As I bit into a slice of Migneron de Charlevoix, I closed my eyes to appreciate its flavours as they took over my senses for a moment. Its pungent, smooth taste made the edges of my tongue tingle. It was a cheese to remember.
Handmade from fresh cow’s milk, this semi-hard cheese is just one of a family of cheeses invented and produced for decades on the farm I was visiting, the home-base for Famille Migneron de Charlevoix.
This dairy farm is a recommended stop on Quebec’s Charlevoix Flavour Trail or Route des Saveurs, a network of local food producers and restaurants offering travellers a welcoming way to discover the distinct tastes of the region.
This is where Canada’s Slow Food movement began in the ’90s. The movement, which originated in Italy, emphasizes taking time to grow, prepare and appreciate the native tastes and flavours of a place.
“Since the Flavour Trail started, the quality of the foods offered has never wavered,” says Madeleine Dufour, 23, who grew up watching her father, Maurice Dufour, create the first artisan cheeses of Charlevoix.
“What supports the Charlevoix Flavour Trail is the shared love and passion we all have for our amazing natural products, foods and dishes,” she says. “We’re proud of the tastes of our region.”
Slowly and naturally a food destination
In Charlevoix, lush mountain peaks dip into smoothly carved valleys that border the sparkling and immense expanse of the St. Lawrence River.
Such an idyllic landscape has long lured adventure travellers, well-heeled tourists and talented artists. Dufour’s generation has seen Charlevoix come into its own as one of Canada’s prized foodie destinations.
“That’s because of our local mentality,” Dufour says. “Many choose to eat locally; [we] want quality and freshness. You can feel this on the Charlevoix Flavour Trail. If you love good food, we have it.”
Distinctive dining on the trail
Conveniently just a few feet away from Famille Migneron’s charming, oversized red barn is a new addition to the Flavour Trail’s list of restaurants — the modern yet cozy Faux Bergers.
A wall of windows lines the white-tiled dining space overlooking Charlevoix’s rolling hills. This is where dishes by chef Emile Tremblay take centre stage — produced with local ingredients, a dedication to Slow Food concepts, and imagination.
“I believe we all need to take time to do what we want to achieve in life, and food isn’t different [in this regard],” Tremblay says as he sets down a plate of his latest creation before me. “Good cooking takes time.”
The dish is a blur of fantastic pastel colours deriving from varied ingredients, including tarama cabbage with smoked salmon mayonnaise, homemade kimchi with walnuts, and tomato foam.
It is a perfect marriage of distinct flavours and textures, including the smooth smokiness of the salmon mayonnaise, a tangy and slightly pickled kick from the kimchi, and a hearty crunch from the walnuts.
A dish is rarely repeated at Faux Bergers. There is no set dinner menu, and each evening’s six-course meal is served with a bit of surprise. Tremblay himself introduces each dish and tells diners about the inspiration behind it.
He says the ingredients he works with are the result of the hard work of regional farmers, fishermen, bakers, brewers and cider-makers.
“These dishes represent Charlevoix in that sense,” Tremblay says. “Plus we add our inventive and distinctive way of preparing them.”
Next, I savour Tremblay’s elegantly presented chocolate tart, topped with a crumbled biscuit and deep violet-blue blueberries from the neighbouring Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region. The textures are rich and velvety, the fruit is perfectly ripe — tangy, yet sweet.
The Flavour Trail is not only satisfying to the palate, it is also a learning experience into Charlevoix’s deep and fascinating food culture. The whole region is immersed in this Slow Food culture, with more than 40 local growers, producers, and restaurateurs.
A unique regional flavour
The Labbé family has bred dairy cows for generations and has helped reintroduce the endangered Canadienne cow, a breed that was once exclusively and intimately linked to Quebec’s terroir.
Locals Sophie and Michel Nicole raise goats and Highland cattle suited to the mountainous landscape, providing delicious meat and also a petting zoo for kids.
At Boulangerie Bouchard, a folded meat pie recipe handed down through the generations has drawn some 20,000 customers each summer.
Pascal Miche carries on a recipe invented by his great-grandfather Omer, making a unique tomato wine.
Isabelle Mihura and Jean-Jacques Etcheberrigaray raise ducks the traditional way, letting them roam free in the fields — the best way to produce meat for the traditional French dish, foie gras.
Charlevoix is home to the biggest emu farm in Canada, run by Raymonde Tremblay, who has over 400 birds raised without antibiotics or hormones.
The region’s commitment to transparent and local sourcing is so strong that it has developed a special Charlevoix certification and label for its products.
“There’s passion in the process here,” says Tremblay. “Whether its producing great cheeses or wines, we are dedicated to slow food — to good food. The Flavour Trail is a way to understand and savour it all.”