For any business, just surviving “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” is a cause for celebration, but achieving a twenty fifth anniversary must be considered a significant milestone. Located just north of Port Hope on Highway 28 one might be tempted to just keep on driving. Newly installed signage aims to prevent anyone from making such a tragic mistake. It’s a simple and rewarding drive from Kingston, Oshawa or Peterborough. Externally it’s not exactly prepossessing, with more than a suggestion of an agricultural demeanour, but how many times have we been told not to judge a book by its cover?
Notwithstanding the entrance is very charming and crossing the threshold is to enter another realm, a world of soft music and an intoxicating but delicate aroma which imbues an atmosphere of calm and comfort, immediately one imagines one’s blood pressure dropping to levels that would put a smile on a doctor’s face. An ambience of elegant sophistication fosters relaxation and Herma tells me that, “people say they simply enjoy the feeling of being here.”
Inside is much more spacious than one would imagine with four thousand square feet inviting exploration. All too easily one can spend an entertaining hour or more meandering around the various departments: visual merchandising is of an exceptionally high standard with enticing product displays captivating one’s attention. Herma has a natural flair for beauty and Gordon has an art director’s eye for design: their combined talents create the Herma experience.
It all started in Toronto basement, “with a few dollars and a vision”, fuelled by a love of cooking, gift giving, and entertaining. A desire to be reunited with Northumberland was the catalyst for a move out of the city and the opening of the store. Soon after, Herma and chef Nora began to create a line of signature dishes. More or less twenty five years later these very same products are still delighting customers old and new. Made in small batches with tender loving care, they are very sought after, so I’d recommend heading off to the cheese department as soon as you arrive. Particular favourites are a Savoury Cheddar Spread, Goat’s Cheese Rounds, Stilton Pate and Lemo-Licious Cheese Spread which makes for a simple tasty dish when stirred into pasta.
Some people name their stores after themselves because they lack imagination and cannot think of anything better, here Herma’s use of her own name is genuinely appropriate because the store is a complete projection of her personality and interests: it’s a world of harmonious beauty and good taste, decorum and style, there’s the wrong way to do something and then there’s Herma’s way. If you need guidance on a point of etiquette you would find it here, not sure which fork goes where, Herma or one of her devoted staff, can help you out. Need guidance with what goes in which glass…problem solved. Cathy is the frommagier or cheese specialist, and Margaret is the salumist, or expert in charcuterie and meats, both combine personal passion for their departments with years of experience. If you need advice on what goes with what or how best to serve cheese and charcuterie, you can learn a lot from these two and elevate your dinner parties to a whole new level. You will find them both near the cheese counter and refrigerators, which is where the free samples of the latest products are so seductively arrayed to tempt taste buds. And believe me, they do.
This is not simply another high end grocery store with speciality ethnic foods, chocolates, teas and coffees. Available too, are gourmet meats, artisanal cheeses, dips, breads and crackers that would be difficult to find anywhere else. Let’s not omit home and kitchen utensils, décor and gadgets, things one’s never even seen before, which however, will immediately become indispensable once taken home. Gift-wrapping is a service of which Herma is justifiably proud and on which her considerable reputation has been built. A range of freshly made soups and other dishes wait patiently in the freezer. There’s more here than products though, entering the store is to embrace a life style of sophistication and elegance.
Herma’s is a unique haven of epicurean delights: a gourmet paradise for chefs, foodies, and anyone with a culinary bent, the very dictionary definition of cornucopia, “an abundant supply of good things.” Go explore preferably in person, or see hermas.ca