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.
We 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.
Naturally, 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.
With 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.