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Canadian Gold Makes A Sticky Splash

By Iris Brooks
Published October 21, 2008

Food critic Iris Brooks goes north looking for maple syrup.

Some people head for the big air in Mont-Tremblant, Canada because it’s among the best ski resorts in North America. In this “Aspen of the East,” others enjoy the snowshoeing, horse-drawn sleigh-riding, and cross-country adventures on the white blanket of snow from November through April (150 inches annually) covering this precious gem in the Laurentian Mountains (among the oldest on Earth) while staying in places ranging from yurts to five-star hotels. But there is a sweeter enticement to head north: the culinary offerings extending beyond the pig’s feet, rabbit stew and gamey pot pies of Quebecois culture.


In the province of Quebec – the oldest French community outside Europe – you may explore traditional cuisine in places like the Millette Sugar Shack, a family-run business for five generations or delicacies in new chic, fusion-style eateries such as sEb, where molecular cooking is the trend, and the Plus Minus Café, where exotic ingredients are vertically layered in pairings with local products resulting in unexpected taste sensations.


From rustic cabins to upscale boutique restaurants, local maple syrup is never far away during my visit to Canada. The Millette Sugar Shack (15 minutes outside of Mont-Tremblant) has a folksy atmosphere, displaying over 300 artifacts and old tools where you may eat family-style or opt for the bar stools crafted from old milk cans and tractor seats. It’s a place to watch the old-fashioned sugar tapping of the maple trees during the four to six week maple season in March or April. Benois Millette explains when the sap begins to flow, the long winter is ending and most families celebrate with a special meal. While the traditional omelet or poached eggs are topped off with maple syrup, I prefer the thin pancakes, “fazouet” smothered in syrup. During my meal I listen to a call-and-response French Canadian folksong about a poor man who gambles away his girlfriend’s hat, clothes and finally her heart so he may have another drink. After the sad song and syrupy meal, I head out back to learn about maple sugaring and taste the “sugar on snow.”


Constant cold nights and warm days are ideal for the sap-collecting season. On Millette’s property, 75 people help collect the sap in buckets from 1500 trees on 22 acres. Forty liters of maple are needed to make one liter of maple syrup. The sap is darker at first and becomes clearer as the season gets underway. Benois makes a traditional type of taffy from pouring the hot syrup on snow. According to him, “sugar on snow” dates back to the 1600s, when it was accidentally “discovered” by Indians, after a jar of syrup was left near a fire and it got sweeter and darker. To make the taffy, or “sugar on snow,” the sap is boiled down to thicken it. Then it’s poured in a row of circles over a cookie sheet of packed snow. A stick (like a popsicle one) is used to roll the sticky stuff on the snow and it quickly becomes