“Are we there yet?”
I was giddy like a little girl on Christmas Eve, impatient to get out of the car. The 30 minutes that it took to get to Sucrerie de la Montagne felt like hours, and for once, nothing other than the sweet maple nectar occupied my mind.
You see, growing up in Quebec means that sugar shacks are a sacred, yearly family ritual. Rain, snow or shine, my parents would take my cousins and I to the country every time April came around, for what never failed to be an exhilarating day of playing in the snow, riding the horse-drawn sleigh and eating our weight in everything maple. Some of my favourite childhood memories!
But alas, not all sugar shacks are born equal. Some have transformed into a touristy, almost industrial-like production, but Sucrerie de la Montagne has yet to be taken over by pure capitalism. The place still holds a very strong sense of tradition, from the facilities in which they make maple syrup to the traditionally-clad waiters and the French-Canadian folklore musicians.
Located in the midst of a 120-acre forest of century-old maples atop Mont Rigaud, the Sucrerie de la Montagne was opened by Pierre Faucher 33 years ago, a strong-willed man driven by a noble quest: showcasing the heritage of the province’s forebears and perpetuating Québec traditions with authenticity. The man has since become somewhat of an icon in the area, famous for both his jovial personality and his impressively dense beard, which is featured in many portraits throughout the shack.
Did you know that Quebec’s shacks produce over 80% of the world supply in maple syrup? You’re welcome.
The maple syrup production methods are actually quite simple — in fact, they remain basically unchanged since the colonial days. The sap is collected in a traditional bucket tap directly from the tree, and is later on boiled down until it becomes syrup. This is a tightly controlled process, as the sap has to be boiled at a certain temperature and for a certain amount of time in order to ensure the appropriate sugar content and to be graded correctly (light, medium or amber). Each 30 litres of sap yields roughly 1 litre of syrup.
Although the temptation is almost irresistible, visitors should refrain from drinking the sap directly from the bucket tap as the liquid, although quite tasty, is extremely… cleansing. Let’s put it that way!
But the traditions of sugar shacks go far beyond maple syrup making. In reality, most of the fun comes from eating rather than learning and exploring. As the name suggests, sugar shacks are extremely bad for your sugar and cholesterol levels, but oh so good for your taste buds. A traditional menu usually consists of many typical Québécois dishes, like soufflé eggs, crispy fried pork rinds, country-style sausages, meatball stew, meat pie, sugar-cured country ham, wood-fire baked bread and sugar pie, to name a few. And of course, let’s not forget the fun part: maple taffy on a stick!
In other words, wear your eating pants because there’s no way you’ll leave the sugar shack with the same weight you came in.
Sucrerie de la Montagne has now become my favourite sugar shack in the province — and I have tested quite a few. The authentic setting, the delicious food and the sincere smiles of the staff makes for an amazing day trip outside of Montreal, for a true taste of Quebec’s folklore. Sugar shack season may only have just started, but I can confidently say that I will be back next year, for what I hope will become my own yearly tradition.
Montreal Sugar Shacks — Good To Know:
- Although sugar shack season is usually from early March to late April, Sucrerie de la Montagne is open year-round (it’s especially beautiful in the winter and in the fall).
- Reservations and mandatory.
- It is very easy to get to by car from Montreal.
- There is an ancient general store on site from which you can purchase maple products and souvenirs, as well as the famous wood-fire baked bread loaves.
Have you ever been to Sucrerie de la Montagne? What is your favourite sugar shack near Montreal?
Disclaimer: I didn’t get free entry into Sucrerie de la Montagne. I genuinely loved the shack and wanted to share it with you guys.