Jul 1, 2008 | News

Taking Inventory of Comox Valley Culinary Tourism

Beaufort Winery, which opened north of Courtenay at the end of May, is the epitome of culinary tourism. And it’s just one stop on a gastronomic adventure in the Comox Valley.

The views of the Beaufort Range Mountains are spectacular from the deck, the setting peaceful and the owners Jeff and Susan Vandermolen both knowledgeable about their award-winning wines, and hospitable as the people next door.

The Vandermolens have cleared eight acres of land to plant 7,500 vines of various grapes. For their first year, they have produced half a dozen wines using grapes from the Okanagan and Saanich Peninsula, while their own mature.

Already, Beaufort Winery has produced a trio of winners: their Pinot Gris won a silver medal at the 2008 Northwest Wine Summit, while their Ortega and Beaufort Black port wine both won bronze.

“We’re constantly refreshing the marriage of food and wine,” says Jeff.

When they do a tasting of the seven different wines Beaufort offers, they first focus on the wine itself. Then they start thinking about what it’s good to eat with, he adds.

Before they opened the winery, the Vandermolens invited representatives from Natural Pastures Cheese Company to come out and do a wine pairing with some of their award-winning cheeses, which they will sell in their shop.

Natural Pastures in April won a Best of Class award for its Comox brie at the 27th Biennial World Championship Cheese Contest in Wisconsin.

The company’s Garlic and Chives Verdelait also won a silver medal in the flavoured semi-soft cheeses category.

Paul Sutter, a master cheesemaker from Switzerland, joined Natural Pastures in 2002. His creations have garnered the artisan cheese company many national and international awards since then –close to 40 of them.

Sutter uses locally produced milk for his cheeses, and creates most of his cheese by hand.

Food is abundant in the Comox Valley, both on land and in the sea. Fanny Bay Oysters is synonymous with shellfish, and has been since Glen and Sharon Hadden first opened the processing plant 23 years ago.

The plant is now owned by Taylor Shellfish Farms, a Shelton, Wash.-based company.

Fanny Bay Oysters has a seafood shop at the Buckley Bay Petro-Canada station, adjacent to the ferry terminal to Denman Island. Their product, which ranges from raw to smoked oysterssalmon candy to pates and spreads, is collected, processed and packaged locally.

Beaufort Winery will also carry Fanny Bay Oysters for picnickers wanting a tasty snack.

In Comox, two of the best places to go for fresh seafood are the Comox dock and Aquatec Seafood Ltd., on Guthrie Road.

Aquatec has been providing finfish, shellfish and smoked seafood in Comox for nearly 30 years. The company began offering value-added salmon processing in the mid-1980s and still employ 50 people in their processing plant, which has since branched out.

Aquatec also has a retail store, Hooked on Seafood, where they specialize in smoked salmon and other seafood treats that are ideal for entertaining. They are renowned for the salmon candy and award-winning salmon pepperoni.

Aquatec will also custom process and smoke customers’ fish, and ship the finished product to them if they are from out of town.

Take a stroll down to the Comox dock and you can be rewarded with fresh halibut, tuna, prawns and more available for purchase from local fishers. Variety varies with the season. And by the way, the view isn’t so bad either.

There are many more examples of producers in the Comox Valley and Campbell River region, growing every type of vegetable and fruit imaginable, and some specialty items such as emu and bison.

“We’ve been doing so much work here trying to attract investment in the culinary food and agri-tourism sector,” said Lara Greasley, Manager, Market for Invest Comox Valley.

Last year Invest Comox Valley focused on the Farmer’s Market, which began as a Saturday morning event during the spring, summer and fall growing seasons and has now expanded to Wednesdays at Simms Millennium Park and indoors at the Native Sons Hall in the fall as well.