I’m savouring varied elements of a Guelph ‘tastecation’

My husband and I are just wrapping up a two-week tastecation.

Not familiar with the word? That’s not surprising. I’m pretty sure my husband Steve pulled it out of thin air, to describe a staycation — or stay-at-home-vacation — revolving around things that tickle the tastebuds.

To be fair, a Google search revealed he’s not the first person to come up with that particular bit of wordplay. But we decided to adopt the term and add our own local flavouring.

We like to get away as much as the next couple, but occasionally opt to stay home instead. We try to fill the time with unusual outings. One summer we took a number of introductory classes in rock climbing, rappelling and caving.

This year we decided to devote two weeks to pleasures that, well, go in the mouth. And with a bit of planning, we pulled together a list of activities involving new dinner outings, untried barbecue recipes using local ingredients, and no shortage of fermented juices.

We kicked off our tastecation on the Saturday of the long weekend with a barbecue cooking class at the Drew House bed and breakfast in Elora.

Noted chef and food expert Roger Dufau, originally from the Basque region of France, hosts demonstration gourmet classes — you sit and sip the wine you bring, while he cooks and explains what he’s doing — and you leave with a few recipes.

More importantly, you get to enjoy a sumptuous lunch or dinner. In our case, he grilled five different meats, including Pacific wild salmon and filet mignon, as well as fresh vegetables and ricotta cake for dessert.

A week later, we enjoyed dinner with four other couples from Guelph and Kitchener at Cassoulet Catering in Aberfoyle. About four times a month, owner/chef Greg Hubbard hosts an in-house dinner club for eight to 12 people.

The menu includes whatever he’s most interested in cooking with ingredients left over from catering events. It’s aimed at the adventurous eater and promoted as offering “nothing but the best for our guinea pigs.”

We enjoyed three different appetizers in the lounge, before moving to the dinner table. Hubbard had an abundance of beef — the salad we started with was topped with deep-fried shredded beef and our main was a great steak. As with our earlier barbecue, the dinner club is BYOB (bring your own booze).

Our tastecation included a number of new wines. A few were selected because their descriptions suggested they would pair well with various meats we lovingly prepared for grilling.

Carnivore, a Cabernet Sauvignon from California with a rich blend of coffee and caramel, paired well with the fillet mignon we picked up at the Guelph Farmers’ Market. We enjoyed our first taste of Malbec, a fruity red from Argentina, with a new recipe for lamb with mint chimichurri.

But the wine highlight was the five bottles we bought at the Cox Creek Cellars, following a Sunday tour and tasting. I was intrigued by the apple wines, so our purchase included an oak barrel-aged dry Apple Dreams and an apple-raspberry combo called Country Symphony #6.

The culmination of our taste-based adventure is a barbecue planned for this weekend. We will be grilling a locally sourced rack of beef ribs, following a new recipe. There will be a salad with ingredients from the Guelph Farmers’ Market as well as golden beets we learned to cook properly that first night in Elora.

There’s a menu detail or two still to work out. We haven’t yet figured out, for example, how to use a hot pepper that we’ll freshly pick from a potted plant we bought at the market.

We do know we’ll pair the meal with a bottle of Back Home, a black currant wine from Cox Creek that should go well with red meat. And since our final tastecation meal doesn’t require that anyone drive home, I think we’ll also indulge in a Cox Creek dessert.

Their Spiced Russet, as it turns out, tastes just like apple pie in a bottle.

Michael Strickland is a Guelph-based storyteller.

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