8 Must-Have Foodie Experiences in Ontario’s Oxford County
Neatly tucked between the big urban centres of Hamilton and London, Southwestern Ontario’s Oxford County is a lovely destination full of calming rural vistas and small-town charm. If you like good food, especially local cheese, you’ll love visiting this friendly region. Southwestern Ontario makes a fantastic mid-week break or weekend getaway any time of the year.
I was invited to visit beautiful Oxford County for a weekend of relaxation and indulgence. I discovered warm hospitality, a beautiful bucolic countryside and a very real dedication to creating the best food from local and ethical sources.
Creating good food takes passion and these Oxford County makers have it in spades!
If you’re interested in taking your own winter break in Southwestern Ontario, please check out our getaway that include a stay at the Elm Hurst Inn. For a full review of my stay at the Elm Hurst, read my post here.
Bean to Bar Chocolate
The first thing you have to know about Habitual Chocolate in downtown Woodstock is that is smells as good as it looks. Once you enter through the door and get a whiff of that incredible chocolate aroma, there’s no way you’re leaving empty handed. Habitual Chocolate entered the scene in 2010 when Swiss Chocolatier Philippe Lehner decided to open a shop in Oxford County dedicated to small-batch, bean-to-bar chocolate. The shop has now grown to offer the largest selection of bean-to-bar chocolate in Canada.
Philippe sources all his beans from small, family-run farms around the world, roasts them onsite and then transforms them into handmade chocolate goodness. The end result is delicious and free from additives such as soy or gluten. All the chocolate is created nut free and there are vegan and sugar free options as well.
As I sampled chocolate made with beans for different parts of the world, I really got a chance to understand how differences in where the beans are grown results in subtle differences in taste. Philippe is a master at knowing which flavour combines best with which beans. It was an incredible experience!
Adam and Hannie van Bergeijk are passionate cheesemakers and that passion comes through to anyone who has a chance to visit with them at their huge cheesemaking facility in Oxford County. This is one of the many stops on Oxford County’s Cheese Trail.
I stopped in at Mountainoak Cheese to sample the award-winning gouda and see the where the magic happens. I was not disappointed! Imagine displays with dozens of cheese varieties from classics like their Farmstead Gold Gouda to more adventurous goudas with flavours such as the fenugreek or chili smoked. In the back, there are cheese wheels stacked high as the eye can see and a spotless facility where the milk is turned into these delicious morsels.
Adam is a wonderful host, showing me around the facility with pride and introducing me to the cheesemaking process. I even got to see a wheel of cheese that had been made that day.
“At 7 a.m. it was still milk,” he tells me. Everything I sampled was incredible and it really doesn’t get more local than this. Adam and Hannie raise the cows, grow the feed for the cows to eat and then turn the milk from the cows into the celebrated cheese. They are originally from Holland, where they attended cheese-making school in Gouda — so you know this is authentic stuff.
Wine & Cheese: A Match Made in Heaven
Since the region is known as the Dairy Capital of Canada, it is not surprising that many of the best culinary experiences in Oxford County revolve around cheese. And what goes well with cheese? Wine of course!
The Wine Cellar & Cheese Shop is delightful little country store that sells everything you could ever need to make the ultimate cheeseboard — from artisanal cheeses to crackers and jellies. But the standout product here really is the make-your-own wine. The ferment-on-premises wine service sounds very cool.
Owner Annelies Van Inttersum is full of knowledge about both wine and cheese and you really can’t go wrong with any of her recommendations as she curates a fabulous selection of goods.
Early Bird Gets the First Cup
Do you love coffee? A good cup of quality coffee is one of my top pleasures in life so a stop at Oxford County’s small-batch coffee roaster was a must for me. Early Bird Coffee is all about freshness and quality beans. The coffee is roasted right on site — the cafe was created in an open concept to allow visitors to watch the beans get roasted! — and the premium beans are sustainably sourced.
I joined co-owner Elio Caporicci for the Roasting Lab Experience, which I highly recommend if you want to learn more about how coffee is made. I was able to taste different roasts, learn how the taste of the coffee is influenced by where in the world the beans are grown and see the entire roasting process.
