After a long drive along quiet back roads and a darkening sky, we finally turned off the pavement, and into the gravel driveway of a small cabin off to the side of the road. A warm yellow glow ushered us inside, like fireflies seduced by bright light. We had arrived at Le Bistreau d’érable.
I remember, as a child, our annual trips to sugar shacks in the Eastern Townships from our home in Montreal—the plates of pancakes slathered in syrup, and the golden brown taffy rolled onto popsicle sticks in the snow.
So I wasn’t expecting to find a more gourmet version on this side road just outside the town of Sainte–Lucie-de-Beauregard, population 300, in the Chaudière Appalaches region southeast of Quebec City. Although its restaurant still has the typical checked tablecloths, a wooden bar crafted by its owner Jérome Sauvageau divides the restaurant from its modern open kitchen. Funky hanging lights are formed from traditional maple syrup buckets and glass jugs.
Our dinner, served family style, included copious bowls of crispy pork rinds, beet and apple salad, coleslaw, a delicious tourtière made even more delicious when accompanied by “ketchup aux fruits” (a fruity relish), thick slices of ham, sweet baked beans, roasted potatoes, crèpes with maple syrup (what else?) and a verrine, or glass jar, with a maple dessert that combines textures of hard maple crunch and soft maple jelly. (For $28, and half price or less for kids, this BYOB meal is a steal.)
The Bistreau’s owners, Jérome and his partner Noémi G. Régnier operate a booming family business. They produce 120 barrels, or 350 gallons, a season—tapped from 25,000 trees.
“It’s like a puzzle,” says Noémi. Some of the trees they rent at a cost of $1.20 per tree per year. Other trees are from their own property, and still others they get permission to use from a public forest. The small bottles displayed on their production room shelves are samples from each day’s draw—the clearer, usually lighter-tasting maple syrup are produced in colder temperatures; the darker richer syrup when it’s warmer.
Another way to experience maple syrup
Maple products can have many functions. The next day, instead of consuming maple syrup, my body is covered in the stuff. Well, let me explain.
At the Manoir du Lac William, a 55-room lakeside inn overlooking a long, narrow lake in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, about two and a half hours away, I have chosen their maple butter body wrap treatment at the spa, a luxurious 75-minute treatment that starts off with a sugary maple exfoliant that both burns my skin and feels amazing. Then I am lathered in a maple butter and massaged with the stuff before being wrapped in plastic.
Even after a shower, and later, a soak in the luxurious outdoor thermal baths, my skin feels soft like a baby’s. Before drifting off to sleep that night in my crisp, white sheets, all I can smell is the sweet aroma of maple. But from where?
I finally realize, in that hazy space before sleep, that oh, that maple is me.
IF YOU GO
For a list of Quebec sugar shacks, visit the Quebec Original website.
The sugar shack experience varies, but generally includes a big pancake meal set out at long wooden tables, taffy on snow (tire sur la neige), and sometimes a tour, a sleigh or wagon ride, and other activities.by