Boarding the Cheese Train: A Beer and Cheese Experience
Artisanal beer seems to be the new cultured thing to do in world of gastronomy. Where wine connoisseurs belong as an extravagance from the past, beer cicerones (the wine connoisseur equivalent for beer) deliver a refreshing and more accessible art of drinking and pairing foods mindfully.
For one thing, craft beers represent a new movement of artful pairings of a drink that can easily be accessed on a patio at your favourite pub. Sure, handcrafted beers are nothing new. In fact, it's a time honoured tradition that is making its comeback and giving us a reason to appreciate a beautifully crafted drink and not feel like you belong in a frat house. But if you're not ready to graduate to wine drinking, then taking the next step from a keg to handcrafted beers will give you layers of flavours and a new sense of sophistication.
I was invited to board the York-Durham Heritage Railway in Whitchurch-Stouffville, Ontario today to experience a beer and cheese pairing workshop during the train's 90-minute ride to Uxbridge, Ontario. During that 1.5 hours, we were served with five samples of beer from Uxbridge's Second Wedge Brewing Company paired with Ontario cheeses. The lactose intolerant in me would have scoffed at the idea but I could never pass up on an opportunity to sample cheese.
These were the pairings, from light to dark:
- Albert's Leap, Bella Marie Brie from Vaughan (cow's milk, double cream bloomy rind) + Elgin Blonde (blonde ale)
- Oxford Harvest Gunn's Hill from Woodstock (cow's milk, washed rind) + Day Tripper (pale ale)
- Providence Monforte Dairy from Stratford (cow's milk) + 3 Rocks (India pale ale)
- Durham Carpe Diem Farm from Uxbridge (sheep's milk, firm cheese) + Monday Night Piper (Scottish-style ale)
- Celtic Blue Glengarry Fine Cheese from Lancaster (cow's milk, blue cheese) + Desbarres Chocolate from Uxbridge + Rain Maker (porter)
My favourite? I loved the Providence Monforte Dairy from Stratford and bought a chunk from The Passionate Cook's Essentials in Downtown Uxbridge. That's where you can buy all the cheese and other delicious treats.
To drink, I really enjoyed the Elgin blonde. Although, I have to be honest: I focused way too much on the cheese than I did with the beer. The moving train was a great concept in that we could enjoy the outdoor scenery while nibbling on treats but it didn't really help once the beer set in and when the ride became tipsy!
At last, we de-boarded the train at Uxbridge Station. Uxbridge is officially known as The Trail Capital of Canada. They have a large network of trails for hiking, cycling and horseback riding. There are a number of local shops and cafes that are a part of the Ontario By Bike network. So, you can ride your bicycle through a trail in the morning, then stop by a restaurant, shop or cafe for a break and securely park your bike outside. Neat huh?
Second Wedge Brewing Company is one of these Ontario by Bike partners. Located just behind the train station, the brewery was a short walk but I really wasn't complaining. It was such a beautiful and sunny day to be spent outside. Luckily, they just opened their patio and beer garden at the back.
One of the things I love about supporting local businesses is how they really embrace the supporting spirit. They understand the power of cooperation through cross-promoting and infusing local ingredients from other businesses and making a high quality and unique product. When we arrived at Second Wedge, we were greeted with platters of food prepared by the chef over at Urban Pantry. On regular business hours, the brewery does allow guests to bring in their own lunch to enjoy with a cold brew in the airy tasting room or in the backyard patio.
I was thoroughly stuffed from one too many beef sliders with red pepper jelly, pulled pork sandwiches, and vegetable crostinis with cranberries and almonds - yum! And all, locally sourced.
Though, this is a foodie event so the eating doesn't just stop there! I headed over to The Passionate Cook's Essentials to peruse around their store and purchase the Providence Monforte cheese that I totally ravaged on the train. There was a cooking demo session scheduled but I opted to head towards the adjoining restaurant for a sit down meal.
The menu at the Bistro was brand new and revamped to reflect the season's best offerings. Laurel, our server, told us that they just sampled the grilled lettuce salad (a take on the caesar salad) and the classic caprese salad were new on the menu. I'm a huge fan of the caprese salad - who can refuse fresh Buffalo mozzarella? My table also ordered a charcuterie board to share, grilled cheese sandwich, grilled chicken and pesto sandwich, and mac and cheese. All simple dishes but with so much flavour!
The locals also highly recommended stopping by Blue Heron books next store and Nexus for mid-day coffee. Sadly, I didn't allot myself enough time to hit up these points of interests but I know another trip to Uxbridge will be made quite soon! Perhaps I'll make it a day of hiking in one of their many trails, followed by a picnic lunch at Second Wedge Brewing Company, then a quiet afternoon at Blue Heron Books, coffee at Nexus, and completed with dinner at the Bistro at The Passionate Cook's Essentials.
Where to go:
The Boxcars and Beer: The Cheese Train event runs on three dates only this summer:
July 16th - http://bit.ly/2tKkbZC
July 30th - http://bit.ly/2uMfBXO
August 27th - http://bit.ly/2urCVuJ
The train departs from the York-Durham Heritage Railway - Stouffville Station, 6176 Main Street, Whitchurch-Stouffville, ON, L4A 2S5. Please click on each link for complete details, including time of boarding and stops, and to purchase your tickets.
Special thanks to: