Last Saturday, we ate a lot of cheese. While this might not be any different than most days, it is notable because we also learned how to make cheese, how to make pasta, and how to make sausage. It was all at a one day conference called Eat Alberta.
The Eat Alberta conference was presented by Slow Food Edmonton, which is a convivium (hoity-toity word for chapter, I think) of Slow Food, an international movement that started in Italy in the late 1980s. According to their website, “Slow Food is a global, grassroots organization with supporters in 150 countries around the world who are linking the pleasure of good food with a commitment to their community and the environment.”
It is all about good food, local food, honest food. It is about everything that the big chains, whether they be grocery stores, mass-market producers, or chain restaurants, are not about. It is, pretty much, about how we have tried to live our lives in the past decade or so. But even though the ethos of Slow Food is very in tune with our philosophies, and we’ve known about Slow Food Edmonton for years, we never really paid much attention to the organization. We went to an event they host called Indulgence a couple of times; it is a great event that teams a local producer and a local restaurant to create a dish, then a BC winery pairs it with one of their offerings. So, for example, the chef at Red Ox makes something with Irving Farms pork belly and Blue Mountain winery pairs one of their wines with it. For about $60 or so (not sure what it is this year) attendees can sample 16-18 of these creations. A fun and filling night of some of the best food Edmonton has to offer, and good Canadian wines. That’s been our only Slow Food experience previously, and it was a damn good one – one we would return to, but last year we were out of town (can’t remember where) and this year we will be somewhere in the UK. But if you are going to be in Edmonton in mid-June, look into it.
The Eat Alberta conference had an opening keynote by the farmers at Sundog Organics, about how they quit their jobs and became farmers. There was a closing keynote Kevin Kossowan, a local food blogger, discussing his From Local Farms project. In between the keynotes, we learned how to make sausage with Allan Suddaby. It was very interesting, because it really wasn’t that hard. It was actually a lot of fun. Next session, Kathryn Joel of Get Cooking Edmonton taught us how to make pasta. Dan had tried making pasta once before, and it was a disaster. Again, not as difficult as we were expecting; like with sausage making, you just need someone to show you and then you practice.
Holly Gale from Smoky Valley Goat Cheese showed us how to make goat brie…well, she used cow’s milk but the principle is the same. This was a bit harder. Not as hard as you might think, but time consuming. She did a small batch, starting with 2 gallons of milk. When she does it in her shop, she does 60 gallons, it takes her 12 – 14 hours, and she does that 2 times a week. And she raises goats. And markets the cheese (literally, takes it to markets to sell…). We would say that Holly is the hardest working person we can imagine meeting, but that would discredit all the other amazing farmers and producers who work just as hard.
This event was exactly the kind of thing we wish had been going on for years! We’ve shopped at the farmers’ markets here since we moved here – Old Strathcona mostly, but in the past year have been having a really interesting time at City Market. We love the fresh produce, we love meeting the farmers, and we love supporting the local economy. As an example of just how we fit into this, our dinner when we got home was leftovers of something we had made a couple of nights earlier – stuffed peppers.
The peppers (bought from Doef’s at Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market) were stuffed with Irving Farms masala pork sausage meat, finely diced nantes carrots (from Helen at OSFM), quick cook Alberta barley (that we got delivered from Eat Local First), and West Country Herbs coriander. Except for the chicken stock the barley was cooked in (and maybe the spices in the sausage), it was all local, organic, fresh, and yummy. We also had some little tomatoes from Gull Valley. Good for us, good for the environment, and good for the Alberta economy.
Despite the fact that the Edmonton environment is really not meant for human habitation, farmers have managed to grow interesting and quality food. Yes, there are a lot of starchy root vegetables consumed in the winter (we’ve grown to love beets), but growers have adapted to grow some fantastic produce. Doef’s, Gull Valley, Peas on Earth…just a few examples of OSFM growers who seem to defy nature.
The Riverina area of New South Wales, Australia, is a much hotter climate (details on a future blog entry, but for now let’s just say that the 3 times a year that it gets frost is about 100 times less than Edmonton gets frost, but it is crucial to the wine production so we can live with it) but we wonder about how the local food scene will be. Wagga has a farmers’ market, but only once a month…we’re used to going to OSFM weekly, City Market maybe every second week in summer, and maybe occasionally another one mid-week for more fresh asparagus (only available from Edgar Farms for 6 weeks…eat it while it is fresh). Presumably other Riverina towns, like Junee, Lockhart, and Gundagai, will also have them, and if so we will just have to plan road trips for our food. We will definitely be looking into it, as the ethos of slow food (and, similarly ‘living local’) is crucial to our existence. At least we do know that the local Riverina wineries will be good; the fruit wineries in the Edmonton region…well, as mother always said, if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything.
Back to Slow Food…there are a few chapters (sorry, convivia) in Australia, but all the ones in New South Wales are near Sydney. For those in Edmonton, that would be like saying that all the ones in Alberta are south of Lethbridge. There is, however, one in Canberra, ACT. Canberra is the capital of Australia, ACT is the state (Australian Capital Territory); it stands alone, landlocked within NSW, about 150 km from Wagga. We have a feeling we will be frequent visitors there as it is the closest big city. We could join that convivium. But, chatting with a SF rep at Eat Alberta, we learned that you can start your own regional convivium, or university-based one. We are seriously thinking of doing this. It would be a great way to meet people..people who we would want to eat with!…and to get to know farmers, bakers, producers, chefs, and even just foodies like ourselves. And to contribute something to our new home.
So, the Eat Alberta conference was really a bittersweet final event…yes, final because we really don’t have much more time here…in that it was a celebration of some of the best that Alberta has to offer. But it was also an inspiration.