Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
CHARLOTTETOWN, PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND — You know about the oysters and the lobsters. You’ve tried the potatoes more times than you probably realize. But what about Prince Edward Island’s acclaimed black garlic? Or its gouda cheese with faithful fans, including the chef who purchased the company that makes it? Or the many restaurants and small food stands that use plenty of this good stuff in their cuisine?
PEI is marketing itself as “Food Island” and it can present a lot of evidence of why it is deserving of the name. It’s home to the Culinary Institute of Canada (CIC), which graduates dozens of food-industry professionals each year, and to the nation’s best-known chef, Michael Smith. His Feast at the Inn at Bay Fortune is in itself an experience that makes a visit to the island satiating and worthwhile.
Much of PEI’s cuisine and flavours will be spotlighted at the 2017 PEI International Shellfish Festival, which runs from September 14-17 and will include guest chefs from around the country. Thousands of visitors will arrive for one of the leading culinary events in Atlantic Canada.
Whether you attend the festival or not, here are some PEI foods and destinations to check out.
Malpeque Oysters: Canada’s smallest province is the only place in the world that cultivates malpeques, which take their name from a bay on the island’s west end. Malpeques came to prominence after winning a global competition at the 1900 Paris World’s Fair. The cold, salty waters from the Atlantic Ocean give the oysters a distinct sweetness. And oyster lovers have taken notice. These days, the province’s oyster industry brings in close to $13 million in annual sales.
Add a drop of PEI moonshine (you can find bottles of Strait Shine in stores) and you can savour them the way many of the island’s residents do.
Eureka Garlic: Al Picketts makes batches of black garlic that are coveted by chefs. The fermented garlic — modified by Picketts, a scientist — is a wonder food that can be spread on bread or even cakes, tossed into salads for a bite of pungentness, or cooked with foods for added aroma and taste. You can purchase Picketts’ garlic at the headquarters of Eureka Garlic (the name is a play on words — see if you can figure it out) near the town of New London.
Glasgow Glen Farm: When the company’s original owner, nicknamed the Gouda Lady, was about to retire and possibly close shop, chef Jeff McCourt stepped in. He didn’t want to see an end to one of his favourite establishments, so he took over the property in 2013. “The cheeses are iconic PEI products. It was one of those things that I couldn’t let slide by,” he says of his decision to purchase the shop that for many years exclusively produced gouda (16 kinds of it).
With McCourt in charge, Glasgow Glen Farm moved locations to a 2,800-square-foot space that includes a massive cheese storage area and large kitchen. A wood-fired oven makes more than 100 loaves and 125 pizzas each day.
A cheese-making instructor at the CIC, McCourt is also introducing more than gouda to the cheese menu, starting with blue.
Drop in for a slice of pizza and a sample of this unique PEI treat with a great story to it.
The Table: Experiential cooking classes are increasingly popular and The Table — set in a former church — is a charming place to discover the ingredients of PEI. Your lesson may begin with a visit to an oyster farm with George Dowdle, among the island’s most well-established oystermen. He’ll inform you how he harvests his malpeques and then teach you how to shuck them at The Table. Later, you will also participate in making a feast alongside other foodies.
The Table offers a range of cooking classes and is an immersive way to enjoy the island’s cuisine and to get to know its people.
More About the 2017 PEI Shellfish Festival
Dates: September 14-17
Location: Charlottetown Event Grounds, 360 Grafton Street (see map below)
Feast & Frolic: Celebrity chef Chuck Hughes hosts the opening night event that includes a gala dinner. Tickets to Feast & Frolic cost $155 per person.
Regular Tickets: Daily tickets are $15 each on September 15 and 16, or $14 for Sunday the 17, or $33 for a weekend pass that admits you to all three days. Visit the event’s ticketing website for details.