Agrotourism: Vergers Lacroix
Leaves have started falling and so have apples. Both “Week-ends de Rougemont” in Montérégie and “Pommes en fête” apple festival in the Laurentians wound down last weekend, although it is still possible to visit, pick or simply buy homemade apple products on site.
I went apple picking on both Montreal’s South and North Shore, and I do prefer Rougemont’s hillside orchards with the occasional farm here and there. Saint-Joseph-du-Lac’s apple country often extends behind roadside bungalows and is not as idyllic. But there’s no bridge to cross, no Montreal traffic to take a bite out of you. The Laurentians do have marginal benefits.
At Vergers Lacroix in Saint-Joseph-du-Lac, family activities go beyond apple picking. Parents and kids get to enjoy a gourmet boutique, snack bar, petting farm, train module, swings, picnic tables, etc. If it feels like the whole of Laval visits, it may be more than an impression: we actually came face to face with our next door neighbours. Not shown, the play area backs up on somebody’s pool. The dozens of kids running around didn’t seem to mind.
Ever wonder what happens to all those beautiful apples underneath the apple trees? Or the ones disregarded because of their blemishes? At Vergers Lacroix, they are sold in crates as “déclassées/downgraded” apples, a favourite of bakers looking for great deals.
All in front of you, apple slices are dipped in dough, dropped into the deep-fryer, then served in a small paper bag of hot, fragrant, crispy goodness. They are crazy good.
That said, visiting orchards is but a pretext in my book. 1) I go to see kiddo running around the apple trees, his round cheeks as red as the fruit that seem to positively lean towards his greedy little hands. 2) The little boutiques usually at the front are full of every goodie I love: apple caramel and butter, jams, jellies, homemade pies, cider and… ice cider. One sip and I’ve been known to swoon.
Bought during our visit to Vergers Lacroix, from left to right: sparkling cider (very nice with cheese and pâté or sandwich), cider vinegar, sparkling ice cider (tasted at the orchard, we have a whole bottle now to make up our mind) and apple caramel.
Today’s cider is a jack of all trades. You can buy it still, sparkling, rosé, ice, rosé ice, crémant and what not. At Vergers Lacroix, the sparkling ice cider is called Lacroix Signature and made from a secret blend of apple varieties. With limited financial means, the bubbles are created by injecting carbonic dioxide into regular ice cider and not through the more expensive champagne method.
According to Lacroix representatives, this new sparkling ice cider, born a year ago, has been a favourite among visitors who enjoyed free cider tasting throughout the apple picking season. At $24 or so a bottle, it is slightly less than sparkling ice cider “inventor” Domaine Pinnacle, sold at the SAQ (Quebec’s Liquor Board) for $28.
Domaine Lafrance sparkling ice cider, also sold at SAQ, is half the price but mixes still and ice cider. Otherwise, if you want to discover other brands of this bubbly nectar, you may need a ride to the country and your cider producer of choice. There are worst ways to spend a Sunday.