Eating-up Stratford
Bite by Byte

Saturday, February 5, 2011

On the Road with Fred From Perth Pork Products

Every Sunday the Slow Food Market connects our community with an exemplary local producer: Perth Pork Products. We are, after all, in the heart of Ontario’s pork country, and Perth Pork Products, run by Fred and Ingrid DeMartines near Sebringville, farms the finest pasture raised piggies around. The folks who attend the market eagerly anticipate the resident cooler-full of heritage breed cuts like Wild Boar Bacon, Tamworth Pork Chops, and Berkshire Ribs. But this week, I got to see how popular Fred and his products really are by accompanying him on one of his weekly runs to Toronto, where his products are revered by many of the best restaurants, chefs,  and butcher shops in the city. 

I met Fred at the farm at 6:30am and we hopped in his refrigerated truck and hit the road. A snow storm the previous day caused Fred to miss his first ever scheduled delivery in the 4+ years he’s been delivering his product in person. Fred prides himself on his face-to-face customer service, and attributes the popularity of his family farm's meat to his willingness to hand deliver custom orders of his unique heritage breeds, “If you want to be successful you’ve got to do this. You’ve got to do something a little different. That’s why I got into raising Wild Boar, I said ‘Hey, this is something different.’”

First stop was the Walnut Hill Farm processing plant near Gadshill just outside of Stratford. This is where Fred gets all of his carcasses processed and packaged into the various cuts requested by his customers, which includes all sorts of smoked and cured products. Also located on a family farm, a place like this is Ground Zero for the current controversy over the struggle to maintain small abattoirs and processing operations in Ontario. The owner of the plant was in the middle of taking apart and hosing down one of his stainless steel meat cutting machines when we arrived, which I was told happens several times a day. There are incredibly strict rules that govern such an operation, including frequent inspections that literally place the facility under a microscope to ensure total hygiene. From what I gather, the issue is that the stringent regulations have sent many small abattoirs/processors out of business, while larger industrial meat packing facilities seem to be somehow exempt from the same scrutiny, which resulted in widespread illness and even deaths recently during the infamous listeriosis outbreak. I was impressed by the diligence of the Walnut Hill Farm operation in maintaining cleanliness and adhering to regulations by the letter.

Next stop was the kill plant. 

Fred sends his animals to Reist & Weber’s abattoir every Saturday, where they are afforded a couple of days to rest before they are culled – a technique Fred developed after learning from a chef about the importance of letting cooked meat rest to enhance tenderness. 

I asked one of the hardworking Mennonites who run this operation if they work with many farmers like Fred who drop-off pigs, then pick-up and deliver freshly-killed carcasses on a weekly basis, and he assured me, “There’s no one like Fred.”

As we were driving to the first drop location, Fred prepared me for a day of pleasant conversation with truly appreciative professionals, “I only work with nice people.” I experienced this right away when we walked into Brady’s Meat & Deli in Waterloo to deliver several boxes containing all sorts of sausages, bacon and other cuts. Liz from Brady’s joked about Wild Boar, “It’s just a pig with an attitude, right?” When I asked her if there were other farmers who delivered to their door in person I was once again assured, “Fred’s the only one who brings it right in.”

Our first restaurant stop was at The Old Mill in Ancaster (above). Chef Jeff Crump is an alumni of the Stratford Chefs School, and continues to use Perth County product in his incredible dining rooms overhanging the Escarpment. Fred told me a great story of how the Tamworth heritage pork breed was inducted into the Slow Food Ark of Taste at an event that took place in this spectacular venue. After eating Fred's Tams and declaring it the best pork he ever ate, Italian Slow Food founder Carlos Petrini told him he should call himself a "Master Pork Farmer": it's been written on the PPP website ever since!

Next stop was Parkdale, where we delivered to The Drake Hotel /Cafe via the funky-graffiti-covered back alley. The Executive Chef told me they had a lot of farmers who delivered to their back door, but Fred was special: Perth Pork Products recently secured the contract to supply The Drake with 160 lbs. of bacon a week!

We drove up to Dundas past Ossington and delivered three whole 'BBQ' sized pigs to The Black Hoof and its across-the-street satellite Hoof Cafe. These spots are known as leaders of the Toronto tail-to-snout carnivore movement, and Fred's product is their go-to for heritage breed, pasture raised pork.

Fred honoured me with an official Perth Pork Products butcher coat, and I started slinging half carcasses into The Healthy Butcher on Queen Street West. Later in the day, we also dropped off some product to the Healthy Butcher on Eglinton.

We made a drop at St. Lawrence Market for White House Meats.

Our next stop was at Gilead Cafe, home base for  Jamie Kennedy Kitchens. Chef Boris (known as Toronto's master of charcuterie) and Fred (above) were talking me through some porcine anatomy when JK himself walked in! It was an unexpected pleasure to meet this culinary icon who was recently appointed the Order of Canada for his efforts in defining Canadian cuisine. But that's just the kind of company Fred keeps...

We unloaded pork at some more butcher shops and food stores, like the Friendly Butcher on Danforth (above)...

... and the all-local mecca The Culinarium on Mount Pleasant (above)...
...and Olliffe in Rosedale, where the butcher George celebrated the mixed breed 'Tamshires' he regularly gets from Fred, "It's the best pork we bring in, it's got the best characteristics of both the Tamworths and the Berkshires."

Chef Stephen of L'Unita on Avenue Road was happy to get a pig's head, which he told me he planned to debone, roll up, cook and turn into ravioli.

At Quince restaurant on Yonge Street the chefs were appropriately using Fred's sausages and smoked ham hocks to create a Winterlicious Dutch menu (Fred and Ingrid moved to their farm from Holland back in 1979!).

What I love about Toronto is its diversity. The best part about blogging is coming across amazing food in formerly unknown places; the last stop on our tour saw Fred taking me to the "J-Town" plaza in Markham. 
The "J" stands for "Japanese", and the Famu Butcher Shop features the most incredible Kobe and Wagyu beef I've ever seen.

The owner told me "I wouldn't sell anything I wouldn't eat myself" and her standards are seriously high: she cuts Fred's Berkshire pork into wafer thin slices for use in Asian hotpots, and was one of the biggest deliveries of the day!

My day with Fred was full of insights into the link between conscientious pork production, personable service, and strong industry demand. Fred and his wife Ingrid (who recently took on the full time job as the administrator of  the Perth Pork Products empire) are great examples of how a family farm can survive and thrive by connecting culinary stars with premium product processed and cultivated on a small scale. 

In fact, the DeMartines' product has gained such a great reputation they attracted the eye of farm-to-fork television celebrity Chef Lynne Crawford of the Food Network Canada's Pitchin' In. This Monday, February 7, at 10pm Fred and his family will be featured on a new episode of this popular field-to-table show, so tune-in and continue to see for yourself why all of Toronto's top culinary institutions eagerly await Fred's delivery every week!

Postscript: The wild boar episode of Pitchin' In was great - Fred, Ingrid, Yvonne and Mark all clearly had a lot of fun with Chef Lynne. If you missed it, check it out online here!


  1. aw sounds like Fred is a wonderful fella

  2. Thanks for the tip about Pitchin' In. We were able to "tape" it and really enjoyed the show. *Bacon* caramel sauce? Who would have thought?