…Mountains, that is. Take a bite out of Ontario big apple country
Time was, Collingwood built lake freighters, navy trawlers and ice breakers. It then developed as a winter destination for skiing and eventually became an all season destination for hiking, caving, golfing, paddling and zip lining. Then, from Georgian Bay’s fruit basket, apples became the core of tourism.
What we’ve discovered is, an escape to The Blue Mountains, with its endless outdoor activities and festivals, offers many ways to appreciate and enjoy Ontario’s quintessential fruit: the apple.
A decidedly European influence in mood and menu, the Heavenly Café is renowned for its warm caramel apple cinnamon buns. This is the stuff that dreams are made of. Other daily delights include apple puffs, apple flan with caramel and pecan, and brie and apple on a croissant with honey and walnuts. I sink into bliss and am down for the count. At The Cheese Gallery in Thornbury, we sample a variety of local cheese, and pair hard cider with a tangy classic grilled applewood smoked cheddar sandwich. Across the street at Bruce Wine Bar & Kitchen an instructive wine menu of Old and New World, and Ontario and B.C. accompanies a passion for charcuterie and fresh local produce. We pair Coffin Ridge Forbidden Dry Cider with a colourful salad of local apples, herbs, seeds and grains in maple cider vinaigrette. Live music plays as we savour tender braised short rib in a red wine reduction with crisp potato and a vibrant carrot puree. At Azzurra Trattoria we rest our palates on pillow-y sweet potato gnocchi with smoked bacon, crispy sage, apple and maple syrup. Flavours abound.
Within Blue Mountain Village, Firehall Pizza Co. has created my new favourite cocktail, Canadian Buffalo, with all the ingredients I love: bourbon, maple syrup and apple cider. There’s nothing more refreshing then a patio seat by the pond with a cool glass of apple-y sweetness and smoky bourbon. Side Launch Brewing Company crafts Wheat Beer with notes of banana, vanilla and cloves; a Mountain Lager and Dark Lager made true to style; and clean Pale Ale that is balanced and versatile for pairing. They also make doggy biscuits from spent grains and local apples. Side Launch is the sideways method by which the massive ships that were built here for more than 100 years were launched into the water. Collingwood was one of the only places in North America to do this.
In winter, “snowshoe wine tastings” lead us to Georgian Hills Vineyards where ambrosial iced apple wine, Frozen to the Core, is made from frozen Ida Red apples. Their range of premium dry ciders includes sparkling and, combined with local beer, Big John Hops Cider is unique with floral hops, spice and citrus. Cider is becoming so popular across Ontario, and nowhere is it more prevalent than in the Blue Mountains area where it is produced.
For a flight of champagne-style cider we head to Thornbury Village Cider House & Brewery. Premium and Cranberry are a lively splash of effervescence, but Local Honey Apple and Spiced Apple are luscious. They’re like drinking a smooth glass of strudel or French toast. T&K Ferri Orchards uses an Italian super spindle system of tall rows of trees with a narrow canopy to capture more sunlight for more intense sugar. “Mother nature is our business partner,” they tell me. Their Honeycrisp can rival any in the world; and their cider blend of Honeycrisp, Matsu and Courtland is intensely fruity with ripe melon and sweet tropical nuances. It is pure nectar of the Gods. Giffen’s Country Market offers 17 different kinds of apples. It’s a popular spot for breakfast and lunch, and their fresh apple pies are in high demand. When is the right time to eat apple pie? I ask. “Right out of the oven.” They reply. Their apple crumble butter tart with a touch of cinnamon has luxurious mouth feel with its flaky crust and opulent filling. I pair it with their cider, pressed directly from the apple. Its floral bouquet is followed with blended notes of honeydew, golden pear and lychee. I’ve never wanted to drink so much cider in my life.
This is apple country. Even local artists and jewelers have taken a bite. At Bonnie Dorgelo Jewellery & Paintings apples inspire all the artwork. In addition to acrylic and ink paintings on wooden blocks, there are charming locally made apple necklaces and earrings.
While the saying goes, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” there is no more therapeutic or revitalizing sensory experience than the detoxification and rejuvenation of Scandinave Spa Blue Mountain tucked into the quiet woods. Between the outdoor thermal baths, Finnish sauna and Norwegian steam bath, I plunge into the cold baths and lounge by the fire at the outdoor relaxation area. Recent developments include a quiet solarium facing the pond, and an infrared sauna in which my body absorbs heat without the room becoming overheated, so it’s easier to stretch out and breath.
The orchards of Georgian Bay produce 25 percent of Ontario’s apples. From the Apple Pie Trail through The Blue Mountains to the outdoor adventures along the Bruce Peninsula, there is no better way to explore a taste of Ontario than to hike up to the highest point in the Niagara Escarpment looking out over the endless blue of the bay, with a crisp juicy apple in one hand, a sweet cider in the other and, of course, an apple pie to share.
Adam Waxman is an award winning travel journalist focusing on food, wine and well being. As well as an actor in film, television and formerly, the Stratford Festival, he is the Associate Publisher and Executive Editor of DINE and Destinations magazine.