Thursday, July 6, 2017

All Aboard on Uxbridge's Boxcars and Beers: The Cheese Train...


Did you know that barely an hour out of the city, Ontario's countryside is a vibrant hub of rural communities rich in ever-growing hidden culinary and drinking gems? I didn't. Landing a cool writing assignment with HuffPost in partnership with York Durham Headwaters Tourism to give a snapshot of the trendy breweries, distilleries and wineries in the rural north (home to 60% of the Greenbelt’s protected fertile farmland) being published in August, I discovered there's so much there to satisfy our taste of adventure. With the bounty of homegrown treasures close to our front door, you can sip and savour to your heart's content with multiple award-winning cutting-edge craft beverages and beautiful farm-to-table menus, and support our local producers.

One amazing new experience being served up is The Boxcars and Beers – The Cheese Train, a culinary adventure with the York-Durham Heritage Railway and Second Wedge Brewery Co. through the glorious Oak Ridges Moraine; they serve a guided craft beers and local cheeses tasting on a 1.5-hour ride that starts from Stouffville and ends in Uxbridge.  I had the privilege of being invited to the culinary media event that began on the "tasty" train to Uxbridge, a taste & tour with the brew master at Second Wedge, lunch treats with nearby Urban Pantry Restaurant and finished with a hands-on cooking demo with chef and owner of The Passionate Cook's Essentials. It was a unique kind of daytrip adventure for all the senses indeed.

Pairings of local cheeses and Second Wedge Brewery Co. beers awaits!

The York-Durham heritage railway train was built in 1800 and used to deliver alcohol to Toronto's Distillery District. It was shut down and then in 1923 the Canadian National took it over. The last passenger train was in 1962 with the last freight in 1980. The railway operates excursion trains over a 20 km route between the historic towns of Stouffville and Uxbridge. The round trip takes approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes.


The conductor's meet and greet with a historical introduction about the heritage railway.


The local fine cheese plate-- among these a brie, cheddar, and a mild blue.

Organic, unsulphated apricots-- sweet like candy. Notice they are not orange!

Left: Fromager cheese expert Cecilia Smith from The Passionate Cook's Essentials and
 The Second Wedge Brewing Co. co-owner Joanne Richter in background.

Boxcars and Beers guests are presented with a selection of five cheeses paired with five beers from The Second Wedge. A couple of cheese tasting tips that I learned. Serve cheese at room temperature for optimal flavour and texture. Take a bite of the cheese to enjoy it's flavour by itself, then place a piece of cheese on roof of mouth and savour the cheese gradually as you sip your beer.  


Such picturesque natural farmland beauty on a gorgeous sunny day!


Cecilia carefully selected the cheese to match with the characteristics of the various beers offered at Second Wedge. Mild tasting cheese like brie was paired with their blonde ale Elgin Blonde, while a smokey savoury cheese paired well with Day Tripper-- a beer made with toasted malt and piney citrusy hops, and a strong blue cheese enjoyed along their dark porter beer Rain Maker (with caramel chocolatety notes). The local stories and education of how each of the fromage and craft beverages are made were both fascinating and entertaining! What a laid back way to enjoy the scenic train views and learn something new.


Arrival in Uxbridge- the Trail Capital of Canada with over 3000 trails, this destination is a mecca for hikers, adventurists and cyclists- part of the Ontario By Bike network.


Second Wedge Brewing Co. is named after its Uxbridge location on the second of four wedges of the Oak Ridges Moraine. 100% locally owned, Second Wedge is a brewery, tasting room, bottle shop and beer garden dedicated to crafting flavourful ales full of character.





Brew Master Doug Warren walks us through the steps of beer making-- first showing the ingredients used: hops and wheat. I learned that hops role is the seasoning that does two things: create aroma and flavour, and also the bitterness to balance out sweetness.


Grain filter acts like a giant drip coffee machine.

Professional Photographer #whateverittakes

Urban Pantry Chef discussing the delicious treats with farm fresh ingredients ready to be noshed. Bison sliders, red pepper jelly, goat cheese on brioche; pulled pork, smoked apple fennel BBQ sauce, red onion jam on brioche, and vegetarian option: wilted greens with boursin on crostini topped with cranberries and almonds.


Pulled pork and bison sliders.

The gorgeous beer garden to sip, savour and relax in.
A popular rest stop for cyclists, families and dog walkers.



Our last stop was upscale culinary studio and retail store The Passionate Cook's Essentials
The gorgeous shop boasts top-of-the-line kitchenware, artisan cheese, small batch charcuterie and specialty gourmet foods (including those delectable organic dried apricots on the train's cheese platter). 



Charming owner Lisa Hutchinson and Chef Erin Monaghan from their adjoining bistro demonstrated handmade thin crust pizzas using San Marzano tomatoes, beer (from Second Wedge) in their pizza dough with local cheeses, porchetta and fresh basil. They offer a slew of cooking classes and how-to-make pizza is one that always sell out and fast!


The crust was so light, crispy and tasty.... it must have been the beer in it :).

Lisa and her stunning hot-out-of-the-oven pizza!


A parting gift from The Second Wedge... Thank you :D


Looking for something different and a one-of-a-kind experience, hop on and try The Boxcars and Beers: The Cheese Train scheduled three times this summer. Click here for more details. Also visit yorkdurhamheadwaters.ca or discoveruxbridge.ca for more information.



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