For many years I have had a love affair with Southampton, Ontario. As a child I would stand on the beach looking across at the lighthouse on Chantry Island. I wanted to live there. As I got older I was mesmerized by the spectacular Lake Huron sunsets.
Last summer I finally divulged my secret love to a friend, and the idea of a day trip was born. We left early one Friday morning, equipped with coolers and ice packs, having decided to make this into a food trip, and to take home some fresh Bruce County produce and other local foods.
From Kettle Point to Southampton, Highway 21 follows the Lake Huron shoreline, offering some marvellous views along the way. Half of the fun of a day trip is getting there, so of course we made a few stops along the way.
Our first stop was Burdan’s Red Cat Farm and Bakery, just north of Goderich. Yes, the bakery truck comes to The Market at Western Fair, but being able to enjoy the aroma of bread baking in a brick oven, while watching the Muscovy ducks waddle across the green grass to swim in the pond, and breathing in the fresh country air was worth the visit. Of course, we left laden with loaves of freshly baked bread.
We’re both cheese lovers, and so our next stop, was like a taste of heaven on earth! The Pine River Cheese and Butter Co-op was established in 1885, on the banks of the Pine River, near the shores of Lake Huron. The original purpose was to manufacture and sell cheese and butter, and to buy, keep, fatten, and sell hogs. The present day company manufactures and sells cheese, offering tours and viewings of how cheese is made.
We found mild, medium, old and premium cheddars, mozzarella, Havarti, and flavoured cheeses such as the first ever Craft Beer Cheese Puck (Canadian Eh?), a new Cheese Fudge variety — Chocolate Mint Cheese Fudge, and a great selection of goat cheeses. Last year the co-op launched a line of organic cheeses that includes creamy mozzarella, cheddar with caramelized onion, and cheddar with tomato and basil. The curd selection is just as extensive with not only cheddar, but also flavours such as dill, black pepper, craft beer, crushed chillies, caramelized onion, and Thai curry.
The store offerings are not limited to cheese; gourmet items include speciality coffees, cocoa and hot chocolate, imported chocolates, candy, biscuits, a wide variety of crackers, jams, jellies, preserves, pickles, olives, and more. Our coolers were filling quickly.
After a couple of more stops at roadside fruit and vegetable stands to purchase some fresh local produce, our next stop was Southampton! Of course we parked by the beach to breathe in the Lake Huron air and gaze across to Chantry Island. As we meandered along High Street (Southampton’s main street) I reminisced about the general store and bakery that we used to frequent when I was growing up. My, how things have changed!
The Cook’s Cupboard, which features not only kitchen supplies, recipe books and specialty foods, but also a huge selection of offbeat, interesting gift items, was a shopping haven for early Christmas shopping.
Although specialty olive oils and vinegars are available across the region, our visit to the Southampton Olive Oil Company to sample some of the 60 varieties of olive oils and vinegars was another welcome stop on our culinary adventure.
As we continued to Offshore Bakery, The Light House Photo Gallery and several other shops, we realized that our food shopping had made us hungry. There are many places to choose from. For sentimental reasons my choice was the Walker House. Originally known as the Royal Hotel it was one of the first structures to be built in Southampton, in 1852. Throughout the years the name has changed several times, becoming the Walker House in 1915 when it was purchased by Robert and Helen Walker. Slowly it transitioned into a restaurant and is now a definite landmark.
What could be better than a feast of fresh Lake Huron whitefish accompanied by a fresh garden salad and local vegetables? Too full for dessert we made our way back to the beach to wait for the spectacular Lake Huron sunset and to listen as the piper piped down the sun — a community tradition.
Should you choose to spend the night there are several hotels and motels. Chantry Breezes Bed & Breakfast is a great choice just a few meters from the beach.
It was getting late but, as my dad always said, “never miss a sunset.” Afterwards we made our way home laden with food and gifts, totally full from our gastronomic escapades, and realizing that the flame had been rekindled. The love affair was still alive.