Okana­gan or bust

John Lee puts some pres­sure on his waist­band as he ex­plores a val­ley that is home to one of Canada’s finest food trails The Goat­gonzola re­ally packs a punch; suf­fused with blue streaks, it’s rich, rounded and earthy without be­ing over­pow­er­ing

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence -

BLEARY-EYED af­ter some late-night carous­ing in Van­cou­ver, I’ve hopped aboard a one-hour early morn­ing flight to Bri­tish Columbia’s Okana­gan Val­ley wine re­gion. Al­though it is home to more than 100 winer­ies, the lake­side Okana­gan has an even deeper prove­nance as a farm­ing re­gion re­spon­si­ble for some of west­ern Canada’s finest pro­duce.

With slow-food move­ments and 100-mile di­ets gain­ing mo­men­tum in re­cent years — it was Cana­di­ans Alisa Smith and James MacK­in­non, af­ter all, who drew at­ten­tion to the con­cept in their book The 100-Mile Diet — taste-trip­ping vis­i­tors are dis­cov­er­ing this re­gion’s rich food her­itage.

I fo­cus my trail in and around Kelowna, the Okana­gan’s cap­i­tal, which is home to Seven Six Four, a cosy bistro with a strong com­mit­ment to sourc­ing lo­cal pro­duce. Tuck­ing into a late break­fast of soft poached eggs and a thick slice of ba­con from Okana­gan Sausage, I chat with chef-owner Mark Fi­la­tow about the re­gional bounty.

He says some small pro­duc­ers still seem sur­prised that he wants to work with them, adding that it can be a lo­gis­ti­cal chal­lenge deal­ing with up­wards of 20 sup­pli­ers.

‘‘ But it feels like the right thing to do, es­pe­cially when we get the first black cher­ries of the sea­son or a fresh sup­ply of sweet lo­cal toma­toes.’’

Taste­buds piqued, I head for the hills in search of cel­e­brated lo­cal cheese­maker Carmelis Goat Cheese Ar­ti­san, a rus­tic pro­ducer with great views of the val­ley and a 40-strong herd of hardy but in­quis­i­tive goats.

‘‘ They’re lazy to­day be­cause they know it’s Sun­day,’’ says owner Ofri Bar­mor, as she walks me around the prop­erty be­fore we ar­rive at the win­erystyle tast­ing room.

Many vis­i­tors favour the farm’s soft and mild yo­ghurt, an ideal starter for those who usu­ally find goat cheese too in­tense. More prac­tised palates of­ten pre­fer tangy, soft-ripened goat cheese va­ri­eties such as the nutty, camem­bert-style Blue Vel­vet. But it’s the Goat­gonzola that re­ally packs a punch. Suf­fused with blue streaks, it’s rich, rounded and earthy without be­ing over­pow­er­ing.

De­spite the day’s ever-ris­ing kilo­joule in­take, it’s soon time for lunch and it’s not long be­fore I’m en­ter­ing the carved wooden door­way at Sum­mer­hill Pyra­mid Win­ery. The sparkling wines here are cel­e­brated and I’ve heard that din­ing on the pa­tio is a high­light of any visit.

Owner Stephen Cipes has built a large con­crete pyra­mid where he ages his wines and I grab an al­fresco ta­ble with ter­rific views across the rolling, vine-striped hills. The buf­fet of­fer­ings are or­ganic (as are the wines) and in­clude plenty of crisp sal­ads along­side shrimp won­tons and a se­lec­tion of baked fish and meats. I or­der a lit­tle Peace Chardon­nay Icewine for good mea­sure. I am not usu­ally a fan of this sweet dessert tip­ple, but it turns out to be among the best I’ve tried, with sur­pris­ingly sub­tle sug­ars and a deep apri­cot fin­ish.

Up early the fol­low­ing day, the first stop is An­drea McFad­den’s Okana­gan Laven­der farm in south Kelowna. Used to vis­i­tors do­ing self-guided tours of her laven­der lines — she grows 60 va­ri­eties and dozens of herbs — McFad­den is ef­fu­sive about the va­ri­ety of culi­nary uses to which her crop can be put.

