Written by: Jordan Whitehouse
It’s no secret that the northern area of Hastings County is brimming with first-rate breweries, cafes, restaurants, cheese shops, bakeries, and farm stores. But with all of that choice, the big question is: where should you go? And more to the point: what should you have once you get there? The Great Taste of Ontario’s Hastings County passport will help narrow down answers to the first question — and maybe nab you some sweet prizes. To answer the second, here are the must eats and drinks at 10 of the passport’s stops.
Madawaska Kanu Centre
The Madawaska Kanu Centre is known for offering some of the best white-water paddling adventures in the country, but it also has a great little café that serves up homemade soups, paninis, baked goods, and freshly roasted Madawaska Coffee. You have lots of choice here, but go for the maple latte. It has all of the warm, milky goodness of a typical latte, but with just the right hit of a smooth maple-syrupy finish. Enjoy it out on the sprawling deck in the woods or riverside with your toes in the mighty Madawaska River.
Ontario Water Buffalo Co.
The buffalo mozzarella was what started it all for this renowned water buffalo farm and store north of Stirling. The authentic pure white mozzarella di bufala is just as you’d expect: smooth and spongey with a nice full, buttery flavour that showcases the sweet and silky water buffalo milk. Perfect for a Caprese salad, it pairs nicely with steaks, sausages, and other water buffalo cuts, which you can also get at the Buff Stuff Store.
Strawberry rhubarb cider
Kings Mill Cider
This award-winning cidery is just down the road from Ontario Water Buffalo Co. Though you have plenty of options at Kings Mill, try this refreshing, non-carbonated concoction on a warm summer or fall day. Kees Morsink and Margaret Van Helvoort released the strawberry rhubarb cider last year after harvesting their own rhubarb and adding locally-grown strawberries. It’s a very smooth and easy-drinking cider that Kees and Margaret said is “the most delicious cider we have made”.
Potter Settlement Artisan Winery
When the folks behind Potter Settlement said they were going to grow wine grapes near Tweed twenty years ago, there were a lot of doubters. Now they’ve silenced those naysayers with full-flavoured and award-winning wines like the 2017 Marquette. Aged in French oak, this red wine has notes of black currant, peppercorn, cherries, and dark chocolate. It won gold at the National Wine Awards of Canada, gold at the San Francisco International Wine Competition, and gold at the Challenge du vin in Bordeaux, France.
Much has changed since Ivanhoe Cheese began making artisan cheeses in 1870, but the quality of the spongey stuff here is always consistent. Stop by the factory outlet in the hamlet of Ivanhoe to sample a variety of cheddars and specialty cheeses, including smoked gouda and flavoured Monterey jacks. Just don’t leave without a bag or two of curds. Made fresh every day and available in a couple of flavours, these rubbery chunks of cheesy goodness deliver just the right hit of mild, salty brightness.
Spicy onion marmalade
The Barn Chefs
It will be hard to go wrong with any of the Italian delicacies Sarah Woods and Luca Molteni create in their Coe Hill shop, but you have to try the spicy onion marmalade. Both Sarah and Luca have been making preserves since they were young, and you can taste that expertise in this blend made with generous chunks of red onion. With caramel notes up front and a warm chili finish, it goes great with any of The Barn Chefs’ breads, cheeses, and charcuterie.
Hidden Goldmine Bakery
This goldmine of a bakery in Madoc does old-fashioned, preservative-free baking right. They specialize in everything from breads to fruit pies to golden fudge nuggets, but definitely go for the butter tarts. There are options, including raisin, pecan, and raspberry, but you can’t go wrong with the classic butter tart. Baked to a perfect golden brown, the flaky crust cradles the thick, rich, caramel-y filling without allowing it to ooze all over your fingers. Chances are you’ll go back for seconds.
Bancroft Brewing Company
From crisp and clean to dark and bitter, you could find up to a dozen small-batch beers on offer at Bancroft Brewing Company. For my money, though, at least in the warmer months, the Blonde Lady is it. This German blonde, made with both German and Canadian grains, is a smooth, light, and crisp ale with a full body. Ideal for enjoyment on the brewery’s own patio or on the one next door at Bancroft Brew Pub.
Al’s Best Bitter
7/62 Craft Brewers
This craft brewery in Madoc opened just before the pandemic and now brews around six different beers. Al’s Best Bitter — named after brewmaster Al Shaw — is the flagship here, though. When Al and Scott Williams discovered they both loved bitter-style beers, they knew they had to start a brewery to make their own. Their version is authentic to what you’d find in a British pub: dark amber in colour with moderate hop and bitterness and a slight bready maltiness. For best results, pair with a Taste of Hastings cheese board out on the patio.
Longtooth Pale Ale
Longtooth Beverage Company
This craft brewery west of Stirling has been around for a few years now and primarily focuses on three brews: a lager, a radler, and a pale ale. The latter is a classic American Pale Ale that has a malt flavour upfront balanced by a slight hoppy bitterness and a citrusy finish. You might find this in an LCBO, otherwise head to the Longtooth patio or the soon-to-be-ready indoor bar.