Our man about town shares his latest findings.
Nos Cabanes Maple Syrup
Claudine Brassard has elevated maple syrup to the level of grand cru gastronomically and aesthetically. And she has the awards to prove it.
Since October 2016 she has trekked the length of Quebec learning about and seeking out the finest artisanal producers whose syrup and stories reflect the honesty of their terroir. Her discoveries include the fact that even adjacent farms, produce remarkably different syrups.
Brassard’s markets her joyful finds in distinctive pointed glass bottles with artful graphics have glass stoppers and wire swing closured of the sort often used in high-end European beer bottles. Each bottle comes with a distinctive paper tag that identifies the sugar bush from which it comes.
I opt to try Route 255 Kingsley Falls. Light gold in colour the syrup is slightly spicy with candied fruit, traces of almond and damp earth. The tag tells me the Proulx family first produced maple syrup in Kingsley falls in the late 1800’s. The Cascade Company acquired the land in 1988 but the principals, the Lemaire brothers, recognized the historic importance of its syrup production and thankfully continued the long tradition. In 2018 this syrup won a provincial grand prize for excellence. This is nectar of the gods.
Brassard’s Rang 1 from St-Ferdinand from a corner of the Appalachian Mountains is remarkably different. It’s a dark orange-gold with intriguing aromas of a smokey autumn woodlot. On the palate there are intense honeyed flavours with hints of saltiness. With a degree of brooding intensity that, while dulcet, it never crosses over to excessive sweetness.
Brassard’s Nos Cabanes also produces an exquisite Maple Butter. Made from pure, 100% maple syrup I find its natural sweetness lifted by bright briny acidic notes from the Himalayan salt. The resulting creamy bittersweet quality delivers a liquid fudge texture. Noteworthy!
The Aussies, in our popular imagination, are tanned, outback-loving, crocodile wrestling surfers who are fond of barbequed shrimps. But some, like B.C.’s Dan Sprattling have a sweeter side.
As he tells it, Sprattling brought the antipodean family recipe for lemon squares to Vancouver a number of years ago. After making them as treats for friends who became enthusiastic disciples, he started a kiosk at the
famous Granville Island Market. From there Sprattling has branched out to stores in Gastown and Yaletown. Today he also ships across Canada from his online shop.
His squares have a striking taste profile, sweet but with a well-balanced just right tart lemon flavour. Dan tells me that the secret is the juice and zest of the Eureka lemon. Bright lemony zings compliment their velvety butter cream topping. A Graham cracker base with coconut has a chewy granular quality adding both texture and depth. Ideal party nibbles.
Allo Simonne Hazelnut Spread
I’m not easily impressed but Quentin Ryckaert, a Belgian now living in Quebec, has me smiling with his hazelnut (noisette) spread. Impressively, hazelnut is his first ingredient! Not the third. And usually present palm oil—nowhere to be found. Much to my liking, sugar makes only a cameo appearance.
What started as his hobby has become a Montreal based business in 2017. Only two years later in 2019 his Noisettes Chocolat Jaguar spread won Gold in the Canadian division of the International Chocolate Awards and Silver in the World category.
The spread is an amalgam of finest Turkish hazelnuts and rare Jaguar Tree cacao. The Mayan’s considered the Jaguar tree sacred and it’s said that there are only about 1,000 growing wild in South American tropical jungles. The secret to Ryckaert’s recipe, Jaguar cacao tastes more fruity and nutty than regular cacao. He tells me its creamy texture can pass as milk chocolate without a gram of dairy.
Racked with indecision I finally settled on his 3-pack sampler for my tasting. I’m glad I did. The Hazelnut, Dark Chocolate & Buckwheat is rich and smooth with a lively crunch from the grain. The Jaguar Cacao is without bitterness and as Ryckaert promised because it picks up creaminess normally found by adding milk chocolate. As well, I found a lovely, honeyed nuttiness with a hint of vanilla.
The Hazelnut & Dark Chocolate has those same entangled nectarous creamy rich flavours but with slightly more bite coming from the dark chocolate while the Hazelnut & Milk Chocolate leans towards a more syrup-like texture. Here I sense an almost Swiss milk chocolate taste with the innate fruitiness of Jaguar cacao showing through tempered with traces of nutty saltiness.
Allo Simone’s promotional material shows a myriad of recipes: cookies, ice cream tarts and pancakes are but a few. However, with a slightly sad shake of his head, Ryckeart confesses that a recent survey showed most Hazelnut aficionados scooped it out right from the jar with a spoon. Guilty as charged!
Les Canardises Foie Gras
Foie gras is controversial but sometimes, I have an urge to indulge. I feel a tad less guilty when I know what I’m consuming comes from a smaller family farm where they look after the ducks.
Founded in 2003 in Saint-Ferrell-les-Neiges Quebec by Yolande & Pascal Klein, and now joined by their children Camille & Pierre, Les Canardises raises just 5,000 Mallard ducks—tiny compared to the 200,000 bird larger farms. They tell me they care about the welfare of their ducks not only individually hand feeding each one but raising them without growth hormones, antibiotics and on a diet of Quebec grown whole corn. They even massage the ducks to aid digestion.
A side-by-side tasting against foie gras from a large Quebec producer showed a surprising difference. The Les Canardises foie gras has a more pronounced, but subtle flavour. I find it slightly gamey and more creamy with good length. Curiously this foie also tastes less fatty with a lessened tinge of sweetness than its comparison. The textures are similar (put it in the fridge for a couple of hours before serving) but the colour of the small farm product is more yellow. The family also produces an excellent Foie Gras Mousse. Sold in cans, which are currently only available in Quebec or, by mail order, the Klein’s are working on select distribution of their super premium products in other provinces.
Tracy’s Wine Jellies
For the past 25 plus years, Tracy Hanson has been producing wine jellies in Niagara. Her husband Vito Gelose reels off all the myriad ways that he uses her interesting jellies from charcuterie boards to stir-fry’s. If he could, I suspect he would use them to brush his teeth.
Her product range is huge. Tracy tells me that during the pandemic, her best seller was the Merlot Habanero. Perhaps buyers thought the fiery peppers would clobber COVID.
I choose the all-time best seller, Hot Pepper Chardonnay. With a base of apple, fired up with Jalapeño flakes this moderately sweet jelly comes alive with little zings of taste. I’m also taken with Tracy’s new beer jellies. A jar of Ginger Beer tickles my fancy—a concoction that abounds in earthy hoppy flavours perfectly set off against the gentle assertiveness of ginger. Be gone, jaded palate.