Elsewhere in Oxford County: Cheese, farming, more cheese, foodie fun, and MORE cheese!
The name "Oxford County" may sound familiar to you. This wouldn't be the first time you've heard me praise this region! Oxford County, in the southern part of Ontario, Canada, is world famous for its cheese and even has a "Cheese Trail" that visitors can explore. Dairy farming attracted early pioneers to settle in the area and the nearby town of Ingersoll even boosts a cheese museum - something we were thrilled to visit and write about.
Don't do dairy? Not to worry! Oxford County's amazing cheese is just the tip of the foodie iceberg. Whether your passion is history or food (or both!) you will be very content to spend some time exploring Oxford County, visiting a wonderful collection of restaurants and sampling great local flavors. From classic chicken salad to fiery vindaloos to gourmet grilled cheese, Oxford County is a foodie's dream destination in the making.
Gunn's Hill Artisan Cheese
Gunn's Hill Artisan Cheese is located just outside the town of Ingersoll (about twenty minutes away from the cheese museum). They have a wide selection of cheese but produce two in particular that have become 'go to' choices for me - 5 Brothers (My personal favourite - it will remind you of Gouda and Swiss) and Tipsy (their signature Oxford Harvest cheese soaked in a local Cabernet Merlot).
When my friend Jo, from Frugal First Class Travel, made the trek from Australia to Canada, these are the cheeses I served (with local wine, of course! You can't have cheese without wine). They're the perfect representation of Ontario's cheese making prowess. (Hint: If you're in Ontario but can't make it to Gunn's Hill to stock up, you can find their cheese at fine food shops throughout the province. In Ottawa, we stock up at Farm Boy grocery stores.)
Gunn's Hill is also an amazing community leader. They recently won the prestigious BDC Young Entrepreneur Award (a $100,000 prize!). A visit to their factory is not only a delicious experience but an inspiring one as well. This should be number one on your foodie wish list and it's an indispensable part of any local picnic .
Leaping Deer Adventure Farm & Market
A short drive from Gunn's Hill (and very close to the Ingersoll Cheese Museum) is Leaping Deer Adventure Farm & Market. If a love of history or an interest in farming brought you to Oxford County, you are going to fall in love with Leaping Deer. It's equal parts eatery, bakery, crafts gift shop, outdoor nature fun for children, and museum. Of course, it's also absolutely delicious!
Leaping Deer's food is famous in Oxford County, especially for their grilled cheese sandwiches (there's that cheese again!) on apple pie bread. Yep, that's homemade bread with a swirl of crumbled up apple pie in it. I can personally attest to how delicious it is. The whole complex is just a really charming spot and it really embodies Oxford County's warm spirit. Plus, there's a petting zoo filled with rascally goats. What could be better?
Leaping Deer has an unbelievable collection of John Deere artifacts big and small. You'll see some in the main section of the store, where you can also pick up delicious foodie gifts (like local jams, preserves, salsas, and more), but the most awe inspiring items are in the back. I've never seen such a huge collection of farming materials! Take the time to look around after you have lunch.
Olde Bakery Cafe
Home to the world's greatest chicken salad sandwich (seriously, I mean it - read about my love affair here!), this sweet neighbourhood hangout is exactly the kind of spot Ryan and I wished existed close to our house. We couldn't help but to keep quizzing each other if we knew of any cafe that came close to the Olde Bakery Cafe in Ottawa (conclusion: a sad no.)
We just loved the homey atmosphere and their menu filled with comfort food done to a very high standard. We also loved some of their not-so-classic, newer recipes, like hot apple cider and lattes flavored with locally made cajeta, a caramelized goat's milk not dissimilar to dulce de leche. Delicious!
Most menu items at the Olde Bakery Cafe are under $10 (and many are under $5), making this an extremely affordable stop. If you don't get the opportunity to visit the cafe itself, keep an eye open for their baked goods at local farmers markets.
One of my favourite things about travel, no matter where I am or how I'm traveling, is when I discover something extraordinary in the most unexpected spot. That's exactly how I felt when we visited Chocolatea in Ingersoll - so much so thatI wrote a blog post detailing exactly why this charming chocolate and tea shop is so wonderful.
Chocolatea's combination of classic and new fangled flavors make it the perfect spot for any chocolate (or tea!) lover, no matter what their preference. It's also a great place to stock up on affordable gifts, perfect for everyone from office mates to children. Keep an eye out for their gourmet S'mores kits!
We love, love, LOVE Indian food, especially when we travel. The combination of heat and creaminess, spice and sweet, chewy and crisp gets us every time. But I must confess we had modest expectations for Indian food in Oxford County. In our experience, sometimes rural areas don't quiet bring the spice level that we usually find in urban areas. Not so here!
Tandoori Knight's vindaloo packed a powerful punch, their korma was sweet and creamy, and we loved the sauces served with the sides. And their chai tea was absolutely delicious, some of the best I've ever had. Making it all even more satisfying was the fact that we were playing hooky from our rained-out campground and the combination of dry room and hot food was wonderful!
Charles Dickens Pub
Sometimes you just need a no-fuss, hassle free kind of lunch and the Charles Dickens' Pub in Woodstock is ready to fill that need. We definitely got our salt and grease fix (and I mean that in a good way) with orders of meatloaf and fish & chips. The pub has a good assortment of daily specials, making this a good value stop on your travels.
Where to stay in Oxford County (or.... where to sleep off your food coma!)
While visiting Oxford County, we recommend staying at the Elm Hurst Inn in Ingersoll. History lovers, this is the place for you! In 1865, James Harris founded a cheese factory on the Elm Hurst's land, one of many in the county. His factory would gain worldwide fame when it produced the famous 7,300 pound "Mammoth Cheese" that put Ingersoll's dairy farming on the map (there'a great tribute to it at the Cheese Museum).
For a century, the Harris family lived in what is now part of the Elm Hurst Inn. Today the building is an elegant hotel and we were fortunate to stay in their Lord Connaught room, which features a private walk out terrace and - my favourite hotel feature of all - a deep soaker bath tub! I'm a little bit obsessed with bath tubs and this two person Jacuzzi is pretty darn awesome. The main room was every bit as spacious as the bathroom - plenty of room for a king sized bed and lots of seating areas.
We really enjoyed the beautiful room with all of its romantic touches but I wish the Wi-Fi had of been better. It was non-existent for all practical purposes. Yes, I am indeed the girl who wants to be online at a romantic hotel!
If this is important to you, I'd recommend speaking to the staff about having a room more central to the main hotel. Our room was a bit of a walk from the main reception and it's possible it was just too far away to pick up a strong signal (again, great for those who want romance and privacy!)
Pack your stretchy pants!
When people talk about Ontario's food scene, Toronto is often what springs to minds. But just a short drive from the city is southwestern Ontario's Oxford County and the region is a foodie's dream. The rich agricultural heritage, the incredible local produce, and the delights of the Cheese Trail make Oxford County the perfect culinary destination. Pack your stretchy pants!
Have we convinced you to go to Oxford County? These articles will help you plan your trip:
All Roads Lead to Ingersoll: On Oxford County's Cheese Trail
The Art of Camping in the Rain at Pittock Conservation Area
A New Tune For Tillsonburg
Small Town Sweetness in Ingersoll
Pioneering Pride in Otterville