Craft Beer Experience
At Woodstock’s Upper Thames Brewing Company it’s always Beer O’Clock — quite literally, the large wooden clock above the bar has the word “beer” written at every hour. And why not? This warm and welcoming craft brewery in the heart of Woodstock doesn’t take itself too seriously but they are clearly passionate about what they create. Here you will find small batch brews made using ingredients sourced from Ontario. Their open-concept taproom allows you to get a full view of the brewing process and they are always more than happy to give a brewery tour. I loved going behind the scenes to see just how involved the small-batch beer-making process is before sitting down at the lively bar for a sample.
My flight of beer included a Blonde Ale, a Lager, the Dust to Dawn White Stout, and an incredible Mocha Latte Porter.
Although it was still too cold during my visit to sit on the patio, it looks like an amazing place to hang out with friends on a summer afternoon. I highly recommend a visit if you love craft beer.
A Lunchtime Treat
If a cozy atmosphere, attentive staff and a varied menu of delicious cuisine is on your must-have list when dining out, then Finkle Street Tap & Grill should be your go-to when eating in Woodstock. I loved the red fireplace that takes centre-stage in the dining room and the variety of tables available — always important to know you will be able to enjoy a meal whether it is a table for one or a table of 10.
The menu consists of staples such as wood-fired pizza, tasty sandwiches and burgers, but also more inventive foods such as a lobster burger, an ahi tuna poke bowl and some really fantastic salads. I opted to try the Chef’s seafood creation of the week, which was an incredible honey-glazed arctic char that was served crispy and delicious alongside a vibrant salad. For dessert, I had a vegan and gluten free dark chocolate brownie that was just amazing.
You really can’t have enough cheese when you visit Oxford County! Set out in the lovely countryside, Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese is owned by passionate cheesemaker Shep Ysselstein. All the milk used for his cheese comes from the family farm — just a few hundred metres away! Yup, fresh and local is a big trend in Oxford County.
Shep takes me behind the scenes to show me not only how the cheese is made, but how it is aged and how the colour of the rind changes as it matures. It really does take a lot of care and dedication to create these yummy products. My favourite part of the tour was definitely the sampling!
At Gunn’s Hill you can purchase a variety of hard and soft cheeses including: the “5 Brothers” cheese which is a washed rind cow’s milk cheese takes 8 months to age (and there’s also an 18-month reserve version that becomes available in December); the “Dark Side of the Moo” which is a mild, creamy cheese that is soaked for four days in the Dark Side Chocolate Stout from Upper Thames Brewery; and also the “Moo Brew” in which a Mutchli-style cheese is rubbed with an espresso blend from Early Bird Coffee! I love all the local partnerships.
You really can’t visit Oxford County without gaining an appreciation for its culinary heart. This region is not only surrounded by farms that grow incredibly fresh ingredients but also artisans and makers that turn those ingredients into some of the best food in the province. No where is that relationship between farm and table more evident than at SixThirtyNine, the first Oxford County restaurant to be FeastON certified. What does this certification mean? It is a program by the Culinary Tourism Alliance that recognized businesses that have a commitment to sourcing and celebrating Ontario grown ingredients.
SixThirtyNine has an ever-changing menu that sources ingredients from a whole host of local producers, including Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese (it was fun to see the 5 Brothers cheese on the menu). The restaurant itself is elegant and inviting. As an appetizer, I couldn’t resist trying the Five Brothers cheese arancini with beet aioli, pickled beets, candied walnuts and arugula — I wanted to see how the local cheese from the farm I had visited was incorporated in this appetizer. It was incredible! For my main, I chose the honey glazed duck breast with za’atar spiced carrots, puffed wild rice, mint crème fraîche and sunflower spots. A complete delight!
If you are thinking about heading to Oxford County for a culinary getaway, I’d love to chat with you! You can reach me at email@example.com
You can also visit our Southwestern Ontario experiences and getaways for more ways to experience this region.
This post was originally published in April 2022 and updated in January 2023.