Orleans Island is a calm and peaceful place filled with nature, deer, maple trees, agriculture, and lots of history. The island was discovered by Jacques Cartier back in 1535. The land and its microclimate make the island ultra-fertile and a great place to cultivate. Situated right next to Quebec city, it is a great getaway place for the weekend.
Since it’s quite a seasonal place, the island wakes up slowly in the early spring with the ‘Cabanes a sucre’ (sugar shacks) season. Join the earthy brunch of a sugar shack with its live music and maple syrup on everything! Finishing always with a tire sure neige which is the maple toffee made on snow. In the early summertime, it’s the berries season (except blueberry, which is at the end of summer). Then the sweet corn in August and fall, it’s apple and pumpkin season. The island has many “pick it up yourself” places, which is an excellent activity for the kiddos.
It’s also great to experience by bike; it’s about 70km and relatively easy; if you have all day, you can add a couple of excellent stops along the way. Otherwise, with the car might be easier to bring back loads of amazing products from the island.
In 1610, the island became the first place in North America to receive a shipment of cows from Europe, resulting in having the oldest North American cheese, a quite special one. Talking about cheese… Let’s start this top 10 with the cheese factory from the island.
#1 Les Fromages de l’Ile d’Orléans (The Island Cheese Factory)
The oldest cheeses produced in North America originate from here, although not precisely the Fromagerie. Back in the day, 38 families from the Island would make their cheeses at home. They all used the same French recipe of 3 different ages; a young cheese ricotta style, a six days young cheese and an older (28 days) refined cheese. This conventional method results in unique cheeses, which only can be made on this island because of its exceptional bacterial flora. Many tried to reproduce the cheeses outside the island, in laboratories, and couldn’t succeed.
The island’s residents have made cheese since 1635, although the fromagerie store only started in 2004. In the ’60s, the cheeses from the island couldn’t be sold in stores or markets because it wasn’t refined long enough for Canadian regulations, which asked back then for a minimum of 60 days to refine cheeses to be able to sell them. So there was a dark period for this particular cheese. Although, the families kept making some at home and giving/selling only to family and safe individuals.
This cheese is not only delicious… the Paillasson (the six days dried one) is quite particular because it needs to be grilled before consumption and, yes, grilled! First, you cut it into small triangles and examine it in a nonstick pan for about 2 minutes on each side. Strangely, it doesn’t melt or lose its form and gives the crust this irresistible caramelized flavour. The grilled Paillasson cheese goes perfectly on a green salad. Sadly this cheese is made in such a small amount you’ll only be able to find it around Orleans island and Quebec city.
The Fromagerie, nowadays, has a couple of different types of cheeses. It was going from soft, fresh cheese too strong cured ones, without forgetting the famous “Squish Squish” cheese. The renowned cheese to make poutine or, in other words, cheddar cheese curds fresh from the day. We call it by the sound it makes when you chew on it: Squish Squish. The newer it is, the stronger the “squish” sound—my favourite snack from home.
If you ever pass by Les Fromages de l’Isle d’Orléans, stop by. They usually offer a bunch of freshly grilled Paillasson cheese to try. In the summer, they also offer frozen fresh cheese mixed with fresh island berries, a pure delight!
Les Fromages de l’isle d’Orléans, 2950, chemin Royal, Sainte-Famille
#2 La Nougaterie
A couple from Europe owns this delicious nougat shop/factory with always a touch of the island products. You can see the factory in the back of the shop. Their bestsellers include maple sugar nougat, blueberry, and fleur de sel nougat. My personal favourite stays the normal “pistachio” one. They also sell some handmade marshmallows, meringues and other sweets. This is a winning stop for kids.
La Nougaterie 1367 Chemin Royal, Saint-Pierre
#3 Cidrerie/Orchard Bilodeau
This cidery was the first to cultivate apples on Orleans island since 1970. The apple orchard is one of the best things to do with the kids in the fall. They have 6 acres of small apple trees to pick up. A fun activity for the family to do from mid-August to mid-October. The Bilodeau cideries won many prizes, especially for their ciders. Some are maple syrup flavoured, strawberries flavoured, etc. They also make other beverages go, from sparkling ciders to digestives. Another strong point is that they offer a free degustation of most products.
If you go on the weekend during the apple season, you’ll have to try the “Chausson aux Pommes,” a one-of-a-kind apple turnover served with maple butter. Simply divine! They also offer pie and other apple sweets. The place is open from May to December.
