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Canada’s “Food Island” is the Ultimate Getaway for Cheese-lovers

On Prince Edward Island, you can enjoy miles of shoreline with spectacular beaches while being only minutes away from some of the most delicious cheese in Canada. Photograph by Kyle Mulinder / Destination Canada

Canada’s island gem, Prince Edward Island (PEI), is best known for its world-class seafood. But the province’s land is just as rich as the ocean. Its fruit, vegetables, meat, and dairy products have produced one of the finest farm-to-table dining scenes in the country.

In essence, the locals’ devotion to the flavors of the Island has created a foodie paradise on PEI. And travelers are flocking to savor all the distinctive tastes and artisanal creations the province has to offer.

Artisanal cheese in particular is starting to make waves on Canada’s eastern shores. Over the last decade, the aptly nicknamed “Canada’s Food Island” has attracted a variety of chefs and craftsmen, encouraging several new cheesemakers to transform PEI’s dairy into delicious, one-of-a-kind cheeses. One of the first stops on any cheese-lover’s list when visiting has to be Glasgow Glen Farm.

At PEI’s Glasgow Glen Farms, gouda is a way of life. Photograph by Heather Ogg Photography

For Chef Jeff McCourt, a PEI native, the province has always been a food haven. “Anyone who comes to PEI will find a connection with food,” he says. “And to me, that is the greatest asset we have here on Prince Edward Island. You can go not very far in any direction and be connected to the maker of the food: the fisherman, the farmer, the cheesemaker.”

“It’s not a big factory. It’s people working hard and doing it the old fashioned way. Doing it with pride and passion, and it shows in the final product.”

McCourt runs Glasgow Glen Farm as CEO and chef in the quaint town of New Glasgow, PEI, with his family, wife Grace and two children, Finn and Molly.

“We specialize in gouda,” McCourt explains. “That’s kind of our foundation, and focus of the business.” The farm produces a wide variety of goudas, from the creamy, buttery, original plain, to the bacon-flavored, to the imaginative herb and sun-dried tomato–infused pizza flavor.

Chef Jeff McCourt says the pure gouda is still the most popular cheese in the shop. Photograph by Heather Ogg Photography

What separates this cheese from standard fare is that the unique tastes of PEI come through in the final product. He attributes the flavors to the island’s iron-rich soil and “the salt in the grass” that the cows graze on.

“We have lots of cows’ milk. We’re a very dairy-rich province, and that’s why we make great cheese,” says McCourt. “It’s the terroir, it’s the land, it’s the grass that the cows eat. It makes good milk.”

Another indispensable stop on your cheesy tour of Canada’s Food Island is COWS Creamery. This butter, cheese, and ice cream shop was founded on the island in 1983 and has since expanded to 12 locations across Canada and Beijing. COWS Creamery uses local PEI milk in the production of all their products.

Take a free, self-guided tour of the creamery, before sampling their award-winning cheeses: Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar, Appletree Smoked Cheddar, and Extra Old Cheddar.

Andrea White, Wholesale Manager of COWS Creamery, says of their Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar: “It’s more of a specialty, artisan cheese. It takes a lot of time and a lot of person-power to age it and care for it during the aging process. We’ve won a lot of awards with it and we’re very, very proud of it.”

Cheesemakers attribute their success to the unique iron-rich soil and salt-brushed grass that their cows graze on. Photograph by Kyle Mulinder

For those looking to experience the Island’s devotion to locally-produced food first-hand, the Fall Flavours Festival takes place each fall in September. It’s a month-long celebration of all the flavors that PEI has to offer. The festival combines all types of dining experiences and takes guests on foodie activities like oyster harvesting and potato picking. You can bet that among the adventure-style events and restaurant dining opportunities, local artisanal cheese will be well-represented.

Still hungry for more cheese? If you’re visiting the Island’s capital of Charlottetown, stop by Sims Corner Steakhouse and Oyster Bar for their “Uniquely Canadian Cheeses” appetizer and a dish of their internationally award-winning Island Shellfish and Finfish Chowder. For those visiting the Belfast area, check out Point Prim Chowder House. The beachside eatery by the Point Prim lighthouse has gorgeous vistas of the water, and their baked brie with pumpkin seeds and dried cranberries can’t be beat.

If you appreciate locally-produced food made with heart and integrity, Prince Edward Island’s foodie scene is not to be missed. Bernard says of the Island’s food culture: “The fact that you get to eat [the food] where it’s produced is special. You can drive around and see the beautiful scenery, you can see the farms where the cows graze. It really brings it full circle.”

For more information on Prince Edward Island, go to Explorepei.com.