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TASTE THE COUNTY FOOD FESTIVAL - PICTON ONTARIO

Story and photos by

Dried corn stalks, orange pumpkins, multi-coloured squash and an apple TASTE sign decorate the entrance to the Crystal Palace in Picton, Ontario. Food and beverage stands fill and surround the wooden heritage building during the annual food festival on the last Saturday in September.

Taste! A Celebration of Regional Cuisine in the Crystal Palace
Taste! A Celebration of Regional Cuisine in the Crystal Palace
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Date for the 2017 Picton Taste Community Grown event is September 24. Hours are 11 am to 5 pm.

We bought tickets to the event in advance, because admission is restricted to 2,500 people. The fee entitles the Prince Edward County festival participants to free parking, free food and wine seminars, a free wine glass and live jazz.

Visitors sip and sample inside and outside the Crystal Palace. Menus for Taste! a celebration of regional cuisine are found on the festival's website.

A camaraderie develops as people recommend dishes. "You must try Waring House's lamb ragout," says one man. "I could've eaten a pot of Angeline's lamb vegetable gratin," says another. "I hope no one's looking, because I'm going to lick the plate."

Tastings

We meet Ted Maczka. "I love garlic," he says. We're not surprised. Two fist-sized garlic heads bulge from the brim of his red baseball cap.

Fish Lake Garlic Man, Ted Maczka
Fish Lake Garlic Man, Ted Maczka
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

The Fish Lake Garlic Man moved to Prince Edward County in 1978 to "grow garlic and spread the gospel of its goodness." And its scent. He shows us a jar of pickled garlic, which he makes by blending garlic with vodka.

A jazz band plays as we meet Sonja and Dino Iannuzzi at the Capricorn View Goat Farm stand. They lift lids covering the ribs, goat steaks and meatballs. The delicious aromas make us hungry. We give Sonja six tickets for a tasty steak in wine sauce.

The cost of admission to Taste Community Grown is $30 and includes ten tickets. Food and drink samples are one to six tickets. Additional Taste tickets cost one dollar each.

"Our pesto-stuffed ribs won first prize at a previous Taste! event," says Sonja. Judges award annual handcrafted trophies for the best dishes made with regional ingredients, the best beer, cider and wine food pairings, the best decorated booth and the best savoury and sweet uses of regional ingredients.

Wine pairing

The creativity astounds us. Prince Edward County restaurants, hotels, winemakers, brewers and farmers serve diverse dishes like grilled lamb poutine, spit-roasted wild boar, mini emu burgers, elk chili, maple pulled pork sandwiches, lamb consommé with truffled meat dumplings, and braised lamb and apple ravioli wrapped with eggplant.

Claramount Inn pairs award-winning maple smoked salmon on savoury lemon pepper biscotti and late summer corn relish with Norman Hardie Riesling. Acoustic Grill serves pork tenderloin medallion marinated in County Premium Cider, grilled over apple wood chips, and paired with carrot and cucumber salad and County Cider Company's Waupoos Draft Cider.

Taste! A Celebration of Regional Cuisine attracts food and wine-lovers from Ontario and from as far as Florida. "I'm a Prince Edward County girl," says Chrissy Poitras, who now lives in Kingston, "but I come home to eat foods that I can't find elsewhere." She smacks her lips as Paulo Dinkel serves her apple fritters.

Artisan cheese-making seminar
Artisan cheese-making seminar
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Cheese making

In the adjoining Blue Bird Building at Picton Fairground, Petra Cooper, owner of Fifth Town Artisan Cheese and founder of the Ontario Cheese Society, conducts one of three free seminars. Her topic? Making artisan cheese from store-bought milk. Her garlic and chive, walnut and chili oil white cheeses taste as good as they look.

We recalled a previous year's seminar by Chef Andrea Mut, Director of The Waring House Cookery School, on how to cook with county beers. Our mouths watered as she prepared Barley Days Brewery Wind & Sail Dark Ale curried lamb pie and maple ricotta beggar's purses with Barley Days Brewery Harvest Gold Pale Ale. (Barley Days micro brewery was previously the Glenora Springs Brewery.)

Prince Edward County Wine Route and Homegrown Ontario representatives also give seminars. Outside, a Farmer's Market sells fresh fruit, vegetables and local products, like Black River Cheese, in open-air stands.

A highlight of the Taste Community Grown festival is the County Chopped competition where chefs compete to create dishes made from a surprise selection of Prince Edward County ingredients.

Slickers ice cream
Slickers ice cream
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Ice cream

Dessert time! Do we choose butter tarts, county apple cake, pumpkin roulade with buttercrunch cream, or Black River cheddar with Iced County Cider? We can't resist Slickers rich apple pie, Concord grape and campfire creme two-ticket cones. The latter tastes just like burnt marshmallows.

"We've made over 150 flavours," says Marie Frye. "Try our basil and lavender ice creams," adds co-owner, Pat Hacker. The aromatic flavours explode on our taste buds.

They're perfect endings to our celebration of Prince Edward County foods, wines, beers and ciders.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

Taste! - A Celebration of Regional Cuisine: www.TasteCommunityGrown.com

More things to see and do in Ontario:

Stratford Ontario - Theater and Attractions

Pembroke - Waterfront Art Gallery in Ottawa Valley

Ontario Feast of Fields - Food, Wine and Sustainable Living

Toronto Chinatown Walking Tour

Niagara Wine Festival Parade, Tastings, Touring Passport