Thursday, June 25, 2009

Celebrating St-Jean with Quebec Food

This St-Jean we spent a lazy--and hot--day at home. I enjoyed some time in my garden. I also headed down to Atwater Market to pick up some yummies to enjoy with friends later in the day. My main stop was Fromagerie Atwater. They have a great selection of cheese, beers and local charcuterie products, as well as a helpful and knowledgeable staff.

The last few times I've visited, I've been eyeing their selection of organic "bâtons" from Fou du Cochon, an artisinal sausage-maker in Kamouraska. The bâtons look like pepperettes, and are all organic, low salt and made without nitrates. This time I indulged. Being a bit of a spice freak, I chose the "bâton piquante." Although my dining partners found it a bit greasy, we all agreed that it had just the right amount of chew and a fabulous flavour. None of us found it exceptionally fiery, however it was subtly spicy and worked beautifully sliced thinly on a piece of baguette. A little went a long way. The bâtons don't require refrigeration, and I plan on picking up a few next time I go canoe camping or backpacking!

Of course, being in a cheese shop, I couldn't leave without a piece of cheese. I asked for a firm Quebec cheese with a strong flavour, and was offered a taste of "Alfred, Le Fermier," a raw-milk, washed-rind organic cheese from the Charlevoix region (Fromagerie La Station de Compton). One bite and my taste buds were doing the happy dance. Alfred, Le Fermier is produced with milk from a single herd and ripened over eight months. It is described by the producer as having a flowery and nutty flavour. I found it less nutty and more earthy.

My shopping trip was rounded out with a trip through their truly diverse beer section. I almost always come away with at least one beer I've never tried before. This time it was La Blanche à L'Absinthe, a absinthe white beer brewed by Le Micro du Lièvre in Mont Laurier. This is definitely a summer sipping beer! The absinthe herbs give it slightly bitter and lemony taste. Also, it may have been the hot day, but I found the alcohol really going to my head quite quickly with this brew. I found it paired really nicely with the cheese, sausage and bread.

We rounded off our backyard picnic with local strawberries, which are just starting to arrive in the markets. They were red, sweet and succulent. I haven't found any one grower at Atwater market to have consistently better strawberries than another, but do ask if the strawberries are indeed from their own (or a neighbour's) farm.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Local Farmer's Markets

The summer solstice not only heralds the official start to the summer, but also the start of local market season. I have fond memories of markets from my childhood visits to relatives in England. Market day was always a big deal. It was the day my grandparents would go into town to pick up their groceries--fresh from the farmer's stall--and other household supplies.

The region around Montreal is not without its versions of 'market towns,' or perhaps towns with markets. Here are a few I've come across. I haven't visited them all, so please take this only as a listing, not an endorsement. If you're familiar with any of these markets, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Or, did I miss one? If so, let me know!

Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue Market
Featuring about a dozen local growers and producers, the market takes place along the waterfront boardwalk every Saturday between 9am and 2pm from the end of May until the beginning of October. During the winter the market moves indoors to Ste- Georges church and is on a monthly schedule.

Finnegan's Market, Hudson
Well known to antique hunters and day-trippers alike, Finnegan's offers a wide variety of food merchandise, including produce, flowers, hand-crafted items and more. It's open Saturdays from 9am to 4pm just north of Hudson village off main street.

Alexandria Market, Ontario
A favourite of good friends of mine! Open 9am to 2pm every Saturday from June to October, this market located at Island Park in Alexandria features about 15 local farmers and producers from Eastern Ontario.

Marché public de Salaberry-de-Valleyfield
Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 8am to 1pm in the centre of Valleyfield, this local market brings together small farmers and producers from across this rich agricultural region.

Marché public du Vieux-Saint-Jean
One of the oldest markets, the Marché publique du Saint-Jean has been running for over 150 years. It's open Wednesday and Saturday mornings over the summer and hosts about a dozen local producers. During July and August, they sometimes have artists and performers.

Marché du terroir d'Oka
Every Saturday from 9:30 am until 1pm starting mid-July in front of the Oka Abby.

L'Autre Marché (Rosemere)
Held weekly from mid-June to mid-October in the parking lot in front of the Rosemere municipal library.

Marché de la Gare de Ste-Therese
A community market held every Friday and Saturday at the Ste-Therese train station starting the end of June.

Marché Val David
A personal favourite of mine! Held every Saturday from 9am to 1pm in the centre of the town of Val David, this bustling market features over 50 local producers, including cheese-makers, bakeries, farms, coffee roasters, cider-producers, artisans and more. There are also cooking demonstrations and hot food vendors. The summer market is weekly starting mid-June. In October it moves indoors and switches to a monthly schedule.

