Hurray for Hogtown (or as some call it, Toronto)

To celebrate Passover, a time when the Jews wandered 40 years in the desert searching for the land of milk & honey, Noshette and I wandered 4 hours westward in search of organic milk and wild honey (and some other sustainable foods). Noshette was born and raised in Toronto, so we were going there to break (unleavened) bread with her hometown family and friends.


to.jpgWe would be in Toronto (also lovingly referred to as "Hogtown") for a full week, where most of our time would be spent sharing meals with various family members and friends. Noshette was going to get her hair cut and then meet an old friend, so I decided to try and find the farmers market. I had been to the St.Lawrence Market many times, but it never really felt like a farmers market. I had heard that it was different on Saturdays, so I decided to give it one last shot.

When I arrived, I noticed that the building across the street from what I thought was the farmers market had a mural depicting a farmers market, something I can't believe I had never noticed before! I burst in and sure enough, there were rows of tables set up with produce, and also a few booths made up of portable display refrigerators.

cheese.jpgNaturally, I approached the first table that was offering free samples. Before the first small hunk of cheese reached my lips, I was greeted by Ruth Klahsen, the woman who made all the cheese I was looking at (and hoping to eat). Her company, Monforte Dairy Company, produces several superb cheeses, all made with sheep's milk supplied by Amish and Mennonite farmers in and around Millbank, Ontario, where Ruth lives and works.

Ruth, who is of Mennonite descent, is a trained chef who knows her way around the kitchen and the farm. She cites the Slow Food movement as an influence, and also believes in tithing: 10% of her profits are donated to Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders.

I tasted some superb cheese curds, which I consider a Quebec specialty, as it is one of the three vital components in Poutine, a Quebec comfort food made from french fries, cheese curds, and gravy. I can barely remember all the cheeses I tasted, but I walked away with a wedge of cheese made in the style of Tomme de Savoie, a well-known French cheese.

Before I was done sampling all of Ruth's fantastic cheeses, I was called over to the next table by Brad Kurtenbach, owner of Kensington Market Organic Ice Cream, who tempted me with some tasting. I bade thank you and farewell to Ruth and strolled over to Brad's table, where I tasted some fabulous ice creams, all made with organic ingredients. The most notable flavours were ginger, rose, maple, and lavender/blueberry, but my favourite was some sort of tamarind cardamom/vanilla concoction, which conveyed the perfect balance of creamy dairy richness and subtlety of South Asian spice.

pears.jpgWith a belly full of cheese and ice cream, I passed by a few tables of produce, some of which was imported but a lot of it was cold storage produce from Ontario. There were cabbages, potatoes, onions, carrots, and apples, and an unexpected surprise of pears! I never knew that pears could survive cold-storage but apparently they do just fine.

The next table I visited belonged to Ewenity Dairy Co-operative, a lamb's milk cheese making co-op that makes great versions of famous cheeses that would normally be made with cow's milk, but then gives them "cheesy" names (pardon the pun) like Eweda (Gouda. Get it?) and Ramembert. As cute and clever as these names were, they will not help in establishing Canada's cheesemaking reputation.

I also spoke with someone who was part of Local Flavour Plus, a non-profit organization that brings farmers and consumers together to share in the benefits of environmentally and socially responsible food production. LFP offers certification to farmers and processors that sell their products locally. In addition, LFP certifies producers for labour practices, animal welfare, biodiversity, and energy use. This type of certification is much more effective at identifying sustainable foods over foods that are only certified "organic", a term whose definition is getting looser by the minute.


I also visited a few tables that sold Ontario meat. There was Rowe Farm Meats, which also supplies many Toronto restaurants with high-quality, hormone-free, natural meats. I also saw a butcher selling Mennonite pigs and hams, and a few other vendors selling everything from lamb to elk to peameal bacon, a Toronto specialty which is brined and rolled in cornmeal.

All in all, I was truly impressed and I reluctantly admit that Toronto's St. Lawrence Market (Saturdays only) gives Montreal's Jean-Talon Market (which is open every day) a run for its money.

Next week: Toronto's The Healthy butcher and Karma Coop.

8 Responsesto “Hurray for Hogtown (or as some call it, Toronto)”

  1. Lydia says:

    I haven't been to the St. Lawrence Market in years, but I remember the first time I stumbled in. We were in town for a nephew's wedding, staying at a hotel quite near the market, and restless on the Saturday morning before we needed to be at the church. All dressed up, with nowhere to go, we started walking, and came upon the market. Delightful! We would have stayed all morning.

  2. Anastasia says:

    Sounds like a wonderful market!

    Something like LFP could be really useful in the US. It's refreshing that they include all aspects of farming. Are the any certifying agencies in the US that can be trusted?

  3. DairyQueen says:

    Anastasia -- Depends on what you mean by "trusted." If you don't think the the USDA standards for certified organic go far enough (and I don't, for animal welfare or environmental sustainability), then maybe not. So far, the "beyond organic" movement is the closest to being like LFP, but those farmers seem to have no desire for a certifying label.

    Bay Area people -- you can try the poutine dish Nosher mentions at Salt House here in SF. It's incredibly rich, satisfying, and filling...perfect for a rainy day like today.

  4. Sheryl says:

    Oh... did you miss the sweet old couple with the organic free-range eggs? And the lady with the blueberry strudel made with wild berries she has shipped from Nova Scotia?

    And if you think it's good now, come back in June or July. :)

  5. brad says:

    Poutine in San Francisco? Wow, I had no idea! By the way, to pronounce it the real Québecois way it's closer to "poo-TIN" than "poo-TEEN." This explains why Québecers spell the name of Russia's president "Vladimir Poutine," which gives everyone a good laugh.

  6. Nosher of the North says:

    I pronounce it "poo-teen".
    Does Salt House use cheese curds or do they use mozzarella, which is unfortunately what many Quebec restaurants are doing these days.

    I wish we had something like LFP here in Montreal, but we're working on it.

    I didn't see the old couple with the eggs! I would loved to have talked to them. I chatted with quite a few vendors there, and then I crossed the street to the regular market where I was lucky to catch a lecture and slideshow on the history of the market, along with some free samples of some very tasty smoked salmon, some of which was caught wild.

  7. Nick Sung says:

    I used to live right across the street from the Market, and let me tell you, it's one of the bright points of the city; everyone there is extremely nice, and very helpful and knowledgable. Food shopping there, especially for regulars, is as much a social pleasure as an ethicurean one. I think every city should have a great friendly bustling farmers market!

  8. Al says:

    OK, I'm convinced! I'm going to set the alarm for 4:30am on Friday night and drive down to the market Saturday morning before traffic gridlock sets in. Living near the edge of Toronto I usually try to avoid driving downtown, and transit it not an option when carrying perishible groceries for 90 minutes. I already get a lot of the cold stored local fruit and vegetables through my bi-weekly Good Food Box, but nothing dairy or meat. I'm looking forward to visiting the cheese and egg vendors.