The Magdalen Islands, or Îles de la Madeleine, lie in the heart of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. These culture-rich Québécois islands are known for white-sand beaches, panoramic cycling routes, music-filled evenings—and, most of all, terrific food, made by farmers, fishermen, brewers and other craftsmen who are fiercely proud of their product.
The plentiful sunshine and salty breezes make for ideal growing conditions: for cultivating apples to make delicious cider and for raising cows that produce milk coveted by cheesemakers. There is so much on offer for those who are looking for a gourmet experience. The options are as endless as the air is fresh. From visiting food producers, to participating in cooking classes, to dining out, to shopping for the perfect gourmet souvenir—the Magdalen Islands are truly a food-lover’s paradise.
Here are some of the places you should add to your island itinerary.
Sample Cheeses and Meats
The Fromagerie du Pied-de-Vent is a pioneer along the Magdalen Islands food trail. Established almost 20 years ago, these award-winning artisanal cheeses can be found on just about every Madelinot’s table. Savour the famous semi-soft "Pied-de-Vent" or the "Tomme des Demoiselles,” both made from the milk of a single herd of Canadian cows whose feed comes exclusively from the Magdalen Islands. Book a tour of the fromagerie to learn about the various steps in cheese production, and don’t miss the cheese-molding demonstrations weekends at 11 a.m.
The fromagerie also offers farm visits, so you can check out the day-to-day functioning of a dairy farm and see where all that wholesome milk is produced. For a different type of farm, head west to Aucoin des Sangliers, where manager Gilberte Aucoin raises boar on a diet of mostly-local ingredients—including whey from Fromagerie du Pied-de-Vent. Guided tours are offered from June to September, which include a visit to the farm and a tasting of the boar, veal and pork products produced. Grab enough for a picnic by the ocean on the nearby Dune du Nord.
Sip on Local Brews
L'ile imagin'air - Gil Thériault
If you want a taste of some local drinks, the islands' businesses have crafted some intriguing and varied specialty liquors through the years.
For a pint of craft beer, head to À l'abri de la Tempête, a microbrewery that produces some truly unique brews. That’s because brewer Élise Cornellier Bernier uses local raw materials—including freshly-harvested flowers, algae and herbs—in his various beer recipes. Relax with a pint at the brewpub, or grab a bottle (or two) and hit the beach, just minutes away.
Not a beer drinker? Quench your thirst with la bagosse, a home-brewed alcohol with a rich heritage on the Magdalen Islands. At Le Barbocheux, you can sample this local delight made from island fruit such as strawberries, raspberries and cranberries. They also make a Port-style wine using local blueberries—it’s great for sipping, as well as for cooking.
Finally, for a taste of cold-fermented cider,make your way to Verger Poméloi apple orchard. Set on a hill, the orchard offers views of Havre-Aubert Island, the perfect setting for owner Éloi Vigneau to take you through a guided tasting of ciders, paired with appetizers. Don’t miss the signature apple-brandy-and-cider liqueur, La Poméloi: Terrific as a digestif, it features an apple right inside the bottle, which makes for a unique souvenir.
Visit a Traditional Smokehouse
The islands are home to an active smokehouse called Le Fumoir d’Antan. The owners have kept the smokehouse tradition alive, and they use their know-how to smoke everything from cheese from Fromagerie du Pied-de-Vent, to meats from Boucherie Côte-à-Côte. Looking for something really special? Sample some “Corps Mort” beer brewed by À l'abri de la Tempête, using locally-grown barley smoked on herring fillets at Le Fumoir d’Antan. This is truly a beer to sip and savour—at 11% ABV, it packs quite the smoky punch.
Feast on Island Fare
The Magdalen Islands boast a variety of lively cafes and bistros in which to sample the bounty of the archipelago. Savour the area’s combination of French and Maritime cuisine—along with a serving of traditional Madelinot hospitality—with a tour of its typical dishes. The islands are known for fish and seafood specialties; try the cod cakes at Le Café de la Grave, the seafood chowder at Le Café la Côte, or the periwinkles (small sea snails) at La Moulière. Another local favourite: Coques, soft-shell clams dug out of the sand at low tide, which can be found on menus all over the archipelago. For a taste of the Islands’ winter traditions, try the seal dishes at Le Bistro Plongée Alpha, located on the Grande-Entrée wharf.
Take Gourmet To Go
An essential visit for any foodie, the Gourmande de Nature boutique stocks many of the island’s gourmet products, as well as house-made cocktail mixes, chutneys, salts and sugars. During high season, chef Johanne Vigneau also offer culinary workshops that will help you master the islands’ cooking techniques and try your hand at using local ingredients. Past classes have focused on creating sauces, dumplings or Thai dishes. But if you’re looking for something a bit different, sign up for the popular algae-tasting workshop.
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