04 JUL 2017: Prince Edward Island has positioned itself as Canada’s Food Island and rightly so. Its primary industries are farming and fishing so fresh is practically a guarantee and the “100 mile diet” is more likely the 10 mile diet on P.E.I. A hands-on foodie experience is around every corner.  

The island is in the midst of a three-year $1.6 million Food Island Partnership Initiative launched in July 2015 and funded by federal and provincial coffers. It teamed up the agricultural sector with the P.E.I.'s growing culinary industry by merging the PEI Culinary Alliance and Prince Edward Island Agri-Alliance into one group. The results are delicious.

When I visited in June, a month long Best of the Sea competition was underway with 24 local restaurants participating and 52 unique seafood dishes on offer. Diners were encouraged to vote for their favourite dish and be entered to win prizes. At the Pearl Eatery and Oyster Lounge, I ordered Chef Cobey Adams inventive starter of corn meal crusted oysters on a baguette topped with Cajun slaw and fried green tomato with a side of mussel salsa. His seafood main was apple cured halibut on a PEI crab and potato rösti. www.bestofsea.com

Located between the picturesque fishing village of North Rustico and Cavendish Beach on the North Shore, The Pearl, is in a charming house renovated into an intimate, romantic restaurant with an oyster and ceviche bar upstairs. www.pearleatery.com

The Table Culinary Studio, in a beautifully converted church, is the place to go to learn how to cook the bounty of the island’s earth and the sea. In their Bounty of the Sea class, the chefs taught me and fellow participants how to cook and deshell lobster, clean and cook mussels, sauté scallops and make the island’s famous seafood chowder. It was a hands-on class with the reward of a great meal of chowder, broiled lobster, scallops and more at the end. www.thetablepei.ca

On a second visit, George Dowdle “The Oyster Guy” was a guest presenter and the class followed him to his nearby oyster farm to learn about his single source Green Gables Oysters which he ‘finishes’ over fresh water artesian wells which spring up from the river bed.

We learned that there are over 1000 oyster sites on P.E.I. and while the generic name for any PEI oyster is Malpeque (and they are all from the crassostrea virginica species of oyster), many oyster farms give their oysters a brand name to distinguish them from the others. While PEI Malpeques generally have a salty and sweet taste, there are subtle differences depending upon where they are grown and how.

While Dowdle owns just ten oyster sites and believes in single source oysters, the large Raspberry Point Oyster Company for example has dozens of sites and offers six different brands. Last year that company sold over 11 million PEI oysters. https://raspberrypoint.com

As for mussels, each year PEI mussel farmers harvest more than 37 million pounds of mussels bound for markets around the world. Clams are also abundant on the island and visitors are welcome to dig for them. (While a recreational license is not required to fish clams, there are season, size and possession limits.) I let someone else do the work and enjoyed a hot bowl of tasty clam steamers at Clam Diggers Beach House and Restaurant in Georgetown. http://clamdiggers.ca

There are two lobster seasons on PEI. The first runs from May until the end of June, and the second from August until October – though lobsters are available year round (they can be kept alive for months in cold salt water). Every visitor to PEI has to go at least once to a lobster supper – New Glasgow has been serving them since 1958 and with 500 seats packs people in by the bus load. With Experience PEI’s floating lobster boil, guests experience from the lobster trap to the table with Captain Chancey and crew showing them how to fish, cook, crack and eat lobster. www.experiencepei.ca

Experience PEI partnered with the Culinary Adventure Company this year to also offer walking foodie tours of Charlottetown. The three and a half hour stroll along the Charlottetown waterfront, is a walking feast of lobster, mussels, chowder, maple-glazed bacon, classic poutine, Island brewed craft beer and a dessert. The Chip Shack on their stop makes the best fries I’ve ever tasted – from double fried PEI potatoes of course. At the end of the stroll participants get a voucher for COWS ice cream - Canada’s Best Ice Cream (according to Reader’s Digest).

Think that’s about it for the Food Island? Not even close. There’s Dunes Studio Gallery and Café where there’s craft work from more than 40 Canadian artists for sale, Nash’s fashions for men and women, the pottery of owner Peter Jansons and others and the food of Chef Norman Day. Newfoundland born Day is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown and a whiz in the kitchen (the seafood stew and the seafood chowder are both divine). www.dunesgallery.com

For those who’d like a local tipple, there is Myriad Distillery, the island’s first distillery, opened in 2007. Strait Shine, is made using sugar and molasses in proportions that remain true to Island shine making traditions. “We worked hard to get the smell and taste just right so that every Islander that cracked open a bottle of our Shine would instantly be taken back to the first time they had the iconic Island drink,” said owner Ken Mill.

The distillery also grows grapes for its own Strait Brandy which are distilled and then aged in Canadian Oak. I loved their Strait Pastis, infused with anise, to give it a liquorice flavour. www.straitshine.com

Then there’s Chef Jeff McCourt, the owner and lead cheesemaker at Glasgow Glen Farm. His gouda cheeses and pizzas (topped with fresh gouda) and fresh breads made in the farm’s wood burning oven are to die for. There’s Bruce MacNaughton whose PEI Preserve Company makes jams that are all berry, no sugar added and has a lovely tea house on premises.

And last but far from least, there’s Chef Michael Smith and his awesome FireWorks Feast at Inn at Bay Fortune. I’ve written about this in the past. It’s world class dining all from his own organic gardens, with local meats and seafoods all cooked over fire. www.innatbayfortune.com


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Margaret Swaine

Margaret is a nationally published wine, spirits, food and travel writer, who has authored thousands of articles on these subjects for magazines and newspapers.

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