, themselves, make at home.

    I always recommend visitors to PEI experience an authentic and traditional lobster supper during their visit – in fact, I suggest they visit both New Glasgow Lobster Suppers and Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers.  While there are certainly similarities between them, there are some differences. The most notable is that New Glasgow Lobster Suppers offers a completely plated meal brought to your table and served to you by your server while Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers offers a 60-foot long salad-plus bar and patrons largely serve themselves with the exception of the main entrée itself. Fisherman’s Wharf serves their lobster suppers all day starting at 12 noon while New Glasgow starts their dinner service at 4:00pm.

    No matter whether you choose one or both lobster suppers, one thing is for sure, you won’t leave hungry.  Just make sure you arrive with a hearty appetite and elasticized waistbands are recommended! Then, don the plastic bib and tuck into a hearty and tasty authentic PEI lobster supper. It’s sure to be an unforgetable meal and a great memory of a PEI visit.  Once you’ve had a meal at one of our Island lobster suppers, I think it will be quite apparent why they’ve stood the test of time and have been in business for decades.

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Lobster Suppers in PEI

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 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. The chopped black garlic was kneaded into the pasta dough.

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

 

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.

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.

People sitting at table watching chef at work in open concept kitchen
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.

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.

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!

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. 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!

Dining at The Table Culinary Studio in 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.

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