QUINTELICIOUS: Agriculture in the Bay of Quinte region
The following is part one of a four-part feature provided by the Quinte Restaurant Association, highlighting Quintelicious and Quinte Craft: Beer by the Bay, both taking place March 1-20 in the Bay of Quinte region.Farming has been a way of life since the mass settlement of the Bay of Quinte region by Mohawks and United Empire Loyalists (UELs for short) following the American Revolution.
As settlement increased, so did the need for farm-produced food. Dubbed the “Cheese Capital of Canada” in the 1800s, Hastings County was at one point home to over 80 cheese factories. With cheese production taking place on many farms, a need arose for factory standards, higher-grade equipment and consistency of milk availability.Factories began cropping up in key locations to allow easy transport from farms, and by the 1870s, refrigerated transport on ships and trains allowed for the export of cheeses from the county.
Around that time, the federal government began to invest in the improvement of dairy farming, which meant that Canada’s cheeses could finally be recognized for their high standards and quality.
One of the earliest certificates of recognition is held by a Hastings County cheesemaker named Annie Elevier, whose cheese received a grade of 97.5 at the 1893 World Fair in Chicago. She went on to marry John West, and the family started Stirling Creamery.But wait - there’s more! In addition to cheese and butter, (as if we needed anything else) the region was also known for growing some of the best malting barley in Ontario. From the 1860s to the 1890s, “Bay Barley” accounted for one-third of the farmed land in Prince Edward County and the Bay of Quinte.
At the peak of the “Barley Days”, 50,000 bushels per day were shipped across Lake Ontario to Oswego, New York. The whiskey tax was high, meaning that beer, the “Poor Man’s Drink” was the beverage of choice.
These days, crops in the region are vast and varied. The first grapes were planted in the County during the mid 1800s, and viticulture took off in full force from the late 1990s onward. There are now over 40 wineries in the area, plus vineyards that grow grapes but do not make wine.
Other unique crops and livestock operations in the region include Nigerian Dwarf Goats, milking Water Buffalo, Haskap berries and artisanal hops, to name a few.
If that doesn’t whet your appetite, Quintelicious menus certainly will. Join the Quinte Restaurant Association from March 1-20th in Belleville and Trenton in a multi-course prix fixe celebration featuring food and drink from across the Bay of Quinte region. For participating restaurants and menus, visit http://bayofquinte.ca/quintelicious/.
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