There’s a new experience taking root in Oxford County — and it’s a little different.It’s called “FROM TREE TO TABLE: A Build-your-own Board Experience” and it’s curated by Dave Schonberger of Ottercreek Woodworks. It’s a way for you to get your boots muddy in the woods and your hands dusty in the woodshop, while you craft your very own Live-edge Charcuterie Board.
Picture this… We pulled our car into the gravel driveway at Dave’s father in-laws rose farm to find him waiting for us, leather apron already on, waving us into our spot by the barn. Oxford County is only about an hour away from the noise of the city, but the anticipation of this particular day made the drive seem longer. May was throwing down it’s usual weather — a drizzle here, a ray of sunshine there, but we didn’t need to be asked twice when Dave directed us to the fire circle he had built between his chicken coop and the edge of the Carolinian forest slowly creeping into the fields. You can tell, this is a working farm.
We gathered by the warmth of the fire pit and passed around handmade Stroopwafel, a dutch waffle sandwich cookie made from two thin layers of baked dough with a maple syrup filling. Apparently there’s a dozen versions, but these are the best, thanks to the long established Dutch community in the region. Dave poured us each other cups of foraged nettle and mint tea. The perfect treat to stave off the spring chill. This little gathering was the starting point of a truely special exploration of wood in Ontario. After our fireside treats, Dave led us through the forest, tea in hand, explaining what makes the woodlands so special in Ontario. The interplay between species and soil and humans is just the beginning. We learned about hardwoods, fast growing woods and imperfections sought after by craftsmen the world over.
“I’m looking for a different tree than someone building a home. These knobs and scars are what make our boards special” he says while pointing to a particular gnarly cherry tree he’s had his eye on for months.An hour later, we shook the mud off our boots and headed into Dave’s cozy workshop to try building a board for ourselves. He had a half dozen varieties of wood ready for us to choose from — each a little different. There was dark and moody Black Walnut, spotted with knots. There was bright, smooth Maple; it’s grain so fine you could barely see it. There was rich, warm Cherry, studded with ripples and rings. There was even Yellowwood; it’s colour so bright, it was almost florescent.
Choosing your wood is just one of 30 steps to making a live edge board. Dave is careful to walk every participant through each one with care. From drawing a handle that reflects to pattern of the grain, to sanding and cutting and sanding again; and again, there are dozens of steps. The process itself is very fulfilling. It takes about 4 hours to make one of these beautiful boards from start to finish, by hand. You get to use plainers and draw-knives — some belonging to Dave’s grandfather, who was also a woodworker. Once you’ve almost finished a board, and your hands aching in that pleasant way they do when you create something new; Dave and his wife usher you away from the shop for lunch. As you climb the small hill to the patch of cedar trees near their house, the most beautiful sight unfolds before you. There, atop a massive raw edge table Dave built himself, is a feast. It’s covered in so many delicious treats, you can almost hear the table grown. There’s locally made cheeses (this is a Cheese Trail after all!) smoked over some of the woods we learned about earlier in the day. They’re paired with preserves and jellies in a rainbow of colours, tucked between mounds of artisanal speck and salami. There is so much beautiful, delicious food — we wonder how we could possibly finish it all. But we do. We finish every last bight that we pile onto our handmade wooden plates. It’s the kind of meal that takes an hour to eat, but no one minds. Each of us has created something, we’ve all added a little something beautiful to the world with our own two hands. We eat and we drink, and soon the laughter starts flowing. Dave shares stories of his adventures in the woods, while guests share their own experiences attempting to master a craft. The Tree-To-Table Experience ends back in the woodshop, each of us picking up our boards and learning how to care for them. Dave sends all guests home with a little tin of his handmade wood wax. It smells like pine and honeysuckle flowers — kind of like his woods. The woods we got a small glimpse into during the experience.