According to the Quebec Federation of Maple Syrup Producers, more than two-thirds of the world's maple syrup is produced in the province of Quebec's cabanes à sucre. The province of Quebec also consumes more maple products per capita than anywhere else in the world. And to anyone who has ever tasted sweet maple sap in its many forms, can you honestly blame us?
Part and parcel of the Quebec maple syrup experience involves the process of sugaring off. That's code for pigging out on a sugar shack meal.
The Sugar Shack Meal
Locals already know what to expect. But for anyone new to Montreal and the very concept of offing sugar, here's a breakdown of what you can expect at your first sugar shack meal (unless you go to madman Martin Picard's Sugar Shack Au Pied de Cochon), where you can expect pretty much anything).
Where to score the ultimate sugar shack meal? You have two options.
The Montreal Urban Sugar Shack
Sugaring off is a cultural rite-of-passage in Montreal. A short-lived season that varies every year, somewhere from late February to early May, perhaps the best known activity, apart from visiting a sugar shack, is eating hot maple taffy on fresh snow.
Maple taffy stands start appearing in town around early March outside select metro stations, at Parc Jean-Drapeau and at the Jean-Talon Market while urban sugar shacks offering in some cases a traditional cabane à sucre meal usually kick off their season in March, sometimes April. And while they all soothe urgent maple cravings, they also bring up nostalgia for an authentic sugar shack, or cabane à sucre, experience.
And while nothing beats an authentic sugar shack experience at one of Montreal's off-island cabanes à sucre, maybe you just want to try something a little closer to home. The first nine items on our list below are Montreal sugar shacks and hot taffy stands located on the island of Montreal. And though most don't serve full-scale traditional meals, they're the perfect antidote for those pesky maple syrup cravings.
The Traditional Sugar Shack Experience
The real sugaring off happens outside Montreal, in the 200 or so sugar shacks spread out across the province of Quebec. At one of these, you can indulge in sleigh rides, try maple taffy on snow, and stuff your face with all-you-can-eat traditional food complemented by either live folk music or an awkward dance mix.
The final seven items on our list below (beginning with #10) are unique sugar shacks near Montreal, all within an hour's drive of the city.
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Awaiting details for 2018
Every year, the Montreal Botanical Garden proposes a sugar shack experience minus the country air and traditional meal. Learn how maple syrup is made, eat hot maple taffy on snow, buy maple products, and take in the Garden's Treehouse exhibits. This is the most suitable option for people from out-of-town, families, and centrally-located residents using public transit. While you're there, consider planning a visit to the Insectarium, the Biodome, and the Planetarium.
When: Usually open every day of the first week of March (spring break), and every subsequent weekend of March
Cost: Call (514) 872-1400 for details
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Dreaming of an upscale culinary experience that evokes the sugar shack more than it emulates it? Try Le Richmond's maple brunch select weekends during the season at 10 a.m. Past years' a la carte options have included a seared foie gras dish served with blood pudding terrine, arugula salad, and French toast ($18), maple-glazed cold smoked trout ($15) and maple-glazed cornish hen ($22). Menu items and prices subject to change.
Cost: In previous years, costs have varied from $11 for a fruit platter to $45 for a sharing platter
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Want that authentic sugar shack feel without having to head to the countryside? Try Parc Jean-Drapeau's Cabane Chez Jean. The all-you-can-eat style menu features exactly what any self-respecting cabane à sucre would serve. No word on if the Cabane returns for 2017 though. Stay tuned.
Cost: in 2018, $30 adult, $20 children, free for ages 3 and under
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Want upscale food but with a rustic vibe? Enjoy a five-course maple-centric menu for $63 per person, $20 for kids under age 12. Dishes include maple syrup won ton soup, deviled eggs with salmon smoked over maple wood, and braised pork cheeks with green beans, pecans and feta.
When: In 2017, the event was held from March 10 to April 16
Cost: In 2017, prices were $65 per person, $25 for children (+ taxes and service)Continue to 5 of 16 below.
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Much like the Montreal Botanical Garden, the Jean-Talon Market isn't a sugar shack per se. There aren't any traditional sugar shack meals on offer at the moment either, BUT it's a great place to stock up on maple syrup and enjoy some hot taffy served on snow. Like clockwork, there's a hot taffy stand set up every March and April, sometimes as early as late February.
