Eating-up Stratford
Bite by Byte

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Ultimate Fathers Day Weekend: The Bacon and Ale Trail!

Perth County is pork country. Every June Stratford is host to the annual Ontario Pork Congress, which isn't a coincidence: our surrounding countryside is home to some truly stellar pork producers. 

And henceforth, here in Perth County, June will be officially acknowledged as "Pork Month"


In honour of Pork Month, I set out on the Bacon and Ale Trail last Father's Day weekend. You might have heard of the wildly popular Chocolate Trail where people get a pass that gets them treats at stops along a self-guided tour of Stratford's finest confectioners. Well, I'm not a sweet tooth - I'll take a tour featuring beer and some good local pork over chocolate any day!

My first stop on the trail was at Kitchen Connaisseur, where one of our area's pork producers - Theresa Ann de Wetering from de Wetering Hill Farms - was personally serving up two versions of pulled pork featuring sauces available at the store. 

Bacon and Ale Trail visitors will get a bottle of Beer BBQ Sauce, and the Moroccan Sauce (on left) was full of exotic flavour, but the one that got my vote (see below) was the sweet-but-balanced Pomegranate Sauce (which I learned was created by students at the Stratford Chefs School, with some proceeds from every sale raising funds for the school!).

Looks like I wasn't the only one who enjoyed it!

Next I was off to my new favourite spot Mercer Hall, where I was able to try a thick slab of their house- cured bacon with a chocolate brown Ontario craft ale called Neustadt 10W30. 

On Fathers Day Sunday morning I got to start my day with a truly wonderful creation - the Bacon and Egg Croissant from Revel Caffe.Yes, it tasted as good as it looks!

Mid-morning I stopped in to the patio at Foster's Inn and tried a charcuterie sample featuring a Pork Terrine with Garlic Scapes with a side of Tomato Chutney from Pickles, Eh! washed down with a Mill Street BreweryTankhouse Ale.

Then my four year old son Fisher took me to the pub for a Father's Day lunch at Molly Blooms. He had a Shirley Temple while I had a new Mill Street Blueberry Wit Beer (which I learned uses blueberries from a nearby producer) along with a bowl of bacony Loaded Baked Potato Soup (a perennial favourite at the annual Soups On! contest!).

If you want to travel along the Bacon and Ale Trail you can get your passes at the Stratford Tourism Alliance (47 Downie Street). $25 gets you five vouchers you can redeem at any of eleven beer n' pork lovin' locations.

And if you want to experience what promises to be the pinnacle of Pork Month, Mercer Hall is presenting Pork Tails on June 30 - they say that bacon makes everything taste better, and now that includes cocktails with bacon-infused spirits!

Friday, June 8, 2012

What is "Canadian Cuisine"?

This past Saturday was Heritage Day in Stratford, inspiring the folks at Savour Stratford to put together an expert panel to discuss Canada's culinary heritage and explore the question "What is Canadian Cuisine?". 

The four panelists included none other than author Anita Stewart (the undisputed maven of all-things-Canadian when it comes to food!); Jeff Crump (graduate of the Stratford Chefs School, Chef at the highly acclaimed Ancaster Mill restaurant, and author of Earth to Table); Paul Finkelstein (also a Stratford Chefs School grad who is well known for his work teaching culinary arts out of The Screaming Avocado Cafe); and Monforte Dairy cheesemaker Daniel Szoller.

But without a doubt, the best way to kick off a discussion of Canadian cuisine was to eat some truly Canadian food!

When Anita Stewart introduced the special lunch that preceded the discussion at The Prune restaurant she described Chef Bryan Steele as a national treasure. The dishes we were presented with affirmed that high praise and showcased what can be done with Canadian food in the hands of a true culinary master.

The asparagus soup with smoked mushroom crostini was a beautiful expression of springtime in Ontario.

Chef Steele explained that the salt-baked trout was farmed nearby but tasted absolutely pristine because it was raised in ever-flowing spring water. I loved how it looked and tasted with the bright green anise accent of the tarragon foam.

Of course any lunch presenting our local culinary heritage here in Perth County had to have some pork: Chef Steele worked with the rare English Black heritage pork raised at nearby Churchill Farm to create (from left to right) a savoury head cheese; a sausage served atop an incredible German potato salad; and a lily-white, melt-in-your-mouth pork loin.

My apologies: Unfortunately the rhubarb compote desert with seabuckthorn berries looked and tasted so good I finished it before I remembered I was supposed to be taking pictures!

Luckily, when it comes to real Canadian food my appetite is insatiable... so I was happy to see that Paul Finkelstein's students had prepared some great canapes for the debate at Stratford City Hall. I dug right into the moose (that's moose, not mousse) and seal (yes, seal, get over it lots of Canadians eat it) terrine with pickled wild leeks (above).

The debate itself kicked-off with the panelists responding to a scenario proposed by moderator Malcolm Jolley (of Good Food Media): What they would do if aliens landed and demanded "Take us to see some Canadian cuisine!"?:

The discussion was lively, with many audience members sharing their opinions on whether or not Canada has a true cuisine. The panel seemed to reach a consensus that our cuisine, like our country, is defined by diversity and countless cultural, geographic and socioeconomic influences (which paradoxically renders it undefinable):

Finally, the panelists were asked to describe their quintessential Canadian dining experience:

The exploration of Canada's food history and culture is not just for Heritage Day here in Stratford: This year's Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival's theme is "Heritage: Celebrating Our Culinary Roots", and if this debate is any indication it should provide for a really interesting and delicious weekend celebrating all the great food that makes us such a special nation!

And by the way, in the second clip Anita Stewart mentions to Fink that the recent trip his culinary arts class took to Cape Dorset Nunavut should be shared with everyone through online video. Stratford Central High School videographer Ryan Butler (also known as Justin Bieber's close personal homeboy) was along for the adventure and put together a fantastic video... check it out Anita!