Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Great Canadian Cheese Festival road trip to Picton

It was a beautiful summer weekend this past weekend with the sun shining and the skies so blue and the perfect time to take a road trip to Prince Edward County the new mecca of Artisanal food to attend the Great Canadian Cheese Festival.

I couldn't have asked for a better weekend to go for a drive to sample a whole lot of Ontario and Quebec cheeses, wines, chocolates, preserves and pickles, cider, craft beer, honey and all kinds of other treats.

The festival was located at the Picton Fair Grounds in Prince Edward County, Ontario  I have to tell you that we were kind of lucky that we found it with the directions I had.  A few more signs would have been helpful.

Admission to the Festival is $50 for the day but I had a weekend pass although I only went on the saturday. You could purchase drink tickets for 10 for $10.

We got a little distracted by the Big Apple Shop on the way to the festival so we didn't get to the festival until about 2 o'clock in the afternoon.  I thought they closed at 5pm so I kind of took my time going through the Taste Ontario Pavilion so by the time it was 4pm we jetted outside to try and breeze through the other booths outside and in another building.  I tried a whole lot of cheese and preserves and dips, spreads and other things so by the time I got to the outdoor ones I was kind of stuffed.  We managed to sample a couple more of the vendors that were still closing up shop for the day but we did miss a few that I would have liked to try including Seed to Sausage which I had once at a blogger conference and would have loved to have been able to bring some of that home.

I brought a cooler bag and had a small cheese ice pack, fitting I think.  But I didn't want to buy too much cheese so I only picked up 3 of the ones I really liked that were all different from each other.

I purchased these cheeses to take home

1.  St. Albert 5yr old Cheddar this is an award winning cheese and so smooth
2.  Best BAA Dairy Mouton Rouge - a soft washed rind cheese that melts in your mouth
3. Fromagerie Terroir Bellechasse - Fleur Saint-Michel - a garlic coated cheese that you fry

Some other things I tried that I thought tasted great or were interesting included Dehydrated cheese which will be launched in stores in August.

The lovely Phyllis Cook's Kitchen had some spicy pepper jellies that would really be great pairings with all that cheese.  Phyllis is going to send me some for a giveaway so look for that soon.

After all of that cheese I really needed a thirst quencher and picked up some Very Berry Ice Tea from Pluck Teas.

We tried the Black Garlic in jars.  It was pretty strong but the vendor showed us an appetizer he was going to make for the ticketed events that looked like it would have been a great use for it.  It does need to be mixed into something because it's intense on it's own.

There were a few vendors that were familiar to me from shows I have been to in Toronto and also from the preview I went to last month.  Vendors like Pluck Teas, Jewels under the Kilt, Whisky & Spice mustards, Best BAA Dairy, Seed to Sausage meats, the Shortbread Company and Cow's Cheese and a couple of other cheese vendors.

Can you believe that 5000 wine and cheese lovers hit this little festival in Picton each summer.  It runs all weekend and since I haven't been to this festival before I didn't know what to expect so we didn't book a room to stay over to return the next day and then we decided to stay over and we couldn't find a place to stay except for some guy that had a room in his cottagey house for $150 a night and I can tell you that it was worth more like $25 bucks for the night so we passed on that and decided to drive to Kingston instead and we stayed at the Ambassador Hotel and Conference Centre because we wanted to go on the Thousand Island cruise on the sunday.  The cruise departed at 12:30pm and it was a 3 hour cruise so by the time we finished that the cheese festival had already ended so we didn't have a chance to go back.
We tried to check out a few B&B's in Picton and did a whole lot of driving around Picton.. about 5 times.  We were looking for the Drake Devonshire Inn but for some reason we kept missing the sign but finally found it but it was fully booked and even the dining room was fully booked but we had a chance to check it out and it was beautiful.  I hope to get back there eventually.  Anyway on our stops at B&B's and Inn's we stopped at Merrill Inn and the lady there told us that 5000 people go to the festival every year and they book their rooms a year in advance to get their preferred location.  There aren't any large hotels and only small B&B's and Inns in Picton.  
We decided to wing it this year because we didn't know what to expect and as it turns out we met up with my friend's friends in Kingston for the cruise and that turned out to be a great day as well and if we didn't wing it we might not have done that.  Sometimes a plan is good and sometimes you got to just go with the flow.

I would recommend that you hit up the Cheese Festival early in the day and not dilly dally on the drive there like we did and bring empty bellies ready for lots of cheese sampling.  You have to purchase tickets for the wine but all of the cheese samples and most other samples were included in the pass price.  I did pay $2 for the Ice Tea and of course the cheeses that I purchased.
We didn't purchase the extra ticketed events because we didn't know how long the main festival would take.  Now that I know I would probably go to the festival early and then leave some time for a ticketed event.  

I hope if I return next year the weather is as great as it was this weekend and I have a chance to try a lot more vendors samples.  

I know there was a bunch of food bloggers from Toronto that also went to the festival.  I didn't see them when I was there but I know the were either there before me or after me so I know they will probably have info on some of  the things I missed.  

You know a festival has potential when a bunch of Toronto Food Bloggers drive a couple of hours to Picton to check it out.

There was a big Mac and Cheese festival in Toronto that had thousands of people attend but I am so glad I skipped that one and took in some fresh country air and fresh local products.

Check it out next year but plan ahead and bring a cooler so you can take home some yummy products.

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