Last post I shared my experience visiting Erbcroft Farm just outside of Sebringville, where I purchased a duck from their farmgate, took it home, and then roasted it all up nice and crispy.This post, the field-to-table theme continues, but this time instead of following an ingredient from a local family farm to my kitchen, I am following one from a local family farm to the kitchen of a great nearby restaurant.
The properties of De Wetering Hill Farms are, like the afore-posted Erbs' farm, located just outside of Sebringville. I first visited their beautiful farmhouse on the main property, where Teresa Ann De Wetering offered me a much-needed education on the ins and outs of pig farming on the scale of the relatively small family farm. Unlike factory-scale pig farms, the De Weterings purchase their pigs rather than raise them for a food corporation. Teresa Ann suggested that this kind of autonomy in production created a sense of obligation towards the livestock, "By owning something you actually care about it." The family farm pork operation is a production pig outfit with a difference: the feed the De Weterings provide for their piggies contains a mix of probiotics, kelp, and a mineral mixture, all of which provides them with what they would be missing nutritionally from convention pig feed. The pigs are raised in clean rooms that are not crowded at all. They're raised hormone and antibiotic free. Richard De Wetering expressed the equation for healthy pigs: "Good air, good feed, lots of water. There are no shortcuts."
Healthy pigs equal tasty pigs, as my subsequent lunch with the De Wetering family at Alexa's Café in Sebringville confirmed!
Alexa's Café (photo above) is located right in the middle of the hamlet of Sebringville, which is about ten minutes out of Stratford if you go west along Highway 8, and a mere two minutes from the De Wetering's home operation. Situated in an extremely well-maintained historic former hotel (trivia: both my wife Lisa's parents and the parents of Bijou Chef Aaron Linley met at this precise location back in the day when it was Lucky's Bar), the restaurant Alexandra Santos opened last November is a local family-scale eatery that uses product from local family-scale farms. But the difference between the food served by Chef/Owner Alexa and all of the other restaurants in the Stratford area that feature local ingredients is that she combines them with her culture to create really excellent Portuguese-influenced cuisine.
Alexa used the De Wetering Hill Farms pork to create an authentic Portuguese dish for me called Porco a Alentejana (above), a beautiful combination of savoury pork with delicate clams served alongside a brilliant salad featuring fresh organic spinach.
Bifana is a Portuguese-style seared pork cutlet served on a bun (above). Once again, I found that the enhanced flavour of the pork from the healthy pigs at De Wetering Hills Farms was actually noticeable.
I tried a waterbuffalo burger (above) for the first time ever at Alexa's, also sourced from local product. The burger was unexpectedly moist and light. Waterbuffalo farm = future blog post? Definitely. Alexa also regularly features Angus Burgers made from De Wetering Hills Farms Red Angus beef...
Which brings me to the third, post-lunch stage of my visit to the De Wetering Hill Farms operation. Their use of the plural "Farms" in their name is entirely accurate, as in addition to the main family farm they also have a nearby property where they pasture-raise their herd of twenty Red Angus cattle. In the late summer and fall, Teresa Ann and Richard also introduce nine lucky "Orchard Pigs" of mixed heritage breeds to share the pasture with their naturally-raised beef.
You don't see a massive Red Angus bull blissing-out with a bunch of beautiful porkers very often, but they live in harmony in the De Wetering's scenic apple orchard pastures.
To taste for yourself the flavour of good pork when it's in the hands of a talented Portuguese chef, come to the Savour Stratford Sunday York Street Tasting Tent. Alexa's Café has been partnered with De Wetering Hill Farms for the centrepiece event of the Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival, and together they have planned a pork loin appetizer that is sure to impress. Alexa's Café is also part of the exciting From Field To Chef showcase of local, seasonal Perth County ingredients on prix fixe menus at fine restaurants in and around Stratford. Beginning Septembrer 15 and running until the end of October, you can enjoy three courses at Alexa's for $40, including an entree featuring medallions of De Wetering Hill Farms pork!
There might be no better place in Ontario than Perth County to appreciate the culinary excellence that can be achieved when strong relationships exist between local producers and chefs. I'm looking forward to visiting a whole series of Perth County farms providing amazing ingredients for area residents and restaurants at the Perth County Farm Tour taking place this Sunday, September 19th as part of the first ever Culinary Week leading up to the incredible Savour Stratford festival weekend!