For centuries food has been bringing people together, people who may never have met if not for the excuse to break bread with one another. In modern times we have seen the rise of an importance placed upon socializing around food, and the creation of strong and diverse food cultures within local society. Now, in the age of the Internet we have found ways to connect with other foodies locally, and around the world to share information, recipes, techniques, and use “crowd sourcing” for all purposes related to food.
Where should I go for dinner?
Where can you get good, and authentic Thai food?
How do you build a home smoker?
How long do you boil your fresh pasta for?
What brand of ice cream maker should I buy?
The internet has changed the way we look at food and food culture.
Culinary tourism is the term we use to describe the experience of traveling for the explicit purpose of enjoying the food of a region along with experiencing different cultures and sights, be it areas that are close to home, or across the world. Recently I played Culinary Tourist in my own (relative) back yard and got to eat local food in a barn in Perth County with a ton of foodies, a farmer and his wife, a tea sommelier, a pig farmer, and some tourism folks. Not too shabby!
Perth county is one of the richest growing regions in all of Canada, and as a direct result of this it is one of the best destinations for a Culinary Tourist. Only 1.5 hour drive from Toronto, and home to the Stratford Festival, you could spend an entire weekend eating, taking in shows, and strolling in and out of the great shops and galleries in and around Stratford.
Our day in and around Stratford started with a trip to the nearly complete Monforte Dairy production facility, which should open any day now. From there we had a walking tour of the Manic Organic’s farm, Soiled Reputation, where we picked some of the greens that would end up on our lunch plates, met his donkey Jesus (named for a character in one of my favourite movies, The Big Lebowski), checked out some of the local birds (Antony John is an avid bird watcher and has identified over 100 species of birds in his 20+ years running his farm).
Next, was the hilight of my day, meeting the piggies on Fred de Martines’ farm! Conventional hogs, Berkshire, Tamworth, and most importantly the Wild Boars and cross-bred Iron and Stone Age. We would be enjoying a lunch created by Chef Neil Baxter of Rundles with some Wild Boar loin roased over an open fire (which we saw when touring the property) provided by Fred’s company, Perth Pork Products.
Lunch was really a magical experience for me. Connect with some of the food that was about to be put on my plate, and all of being extremely fresh and local, and cooked by one of the top chefs in Stratford? Yes please!
To finish off we had a tea workshop from Tea Sommelier Karen Hartwick, of Tea Leaves in Stratford. Very informative (and tasty) she took us through 5 teas with a very thorough explanation. It almost felt like we were at a wine tasting.
After that we headed back in to town to visit Derek Barr, of Chocolate Barr’s Candies. We spent some time learning the candy makers secrets and the group got to make a batch of Derek’s Nutty Pop, what he describes as “An educated form of caramel corn where you ass pecans and almonds. Here is his recipe!
Nutty Pop from Chocolate Barrs
White sugar 230g
Brown sugar 140g
Glucose (or corn syrup) 90g
Raw whole almonds 230g
Raw mammoth pecans 230g
Popped popcorn 60g
In a large heavy bottomed pot (think Le Creuset) mix the sugars, glucose, salt and water. Bring to a boil and add butter. Cook to 260f. Add almonds and cook the syrup to 285f. Add pecans and cook to 300f and turn off the heat. Fold in the popcorn carefully and turn out on to a greased pan or parchment paper. Always wash any sugar crystals that form on the side of the pot with a heat resistant brush and water. These will cause your batch to grain off (will taste ok but will not keep as well and will look dull).
All throughout the day there was opportunities to purchase fresh local ingredients to take home, and being foodies most of us took advantage every step of the way. In the days since members of the group have been posting on their blogs and tweeting their meals made with products from Perth County, and that’s the point. Support the local producer directly, talk to them about what they do, how they do it, and most importantly WHY. Ask questions! Take it home and enjoy what the land can provide for us.
There are really infinite possibilities when visiting this region, and you can get help from many agencies with regards to planning your trip.
Visit Stratford - On the website there are some culinary packages available and you can do many of the things we did on our visit.
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