Marché Mont Tremblant
This one starts a little later than most other markets, possibly because it caters more to tourists in the region. It kicks off the first Saturday in July opposite the BMR in Mont-Tremblant village and goes until September. About 30 local producers participate, as well as local restaurants who sometimes give cooking demonstrations.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Mainstream Media Madness on Sustainable Food

The past few days have seen such a fabulous mix of really good food articles in the mainstream media, I feel I have little choice but to round them all up here (if only for my own sanity).

Fish and Seafood
Last week, the Vancouver Sun told us we "can and should eat fish." The article highlights Vancouver Aquarium seafood conservation program, Oceanwise, that rates local partners and restaurants on how sustainable their seafood choices are.

Closer to home, Monique Beaudoin at The Gazette checked out her local Provigo grocery store with Beth Hunter from Greenpeace Canada. The pickings were slim, but not impossible. Her associated blog post offers some tips to help you make sustainable seafood choices, as well as a YouTube video, FishVision Glasses.

Over at the New York Times, well-known food writer Mark Bitten explains why putting fish on the dinner table isn't as simple as it used to be, and shares some of his own dilemmas around buying fish. This article was one of my favourites this week. An associated post on his blog offers a link to the trailer for the documentary End of the Line, released earlier this week in the United kingdom, as well as a clip of Bittman in a radio interview on "The Takeaway"

Battle Against Big Agriculture
On Wednesday, the Life section of the print edition of the Globe and Mail offered its take on the documentary film Food, Inc., which arrives in Montreal and Toronto on June 19th. It also has a practical Q&A with Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, about eating well, eating organic and eating local. The section also features a review of Quebec artisan cheese Blue Haze. I know what I'll be picking up at the cheese shop very soon!

Eating Local
How does locally-made pasta from locally-grown heritage grains sound? It sounded good enough for the Globe and Mail to include a story about it on Monday.

Montreal is not without local awesomeness as well. Stéphanie Bérubé at La Presse offers us 10 québecois products that local locavores should check out, from organic sausages to cider and miso and mushrooms. She follows this up with a list of 10 things a local gourmand must (absolutely) do (soon). I agree!

Phew! That's a lot for a few days. There were even more stories and articles that passed across my desk and twitter this week. I suspect a lot of the media madness has been due to World Ocean's Day on Monday as well as all the media work that is being done around the wider release of Food, Inc next week. Whatever the cause, it's been a busy week!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Strolling Plaza St-Hubert

I always love a stroll through Plaza St-Hubert: the stretch of St-Hubert street between Jean-Talon and Bellechasse. There seems to be a little something for everyone on this street. Whether you're looking for jewellery or junk, fashion or fabric, electronics or furniture, food or entertainment, you can probably find it somewhere in this covered strip.

When I'm shopping in the area, there are a few food places that I like to drop in on. They also happen to be close by each other and the Beaubien metro!

If you're not looking for it, you might miss Les Delires du Terroir (6406 St-Hubert), a tiny shop that specialises in local microbrewery beers and Quebec products. From its tasteful interiour explore fragrant honey from Iles de la Madelaine, wild spiced mustard made in Rawdon, or jams and jellies from the townships. Everything is the store is made by small producers and a lot of the products are seasonal. Not sure what you're looking for? Ask for a suggestion. The owners are happy to help you select a beer to match your taste, or pair it with a cheese or other local product.

Tucked away almost right next door, La Queue du Cochon (6400 St-Hubert) is an artisinale butcher that carries local and organic meat choices, including suasages. It also does sandwiches and prepared meals.

A little bit further south is Pousse l'Ananas (6346 St-Hubert), a produce store with green dreams. Plentifully mixed in among the standard fruiterie fare, you'll find local, seasonal fruits and vegetables (when available), meats from La Ferme Valens in Huntington, and a selection of organic and fair trade goodies. As well, Styrofoam trays often used to wrap up meats and produce are eschewed here in favour of an environmentally-friendlier version that take only three years to degrade in a typical landfill (as opposed to a few hundred years for standard Styrofoam!). Prices are very reasonable. Bring your own bag!

Finally, F Café (6323 St-Hubert) is a colourful cooperatively run coffee shop and boutique run by Compagnie F, which helps women entrepreneurs. Sit down and check you email over their free wifi while enjoying a quick bite and a cup of fair trade coffee. The café also doubles as the resource centre for Compagnie F.

Every time I go to the area I seem to discover a new hidden gem. If you know if one I've missed, I'd love to hear about it!