The trip was awesome, and that sounds fair to me! Brevity has always been something I have struggled with, and I don’t think one can do justice to a whole day of experience with one paragraph, but I hope you enjoy my summary nonetheless!
After a nice drive and a quick snooze, we found ourselves at the Montforte dairy, in Stratford. The dairy is out in the boonies, where you can buy stuff like fireworks or pineapple flavoured Crush from the gas stations. The space was clean and industrial, but we got a warm welcome from the start. Although they used professional, modern equipment in their work, they still put personal attention and care into each piece of cheese. Their hands, as they put it, have touched everything that they sell.
It was interesting to see the different rooms and their purposes: a white mold room for aging cheeses like camembert, or the wild room, where the yeasts and cultures are not controlled and anything can happen to the cheese. It was here that we also started to learn about the challenges that an artisanal cheese maker must face.. One rack of cheese had suffered from “blow”, which inflates the cheese before it finishes aging, making it worthless. A single rack, smaller than a rolling rack in a kitchen, was worth more than $10,000, and there was nothing they could do to recover that product, they just had to watch it blow up!
After the tour, we went to their restaurant in town and got to sample many of their products at lunch.. Everything was delicious; the goat queso fresco, fenugreek-studded tohm, taleggio, Camembert, cheddar, chèvre, the list went on and only got better. We also got to meet Ruth, who runs the operation. Ruth is a hard-talkin lady who worked her way up in kitchens before getting into the cheese game, and she doesn’t have time for bullshit. She told us the truth, that her business, and other independent businesses like hers, are in trouble. She said we need to tell each other this so we can help each other to continue. Because it’s important to have someone making wonderful products, especially when we live here! There won’t be such a thing as an Ontario terroir without people who care about what they are doing using the gifts of the land to make delicious food.
Our other stop of the way was at Perth Pork, the top supplier of high quality hogs for the entire GTA. The reason for their status became clear pretty fast.. The husband and wife who run the operation are perceptive about how to appeal to their market. Appreciating that the industry is driven not only by quality, but also by novelty, they are constantly coming up with new ways to offer something that nobody else has. After they brought heritage breeds like Tamworth and Berkshire to their farm, they added wild boar. Then they started creating their own cross-breeds with unique and desirable properties! Although they had another new project on the go at the time of our visit, it was a closely guarded secret, not to be revealed until it was ready for the market, and vice versa… Something to look forward to!
Many thanks for the opportunity, Chef.
Matthew – Line cook, Distillery Events & Archeo Trattoria
Another great DRC field trip. First stop was Monforte Dairy in Stratford Ontario; an artisanal cheese company. It was interesting to hear about their production process, but more so of the challenges they face from regulatory bodies and their supply chain. I think its a key lesson for future chefs to understand that its not just about what happens in the kitchen, but that so much of an restaurants success is dependent on the external forces that affect what happens in the kitchen (supplier relationships, regulatory changes, labour trends etc) and how that is managed.
We then went onto Perth Pork in Sebringville just north of Stratford Ontario. We met owners Fred and Ingrid Martines who were quite charming and I can see why they are known as the people to go to if you want whole pork. They provided an informative tour of their farm and its operations. They also spoke at length of environmental factors such as flooding and invasive pests which was a informative conversation.
Steve – Apprentice Chef, Distillery Restaurants Corp.
First time visiting a factory or farm in Canada, was great opportunity to learn for me.
I could feel, and it made me think about people who made cheese through the tasting the cheeses. They take so much time to make each of an amazing cheese for customers.
It was great time to see and know about piggies,how they grow up by the farmer and how have the former started.
I really thank to a farmer and piggies through this field trip.
Miri – Garde Manger, Cluny Bistro & Boulangerie
This is my fed trip report. Thank you for your skillful driving, chauffeuring us safely to and from. Montforte dairy was both informative and entertaining. Being sworn under the table by someone’s mom is always a hi-light! The spread provided by Montforte was both generous and delicious. Perth Pork was also very informative showing us how a farm is tended from grain to feed and animal to compost, nothing is misused or wasted, and love and care are the focus for a tasty product. Thanks again for the trip!