Cidrerie Bilodeau, 2200 Chemin Royal, St-Pierre
#4 Cassis Monna & Filles
This is a well-known place, a blackcurrant specialists and awards winner cellar selling all kinds of products based on blackcurrant, from mustard and jelly to fortified wines and digestives. To taste their product and see the basement, you have to go downstairs; they have a small restaurant/cafe and an ice cream shop upstairs. In the summertime, they serve delicious blackcurrant ice cream in many forms (soft ice cream, gelato, double), and it’s simply divine!
I use their blackcurrant syrup and add it to some sparkling water or Kir Royal; it’s pretty addictive, you’ll see. The cellar is open from May to October, and the restaurant from June to September and the view is spectacular. There is a big terrace in the back with some picnic tables. All the items on the lunch menu highlight a product of theirs. At the back, you can tour their museum in the barn or sit at one of the picnic tables to sip on some blackcurrant iced tea.
Cassis Monna & Filles, 721 Chemin Royal, Saint-Pierre
#5 The Confiturerie Tigidou
Once you enter this beautiful Confiturerie (marmalade factory), you’ll never want to leave. The charming lady made me taste almost all their concoctions, they call… it’s like a marmalade but with less sugar. Their products are all made with products from the island, organic cane sugar and no conservatives. They make exciting mixes like strawberry and mint, blueberry rosemary, and even whiskey apple butter. There is a secret behind the recipes of those little pots; I saw it; lots of love.
7007 Chem. Royal, Saint-Laurent-de-l’Île-d’Orléans, QC G0A 3Z0, Canada
#6 The Vignoble de Ste-Pétronille and it Pizza restaurant
This one is a 2-for-1 place, the first being a degustation place with all kinds of island wines and ice wine. You can visit the cellar and walk around the vineyard with a splendid view of Montmorency falls. One of their best sellers is a white wine called “Le voile de la mariée”. The second part, situated in the back of the degustation room, is a pizza restaurant serving great pizzas with a picture of the vineyards. Another seasonal place opens from spring to fall. Their pizza is made in a proper pizza oven, with whole grain dough and topped with products from the island. Fantastic!
8705 Chemin Royal, Ste-Pétronille
#7 Le Vignoble de St-Pierre
Un autre vignoble avec un petit restaurant charmant mais ici, ils servent deux plaques seulement remplis soit de produit de la mer ou soit charcuterie et fromages. Une nouvelle trouvaille, avec belle atmosphere.
#8 The Chocolaterie
This says it all, it’s a Belgium-style chocolate heaven. They have two shops on each island. One is situated not too far from the island’s entrance in Ste-Petronille, and the other is in Saint-Laurant. They are also seasonal, opening only from April to October (Ste-Petronille) and June to October (St-Francois). They sell exquisite fine chocolate of all flavours, including blueberry to maple sugar. They also offer ice cream covered with chocolate and sorbets—a great relaxing spot to enjoy the St-Lawrence river scenery.
The chocolaterie, 8330 Chemin Royal, Sainte-Pétronille / 1532 Chem. Royal, Saint-Laurent-de-l’Île-d’Orléans, QC G0A 3Z0, Canada
#9 La Midinette
This is a delicious coffee place/bakery in an ancestral Canadian house with cracking floors and a beautiful terrasse. They make some of the best Danoise and brioches I’ve ever tasted and some lovely duck pie. They offer a great variety of bread, croissants and much more. Next time… So if you are doing the island by bike, I recommend this place for a lunch stop; it’s mid-way.
La Midinette 2001 Chemin Royal, Saint-Jean
#10 Polyculture Plante
Last but not least, the shop/farm/cideries my family and I go to the most to pick up fruits, veggies and pies, the farm Chez Plante we call it. Over there, you’ll get every fruit and veggie the island offers, plus some extra maple syrup, fresh bread and pies, juices and much more, going strong for three generations. Each season they have a massive amount of new and delicious products, for example, apple time is filled with different apple types, and on Halloween, they have mountains of pumpkins in front of the store.
For corn season, they have the two succulent types of sweet corn in mega big wooden boxes in the shop; those beauties come every day freshly picked from their land. It’s like most places on the island, another seasonal one. The store closes its door in winter times when the snow comes. A great place to fill up the car with goodies!
8683 Chemin Royal, Ste-Pétronille
This island is filled with flavours and beauties that will make pleasant memories for the whole family.
I lived in Montreal for two years, and while I loved the city and tried to get out as much as possible, I wish I’d had more time to explore places like this! I remember seeing signs (and specialty foods in stores) for Île d’Orléans and thinking it sounded like a cool place, but I had no idea there was so much going on there! One of these days (when I can fathom flying my little ones across the country) I’m going to have to get back to Quebec and start hitting up some of the amazing places I missed out on!
It s a great and calm place, filled with treasures here and there. In winter though…it s pretty pretty dead. Summer and fall is the best time to visit. I hope you ll find some time to go visit someday.