Cost: Information available on location, usually about $1.50 to $3 per stick of hot taffy
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Cap St. Jacques, a massive park located on the western tip of the Island of Montreal, can be a bit out of the way if you don't live in the area, but it can be reached with public transit and the park has a lot to offer visitors: this is the closest experience to a day at a sugar shack in the woods without leaving the city. In addition to eating organic maple taffy on snow, there's pea soup, pancakes (plain or with ham and cheese), and maple syrup pie sold on the premises. Tractor rides are offered as well as visits to the site's animal farm.
When: Usually open every day of the first week of March (spring break), and every weekend from late February through April.
Cost: $3 for each maple taffy stick, $3 tractor rides ($4 ages 12 and up, $3 for ages 2 to 11, free under age 2), $5 or less for menu items, call (514) (514) 280-6743 for prices on other activities, including snowshoeing and cross-county skiing, weather-permitting.
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McGill University's forest reserve, home to 330 horticultural species, is unfortunately not within a reasonable distance from public transit. But if you can make it by car, do it. You'll get to enjoy the season in the middle of the arboretum's sugar maple grove, where its sugar shack is located and see how maple syrup used to be made. The arboretum makes its own maple syrup the traditional way: by gathering tree sap in buckets and boiling it over a wood fire.
Maple syrup is sold on the premises in limited quantities. Guided tours of facilities last up to two hours. In the words of the Arboretum: ''celebrate the return of springtime in our sugar maple grove, one of the few remaining on the Island of Montreal. Enjoy a wagon ride to our sugar house and learn how syrup is made in the traditional way: on a wood fire, from sap collected in buckets. German sausages, hot dogs, drinks and, of course, taffy on snow will be sold at a nominal charge. This is, for the most part, an outdoor event.'' Interested parties are advised to reserve a spot by calling (514) 398-7811.
When: In 2018, celebrate on March 8 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and March 25 and April 8 from noon to 3:30 p.m.
Cost: Admission varies. Early March date cost $10 for members, $12 for non-members. Late March and early April date are both free for members with regular entrance fees applying to non-members: child $3.50, adult $7, senior & student $4.50, family rate $17. Note that only the final two dates involve food sold on location.
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This is a maple syrup street festival. In addition to a plethora of syrup-infused street food, traditional Quebec folk music and dancing, lumberjack style games, local crafts for sale, and other attractions are on the annual agenda.
When: March 22 to March 25, 2018
Cost: free admission, typically $2 to $5 per tastingContinue to 9 of 16 below.
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Awaiting details for 2018
Soup, maple ham, pancakes and other seasonal dishes are served at Parc la Fontaine's charming Espace La Fontaine every sugar shack season. While not an authentic sugar shack meal by a long shot, this year's five-course meal is still an interesting and budget-friendly city centre option for families.
When: In previous years, it has been held weekends from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., mid-March through early April
Cost: In previous years, cost has been $20 regular admission, $15 for ages between 4 and 8
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Chef Martin Picard of Au Pied de Cochon (French for "at the foot of the pig"), the mastermind behind what's arguably one of Montreal's ten best restaurants, turns high-fat depravity into an art form on a near daily basis, with a nutritionally disturbing tendency to slather/bathe/corrupt every dish on the menu, including dessert and poutine, with foie gras. Extending his decadent empire in 2009 to include maple products, sugar shack Au Pied de Cochon was born, serving traditional sugar shack fare with a twist.Continue to 13 of 16 below.
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A sugar shack and an apple orchard, Érablière Denis Charbonneau (a.k.a. Verger Denis Charbonneau) offers not only a traditional all-you-can-eat sugar shack style menu, complete with baked beans, tourtière and pork rinds but also proposes à la carte apple-centric menu items such as apple crêpes and veal with applesauce, a rarity in sugar shack land. But you have to order them separately as they're not included with the sugar shack meal. Kids will LOVE Charbonneau's unlimited hot taffy on snow. There's also the possibility of pony rides and mountain hiking in the woods across the street.
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