My friends in Uxbridge, England, like to faff on about the famous British cook and TV presenter Delia Smith, who I’m sure is a lovely woman and a fine cook. But on this particular day it’s Cecilia Smith (@cheesebycecilia), the expert cheesemaker – in Uxbridge, Ontario – who’s captured the attention of our food-loving train passenger group as she tutors us on the intricacies of cheese as we trundle along the rolling hills of the Oak Ridges Moraine between Uxbridge and Stouffville, Ontario on the Boxcars & Beer: The Cheese Train.
The “Boxcars & Beer: The Cheese Train” is just one of several 20-kilometre rail excursions offered on Sundays from June through to December by York-Durham Heritage Railway. The next “Cheese Train” is scheduled for August 27 but rest assured there are other 90-minute rail trips to fit your schedule and tastes, including a few geared to families with children. (Check out the entire list here: http://ydhr.ca/train/)
The last passenger train on this line ran in the early 1960s and the last freight in train hit the rails for one final haul in 1980. The train service got a second life in the mid-1990s (thanks to local history buffs and railway fans) and the popular heritage train now operates on the original Toronto & Nipissing (T&N) rail line which was built in the late 1860s to enable leading distiller William Gooderham to transport grain from the rural areas to his distillery down in Toronto. (If you’ve visited Toronto’s Distillery District you’ll have seen the Gooderham & Worts signage on the Victorian-era buildings.)
For this particular “Cheese Train” experience in early July, I’ve settled into a white-linen-cloth-covered table for four beside the south-facing window in Car 101 of the vintage pullman railcar. It looks very much like a 1950s café. Fromager Cecilia Smith (not Delia, let me remind you!) and Joanne Richter, beer judge and owner of The Second Wedge Brewing Co. in Uxbridge (just next to the train tracks), take turns guiding passengers through five pairings of Ontario cheeses and artisanal craft beers.
On this particular day, the pairings included (on the lighter end) Elgin Blonde Ale which was coupled with Albert’s Leap Bel Haven Triple Creme Brie (cow’s milk) from Quality Cheese Inc. in Vaughan, Ontario.
Next up was the cow’s milk/washed rind Oxford Harvest Gunn’s Hill produced in Woodstock, Ontario, paired with the Day Tripper, which has become my favourite ales from The Second Wedge Brewing. (As a passionate hiker, I’m chuffed to brag on behalf of the brewers: Proceeds from Day Tripper sales go to support the TransCanada Trail. This is perfectly fitting – Uxbridge is the official “Trail Capital of Canada.”)
I admit that I initially hesitated ever so briefly before trying the pairing of Celtic Blue Glengarry Fine Cheese from Lancaster with the Rain Maker porter (also from The Second Wedge Brewing). The tanginess of the blue cheese washed down with an ale that boasted hints of coffee? I let the cheese sit on my tongue, waited a moment, and then took a gulp of Rain Maker. It worked just fine. The comingling of two distinct strong flavours reminded me of an old married couple who insists, “We have our moments, we’re a bit chalk and cheese at times – but at the end of the day we get on surprisingly well.” Mind you, the added touch of locally-produced Desbarres Chocolate helped transform this pairing into a holy trinity of flavours.
The beer-and-cheese tasting ends just as the train rolls into Uxbridge, where passengers have an hour or so to visit local producers and foodies who are within an easy walk of the historic train station: The Second Wedge Brewery is right beside the train track and The Passionate Cook’s Essentials & Bistro (where Cecilia plies her craft as the in-house fromager) is down on Brock Street. The Uxbridge Farmers’ Market is held in the parking lot adjacent to Second Brewery. Passengers who’d like to enjoy lunch at the Second Wedge Brewing Co. during their stopover in Uxbridge can pre-order from Urban Pantry and have it delivered as you’re enjoying your beer.
[images courtesy of Doug O’Neill]