Julien – Chef de Partie, Distillery Events
Waiting in the small front room of Monforte Dairy, full of old and mismatched furniture and knickknacks, there wasn’t much to suggest the level of order and cleanliness we were about to encounter. After covering our shoes and hair (and beards if we had them), and being asked not to touch anything, we were led into a series of almost too-white rooms. We were told, from the first, that the most important part of what they did there, what took up most of their time, was cleaning. Their real and most tangible priority as food producers is the same as ours as cooks, to feed as many people as they can, as well as they can, without making anyone sick.
At the same time, as the tour went on, the contrast between the rural hominess of the exterior and the sterility of the interior softened. We got glimpses of the passion and real affection that went into making these cheeses. It almost seemed like Daniel saw the cheeses he showed us, not as a product they were manufacturing, but as living things they were caring for.
At the end of our first tour we moved on to a family style lunch at their restaurant in town. We ate course after course of delicious, simple food while Ruth Klahsen talked to the group about her work, her experience, her ideas about food and community. She was clearly passionate about what she was doing and eager to improve on what she had done so far.
The last part of the trip was possibly my favourite. When we arrived at Fred and Ingrid’s pig farm, Fred shook hands with each of us and told us matter-of-factly about how they had come from Holland to start their own farm more than thirty years ago, built up a successful business, which they marketed themselves, and then, looking for more of a challenge, had started raising wild boars.
With the same sort of quiet excitement they showed off the hot water heating system they had developed to heat their barn, and the viewing room they had built. They told us how they used the waste from the farm, fertilizing with manure, even composting the carcasses of their dead pigs. They showed us their fields and told us about how they rotated their crops. My favourite story of the day was of how they had started sending their pigs to the abattoir earlier, so they could adjust to their surroundings, after Fred had learned from a chef the importance of letting meat rest before serving it.
Although the dairy and the pig farm were different environments in many ways, what connected them in my mind was the love that we saw, whether it took the form of Ruth’s passionate ideals or Fred and Ingrid’s subdued, farmerly pride in their work and accomplishments. That, coupled with the ambitions they all had to improve on what they had built and challenge themselves, was what excited and inspired me about our trip.
Morgan – Garde Manger, Pure Spirits Oyster House & Grill
Hi Chef Tim,
As an aside, I wanted to thank you and Chef Michael for organizing this trip and driving us around.
Fred and Ingrid Martines, of Perth Pork Products, cultivated 100 acres of land, bought in 1979, and raise Tamworth and Berkshire herds in open pastures on natural feed. Although the farm is not certified organic, the herds are raised on principles of quality over quantity. The fields of wheat, corn and soy beautifully surround the pens and make for a picturesque farm, which vastly differs from the modern mechanics of factory farming. Fred and Ingrid’s care extends to the abattoir, where they purposefully bring the pigs two days before slaughter in order to reduce the stress on the pig and thereby yield a better product; a point which struck and stayed with me. The ideals of sustainable production, as I learned, are applicable to community programs, such as the collection of vegetable clippings from local restaurants (which the Martines then feed to the pigs, specifically the boars who really enjoy it), as well as the ability to refuse to lower prices and thus lower standards in order to appease some clients.
Ruth and Daniel of Monforte Dairy amazed me with their knowledge and passion, not only for quality cheese production, or for their incredible perseverance in an industry which values the middle man, low prices and bulk production, but mostly for their genuine regard of sustainability. This passion translates into amazing dishes served at their Monforte restaurant, located in scenic downtown Stratford, where we ate lunch. The cheeses, all made on the farm, were the delicious theme carrying through every dish, from the charcuterie board to a fluffy, light cheesecake.
It was an invaluable trip which encompassed the beauty of artisanal production. Can’t wait to try the the cheddar souvenir.
Sivan – Line Cook, El Catrin Destileria