Nothing says spring more than having a meal at a cabane à sucre (sugar shack). Quebec is one of the leading producers of maple syrup worldwide but production can only happen in spring when the sap starts flowing and the maple trees can be tapped. Visiting a sugar shacks is the quintessential Quebec experience and should not be missed.
In the spring, once the maple trees have been tapped and the sap collected, producers disappear into their shacks to produce the next year's supply of maple syrup. Cabane à sucre were not just factories, they were also a gathering point for people to celebrate the end of the harsh winter. Maple syrup is astaple pillars o of the French-Canadian diet, so it's production is always a welcomed event.
There are two areas close to Montréal with plenty of cabanes. There are a few north of the city in the Laurentian mountains but most are located south in the Eastern Townships where there are plenty of maple syrup farms.
[PHOTO_137420] The real star of any cabane à sucre is the maple taffy. Known as “sugar on snow,” this delicious and gooey candy is made by pouring heated maple syrup over freshly packed snow. Once the syrup starts to solidify, it's rolled up around wooden sticks. It's hard not to gorge on this delicious treat which is why many sugar shacks also offer a menu of traditional Quebecois pioneer food consisting of mounds of pancakes, sausages, baked beans, fresh bread, meat pies, smoked ham, mashed potatoes, stews and maple sugar pie.
L'Hermine Cabane A Sucre is a more seasonal choice. Open year-round fro visit, during spring it serves 5-star cuisine that has brought the sugar shack menu to new heights and fame. Located in a 100-year old maple forest,it's a one-hour drive from Montreal to Havelock in the Eastern Townships close to the US border. Here the eggs are delicately flavoured with maple syrup, the pancakes light and fluffy, the pea soup thick, the ham expertly cured with a smoky maple flavour, the bacon sweet and crispy – portions are generous so come hungry. On weekends there is live music and horse drawn sleigh rides through the forest to see the spring thaw and the trees. There are generous portions of maple taffy and a tasting of syrup samples so you can find your favourite year. Buy some of their speciality products at the shop so you can feed your new found addiction to maple syrup, fudge and caramels. This is a very family-friendly sugar shack but you must make reservations early as it fills up quickly with locals who have been waiting for a year to enjoy the food.
[PHOTO_137421] At the Sucrerie de la Montagne in Rigaud you can enjoy all-you-can-eat portions of pea soup, maple cured bacon, meat pies and freshly baked bread. This designated an official “Site du Patrimoine Québécois” (Québec Heritage site) is located in the midst of a 120-acre forest of century-old maples atop Mont Rigaud. Your meal is served in the main hall of its fieldstone cabin where you sit a long table and are served by waiters in historical costumes. Founder Pierre Faucher and his son Stefan, also dressed in traditional Quebecois garb can be seen circulating the room and checking in with guests. During your meal, there is a show of traditional Quebec music and everyone is invited to join in.
Take a guided tour of the forest and see how the sap is collected in buckets attached to the trees and the whole process of boiling the sap to turn it into syrup. You can tear yourself away from the candy, you can also visit the original barn and a general store selling their maple syrup products. Be sure to pick up some maple syrup butter–a divine dessert snack. This sugar shack is open all year round but you must make reservations.