A Day in Perth County

18 Jun

It only seems natural that “slow food” (food prepared from scratch with mainly local, high quality ingredients) should be so popular in Perth County.

There are several Amish and Mennonite communities here–look out for horse-drawn buggies as you zip along the country roads–and that’s just how they do things. And farmers here are spoiled with some of the best growing conditions in North America–the soils are mineral-rich and the weather is typically mild and sunny.

An abundance of tasty local ingredients makes for inspired dishes at local restaurants: Take this asparagus and pickled Jerusalem artichoke salad from Bijou

I recently got the chance to tour Perth County and meet some of the local producers. Our first stop was Monforte Dairy Company–hard to miss with this disco-sparkly sign draped down one side of the building.

Ruth Klahsen, the chef-turned-cheesemaker of Mennonite descent behind Monforte, and her staff make incredible sheep, goat and cow cheeses at her spanking new dairy, funded for the most part by devoted cheese-lovers through Community Shared Agriculture subscriptions.

In the winter of 2008, after being given two months notice at her last premises to agree to a massive rent hike or vacate, Ruth had no choice but to shut up shop.

But her hand-crafted cheeses (made from rich, creamy milk supplied by Mennonite shepherds) were so popular, both among Toronto’s top chefs and the market-going public, that within two months, she was able to raise half a million dollars in advance cheese sales–enough to convince the federal government to chip in.

And so it is that she’s now operating from this newly built dairy, making mouths water with spectacular cheeses like these:

All three of Ruth’s sons work at Monforte, and she has named one cheese in each of their honour: Black Sheep, Golden Child and Little Prince.

And Ruth is as respectful of her cheeses’ unique characters as she is of those of her boys–she won’t name a favourite.

The aim is simply to offer a full platter of deliciousness. “I’ve been known to click my heels at the table when I taste something perfect,” she says. “And I’m always hoping that these are all heel-clicking cheeses.”

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Next stop: Soiled Reputation, an 80 acres farm where certified organic veggies as diverse as edamame beans, shiitake mushrooms and heirloom squash grow.

Farmers Antony John and Tina VandenHeuvel do everything the hard way to grow the most natural, flavourful produce…

…think hand-weeding and the strategic planting of specific veggies side by side to keep bugs at bay.

Here, Antony’s parents are planting 1,600 green onion plants an hour as they roll backwards in this crazy little Flintstones-style vehicule.

If you’re ever in the area, be sure to stop by and pick up seasonal veggies and fresh-baked sourdough bread from Soiled Reputation’s on-site store.

And Antony, a wildlife biologist as well as a farmer, will happily give you a tour and set up his telescope at strategic spots so you can get a closer look at the loons, cuckoos, owls, eagles, ruby-throated hummingbirds and all their feathered friends who frequent the farm.

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Our last stop: Perth Pork Products, a pig farm that specializes in rare and heritage breeds.

As we make our way towards the wild boars, I refuse to give in to anxieties induced by astonishingly explicit warning signs on farm machinery.

Raising wild boar is a pretty hands-off task, explains pig farmer Ingrid de Martines. These beasts forage freely in the fields and forest for two years before they’re ready for the table.

On account of their tusks and brute power, they’re left to do their own thing most of the time. If they were to get sick, for example, unlike the other pigs who’s get a visit from the vet, these guys would be left to heal naturally… or not at all.

The opposite is true of this little squealer, who is partial to snuggles. Ingrid’s son has around 30 Tamworth sows, because he enjoys the hands-on nature of raising them.

Those pigs kept in the barn here have basketballs to play with–they pass them back and forth–and old tires also, to enrich their environment.

Quality of life is important for ethical reasons, and you can actually taste it in the meat too. Unhappy pigs produce stress hormones which makes for paler, flabbier pork.

If you stop by Perth Pork Products, you can pick up sausages, chops and a variety of pork treats.

If you’re looking for something low in fat, try the wild boar–it goes well with rich fruit and juniper sauces. And bacon lovers should try the Tamworth rashers–far more flavourful than the mass-produced kind and they have a wonderful firm texture.

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Hope you enjoyed this taster of Perth County; here’s some useful information if you’re interested in setting up your own tour:

Bijou Restaurant, 1-519-273-5000, bijourestaurant.com
Monforte Dairy, 1-519-814-7920, monfortedairy.com
Soiled Reputation, 1-519-393-6497, soiledreputation.com
Perth Pork Products, 1-519-393-6846, perthporkproducts.com





One Response to “A Day in Perth County”

  1. androstenol September 9th, 2012 at 7:55 PM #

    Really am fond of this post. I’ll be linking back to this from my own blog.

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