I’ve always liked Almonte. It’s pretty, it has history, it has a waterfall and old stone mills. It was named for a Mexican general, for some odd reason, and can boast the birthplace of a basketball inventor. Most importantly, when stacked, culinarily, against other Valley towns its size, it punches above its weight.
I’m familiar with, and have written about, a few of Almonte’s restaurants and café. I know too, that the town is homebase for Hummingbird, the outstanding bean to bar chocolate company thrust on the international stage when its Hispaniola chocolate bar won a best in show at a UK chocolate awards. And I knew too, that Almonte housed the wonderful Equator Coffee, approaching twenty hears in the business of buying, roasting, serving and giving back. Knowing, though, isn’t the same as visiting, and I was due.
Last Friday I took a spin around town with Almonte resident Cathy Reside. She started The Good Food Tour this spring, and offers three gourmand tours of Almonte every weekend.
I took the Friday afternoon tour. It starts with beer tasting on the edge of town, and ends in the heart of the historical district with blue cheese and honey.
“I actually didn’t like beer until my wife and I went to the UK and tasted Guinness.” He then moved on to Newcastle Ale, and it came to him what he did like – those rich, full bodied brews. Nick and Vicki Pruiksma, together with partner Dylan Bouleau, started Crooked Mile Brewing Co. last fall. Nick gave us a detailed tour of the brewing process and we sampled the results. I was particularly fond of the Highland Hillwalker, a smooth drinking dark ale.
We stopped at HFT (Healthy Food Technologies) which has a patented process that cuts fat content in doughnuts by half by allowing the dough to spend only the half the time in the fryer, then finished in the oven.
Then down the road to learn the story of two international aid workers turned single-origin heritage chocolate makers. Drew and Erica Gilmour began eight years ago making artisan chocolate with fair-trade, high-quality cacao beans from Bolivia, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Vietnam, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. Their Hummingbird business began to grow. And then, lo and behold, the tiny company became the first Canadian chocolate makers (and certainly the first Almonte chocolate makers) to win the prestigious ‘Golden Bean’ award at the Academy of Chocolate in London. It was their ‘Hispaniola’ bean-to-bar (70%) that won,though others of their bars took home prizes as well. And with that, the Gilmours really needed to move to bigger digs – its new home in the suburbs of Almonte was the third stop on the tour.
And then we left the northern fringes and entered the historic district of Almonte. History lessons were peppered with more tastings: we stopped at The Mill Street Crepe Company (chef Wendy Barbaro) for a delicious Fulton Farm maple syrup braised pulled pork crepe, and the quirky little Pizza-ria Unlimited where Kerala-born chef Roopesh (Roop) Kakkat and his partner Shinu Unikrishnan make eclectic pizza pies along with Indian curries, mostly designed for take away. The gents prepared a charming little sample plate, which included their admirably spiced butter chicken with Jeera rice next to the Chicken Bollywood pizza and a Donair pizza.
Our final stop was at Pêches et Poivre on Mill Street, a fine food shop that sells all sorts of regional products, jams, jellies (including the delicious rhubarb chutney from chef Richard Kletnieks of the Heirloom Café (just down the street), cheese and charcuterie, and all that goes with those things, from fancy crackers to lovely platters.
The Friday tour is slightly different from those offered on Saturday and Sunday, so be sure to check the website for details. And if you sign up for the Saturday tour, go early, and spend the morning at the Almonte Farmers’ Market.
Tours last about three hours, fill you up very well, and cost $65.