Reel­ing off recipes such as baked cheese with a laven­der bread­crumb crust and veg­etable skew­ers threaded on fra­grant laven­der stems, she adds that the must-have item is herbes des provence, a house blend of oregano, thyme, basil, rose­mary and laven­der, which adds a sur­pris­ing lift to fish, meat, soups and stews.

‘‘ Peo­ple ex­pect a soapy taste but once they try it, they usu­ally like it,’’ says McFad­den. ‘‘ We al­ways tell peo­ple to use it spar­ingly, though. Like rose­mary, too much can ruin a dish.’’

The same could ap­ply to the honey pro­duced a few streets away by bees that of­ten loi­ter among McFad­den’s laven­der plants.

Arlo’s Honey Farm is one of sev­eral bee-pow­ered pro­duc­ers in the val­ley and while owner He­len Kennedy doesn’t of­fer a for­mal tour at her small acreage, she’s usu­ally around and al­ways happy to chat with pass­ing honey lovers.

Sell­ing her wares, in­clud­ing mus­tard and gin­ger blends, from her farm and at the thrice-weekly Kelowna Farm­ers Mar­ket, Kennedy over­sees 20 hives. I learn that the av­er­age bee makes one-twelfth of a tea­spoon of honey in its life­time and that the queen can lay up to 1200 eggs daily.

I also dis­cover a vi­tal piece of in­for­ma­tion: one tea­spoon of honey ev­ery night acts as a nat­u­ral liver cleanser and is a good di­et­ing strat­egy. Since I’m al­ready con­sid­er­ing trousers with an elas­ti­cised waist­band on this trip, the ad­vice is a god­send.

But di­et­ing is for an­other day. In­stead, I move on for lunch at Tree Brew­ing, one of Bri­tish Columbia’s favourite mi­cro­brew­eries. The brew­ery’s Fri­days-only tour in­cludes a talk, four tast­ings and a sou­venir glass ($C7, or $9), but vis­i­tors can also drop by any time for free tast­ings. I savour the Cut­throat, a sharp, cop­per­coloured English-style draft, and Hop Head, a flow­ery, full-bod­ied In­dia pale ale that is the brew­ery’s sig­na­ture tip­ple.

By early evening, I’m ready for a proper meal so I head to Quail’s Gate Es­tate Win­ery to re­fuel. A three­flight wine tast­ing here is free — the rhubarby chenin blanc and pleas­antly pep­pery re­serve pinot noir are rec­om­mended — but the win­ery’s restau­rant is also a foodie favourite, with a menu of BC treats such as Qualicum Bay scal­lops and Queen Char­lotte Is­land hal­ibut. I hap­pily set­tle for a but­ter-soft BC sable­fish, served with cau­li­flower fon­due.

En route to the air­port the fol­low­ing day, I stop by the Kelowna Farm­ers Mar­ket. There’s not yet any late-sum­mer and au­tumn har­vest fruit avail­able on my visit — I’m a lit­tle early for sum­mer and au­tumn har­vests — but I munch on a se­same, ham and cheese pas­try and knock back sam­ples of rose­hip and quince jams.

Re­al­is­ing that I’ve barely stopped eat­ing since arriving here, I sud­denly re­call my new-found honey diet. I’d bet­ter make that two tea­spoons tonight. www.sev­en­six­four.com www.carmelis­goatcheese.com www.sum­mer­hill.bc.ca www.okana­ganlaven­der.com www.tree­beer.com www.quails­gate.com www.kelow­na­farm­er­sand­crafters­mar­ket.com www.tourismkelowna.com

Lake­side set­ting: The Okana­gan Val­ley’s farm­ing re­gion is re­spon­si­ble for some of west­ern Canada’s finest pro­duce

Rus­tic pro­ducer: Carmelis Goat Cheese Ar­ti­san has a 40-strong herd pro­duc­ing a range of cheeses

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.