A group of Slow Food Canada convivia leaders, a couple of paying foodies, and I got on a yellow school bus outside of George Brown College…
We first visited Henry of Pelham, greeted at the vineyard with bubbly, a toast, a marvelous lunch including several prosciuttos; crostini topped with smoked trout, salsify, and creme fraiche (I think); smoked white fish; Laily and Henry of Pelham wines; salad grown by Vivek; and beautiful breads filled with seeds and nuts. On our brief walking tour to the weather station, we sipped ice wine and learned about integrated pest management, Sustainable Winemakers Ontario, and the history of Henry of Pelham estates.
Next stop was the Upper Canada Cheese Co. where we sampled a soft cheese and an oka-like harder cheese, grape juices, and red pepper jelly. We all left with a lovely gift bag and got to look through the new “Niagara Cooks” cookbook written by Lynn Ogryzlo.
Back on the bus and over to Rosewood Estates, where we heard from Karen Levine (sp?) about bees, pollination, and the production and a bit of the history of mead. We also had the pleasure of hearing from Debbie Hipple, a local Niagara soft fruit grower. She explained to us some of the challenges her family faces in our current food system, as well as her dependence on the bees to pollinate her livelihood. After sampling the 2006 Mon Cherie sour cherry mead, the 2007 Mead Royale, and the oh so sweet 2006 Grand Reserve Ambrosia wine mead, the group barely wanted to leave, and leisurely made it’s way to the bus.
A long drive, and several detours later, the big yellow school bus drove up to the Ancaster Old Mill. To greet us there were two 6 week old Tamworth Piglets scrapping in a big open cage in the driveway. I couldn’t help but pick one up and have a little snuggle before walking up the grand stone staircase by the waterfall to sip on yet another glass of wine and watch the two perfectly trussed Tamworth pigs roasting over applewood smoke on a spit.
Jeff Crump welcomed us and shared amusing anecdotes of his experience of Slow Food events and his journey of learning how to appreciate small quantities of the highest quality food. Mara introduced us to the Tamworth pig farmers’ father who told us the story of how they started raising the Tamworth breed, but, unfortunately, his son had chores to finish at the farm and couldn’t be there to tell us himself. Mara made the argument that in order to save the rare breeds of all animals, especially pigs, the most effective strategy is to eat them, to create demand, and to enjoy!
Then Carlo Petrini gave us a speech about the importance of the Ark of Taste and how we all need to support our farmers and continue to appreciate these breeds and maintain biodiversity. Short and sweet, then we dug in family style!
We started with a creamy, white onion soup with (Ark of Taste) red fife tortelloni, stinging nettles and morels. The diners around my table all agreed that we had to heed the advice of Chef Crump and refrain from wanting mass quantities, second and thirds of this fine soup, and to appreciate it’s complexities, ingredients, and essence. “Do it yourself” butter brioche bruschetta with ricotta, wild ramps, maitake mushrooms, and baby arugula generated much conversation about styles of serving food and the flavours in all of the components of the dish on a deeper level. La piece de la resistance, the moment we had all been waiting for, the TAMWORTH PIGS! Applewood spit roasted with green garlic gravy, jerusalem artichoke puree with crispy apples and onions, and topped off with the season’s first asparagus with marjoram from Simcoe. The velvety smoothness of the puree, bright spring green of the asparagus and puddles of gravy swimming around my plate, made this almost vegetarian eat pork for the first time in 18 years. The roast pig was tender, juicy, full of flavour, and practically perfect. I couldn’t keep in my excitement and took our server’s arm as he lead me in to the spotlessly clean kitchen to say my thanks to the chefs. They were all pretty proud of themselves for inspiring a veggie conversion. The bar is pretty high, though, it may be another 18 years before I do it again.
It didn’t end there, the beauty of the food kept shining on! Apple rhubarb strudel with cider caramel, topped off with soft serve processed Triple Maple Crunch ice cream. I’m not sure how to put that one into words.
Hugs and kisses exchanged with the chefs. Chris MacDonald an old family friend, Jonathan Gushue with whom I used to walk in rows of salsify on the farm in Blair, and Sinclair Philip making eyes at me across the table. A perfectly lovely day. What a pleasure to be transported into a different universe of food. One which appreciates the beauty and magnificence of eating, acknowledges the politics, works towards systemic change, but doesn’t lose sight of the magic that food can conjure between people and build a community.
We took our Apple Cider Muffins wrapped in gold with us on the bus again and continued our conversations on life, love, loss, and gastronomy all the way to Hogtown.