Some meals should be required eating: a learning lunch on a working farm, complete with a lesson on sustainable farming practices and a viewing of days old piglets, say.
Think that sounds too much like a school trip? How many of those begin with foie gras and end with panna cotta?
This is the property that Ian Walker bought and built up when he was barely out of his teens. That was over 30 years ago. Today, Mariposa Farm co-owners Walker and his wife Suzanne Lavoie raise Barbarie ducks, Embden geese, and crossbred pigs on their pretty Plantagenet property.
They keep chickens and a dairy cow, and have a thriving commercial vegetable garden. They used to raise wild boar, but quit that. They were, apparently, a “pain in the ass.”
The Mariposa team slops its pigs with leftovers from fifteen regional restaurants and spent grains from a local brewery.
The barn has been converted into a bright dining room, which also houses a farm store. Once a week they serve lunch to the public. And if your only experience of Mariposa product has been on an Ottawa restaurant plate, you might want to check out the source some Sunday.
Walker’s passion for local food and sustainable agriculture is incredibly genuine. He’ll talk your ear off on the subject. And don’t get him started on why his partner Suzanne Lavois can’t serve or sell her marvellous homemade cheese …
Sunday lunch works like this: Make a reservation by phone. Enjoy the 45-minute drive from Ottawa. Once parked, wander past the Bouviers waiting for their lunch — they eat after us. Hang up your coat on the hook in the mud room and follow your nose to the dining room. Suzanne will be there in her whites in front of nine model plates, examples of what will be delivered to your table once you’ve made your selection of starter, main, cheese or dessert.
The menu changes every week, but three things are certain: there will always be Mariposa duck foie gras, as one of the three starter options; there will always be duck or goose featured on a main plate; and there will be a plate of cheese to end.
Crockery is mis-matched. Coffee and tea are self-serve. Water is on the house. If you want a beer or a glass of wine, it’s BYOB. Ian will pull the cork, pop the cap, and provide the glasses.
Chef de cuisine Matthew Shepheard has been at Mariposa since 2012. He makes a mean corn chowder. His terrine of chicken sliced with pale ribbons of foie gras, berries and hazelnuts came with the prettiest still life of pickled vegetables, herbs and petals.
A ragout of Mariposa pork is an homage to his grandmother, with noodle-dumplings, wilted spinach, and crunchy corn, perfumed with rosemary and sweetened with pear. It was sensational.
So was the roasted breast of Mariposa goose, its skin crackling, its flesh remarkably ungreasy, served with duck confit and rare slices from the breast laid over soft lentils, crisp candy cane beets, in a dark glossy sauce juicy with elderberries.
The savoury parade ends with local artisan cheeses in perfect condition and dessert — a panna cotta fashioned with buttermilk and topped with a blueberry compote, and a moist peach cake served with house ice cream. Strong coffee to end.
This is brunch that goes way beyond Eggs Benedict under a heat lamp. You won’t find a finer farm-to-table feeding than the one that’s being dished up on Sundays in Plantagenet.