Culinary Experiences: Planting the Seeds for Experiential Tourism
We like to travel along Oxford County’s concessions and back roads to rediscover the terroir and pastoral landscapes and to stop at the farmgates in season. Just outside Woodstock, situated in the rolling hills just off Highway 59, is Shep Ysselstein’s Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese operation and his family’s well-established, third generation dairy farmstead. Bo, the Ysselstein’s affable canine will likely greet you upon arrival. Prepare yourself to walk in the shoes of a gifted local cheesemaker, while attending Affinage 101, a new hands-on culinary experience in Oxford County.
On display at Gunn’s Hill’s newly renovated showroom are tree-to-table charcuterie and cheese boards, handcrafted with sustainably-sourced local wood by Dave Schonberger of Ottercreek Woodworks. In 2018 Schonberger won the Innovative Experience of the Year Award from Southwest Ontario Tourism for his “From Tree to Table – A Build-your-own Board Experience.” This experience includes a guided walk through Carolinian Forest, an artisanal workshop where you can craft your own live-edge charcuterie board, and a tasting of local cheese and charcuterie.
Affinage 101 and “From Tree to Table – A Build-your-own Board Experience” are both good examples of authentic experiences which enable visitors to forge deeper connections with regional food stories. When led by knowledgeable guides, participants become interactively immersed. Experiential tourism offers a value-added, hands-on activity that changes the visitor from a consumer to a participant, enriching the experience, and often creating longer stays and increasing revenue.