Thursday, March 31, 2011

Saskatchewan Food Industry Development Centre, Saskatoon

Developing value-added food products

When I talk to local food producers, many of them mention using the services of the Food Centre on the university campus for the initial development of their product. I was curious, so I contacted the Centre and Carmen Ly, the Communications Director, was kind enough to outline their services and give me a tour of the facility (complete with hair net, white coat and disposable slippers!).

Getting started
There’s a huge gap between making a great food product in your kitchen at home and starting to sell it commercially. The Saskatchewan Food Industry Development Centre was established in 1998 as a partnership between the Ministry of Agriculture, the Saskatchewan Food Processors Association and the University of Saskatchewan to provide one-stop, full-service assistance to food producers.

The Food Centre provides assistance in three key areas: product development, manufacturing and processing, and food safety. Since it opened, the Centre has helped to develop about 550 products, half of which were later test marketed. In 2010, the Centre assisted 13 clients to develop new products. An additional 25 companies used the Centre’s food processing facility.

Clients range from individual entrepreneurs who are just getting started, to established businesses that want to expand but require a federally-certified facility to export more widely (e.g. meat that is regulated), to a few large companies that require assistance with product development as they don’t have their own research and development department.

Product development
When an entrepreneur contacts the Food Centre for the first time, you are asked to fill out a prospective client form describing your product, outlining your business and marketing plans, and describing your competitors and your labelling plans. This assists you and the Centre to evaluate whether you are ready to start developing your product or if you need to do some more research.

Next, you’ll meet with a product development team to fine tune your recipe and to discuss any potential production issues. The Centre’s staff will also test your product for shelf life and food safety.

If the final formulation meets your expectations, the recipe will be scaled up and you’re ready to move into production.

The Centre can provide advice concerning packaging and labelling, and they can help you with the nutritional label.

Interim processing
The Food Centre has a state-of-the-art processing facility. Its many certifications, including HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points), FDA (Food and Drug Administration), CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) and organic, give processors access to worldwide markets.

The facility is designed to cater to many different sectors with large kettles for making jams and sauces, two large smokers/dehydrators, a bottle-filling line, and a labelling and packaging line. The Centre provides the equipment, the facility and a technician. The client provides ingredients, labels and boxes. And you arrange to have your product picked up and shipped out.

Food safety
Food safety is a key part of the Centre’s operations. They provide online training and workshops, conduct on-site visits to help clients who are experiencing a problem and pre-audits for clients who are HAACP-certified to identify any critical control points that may be lacking in their operations.

Looking ahead
The Food Centre plans to expand its market through the purchase of new technologies. They have recently purchased an extruder, the first of its kind in Saskatchewan, which mixes the ingredients, cooks them, and then spits them out in many different formats (e.g. puffy round balls for cereals or snack items, long, skinny pieces for pasta or small chunks for soy-based meatless products or pet food).

The Centre recently received $800,000 from the Government of Canada to purchase additional equipment. The Centre is targeting the fruit and pulse industries, so they are considering juicing and drying equipment, bar-forming machines and pouch-packaging equipment.

Upcoming workshops - fostering innovation
The Centre is offering two full-day workshops in Saskatoon (April 4) and Regina (April 12) on the programs and services that are available to foster innovation in the food industry. More detailed information and the registration form are available here.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Poached Breakfast Bistro

A relaxed atmosphere and comfort food that feels like an indulgence

The sun streams through the large front window, and there are white cloths and fresh flowers on the tables. The menu tempts me with poached eggs over asparagus or French toast with caramelized apples and pears.

Poached Breakfast Bistro at 259 Second Avenue South is an oasis of tranquillity and luxury in an otherwise workaday world.

“I’ve had some wonderful breakfasts when I was travelling,” explains Poached’s operator/owner, Chad Venne. “I wanted to create a relaxed atmosphere where people can enjoy comfort food that feels like an indulgence.”

Poached by day and Flint by night
The restaurant at 259 Second Avenue South has a split personality. Flint Saloon opened four years ago and offers a wide-ranging drinks menu, cheese and charcuterie plates. It is open from 4 pm to 2 am daily.

Poached Breakfast Bistro opened in July of 2010. It’s open from 8 am to 2 pm from Wednesday to Sunday.

Chad and Mark Gabruch, the owner of Flint, had talked about opening a breakfast bistro for a number of years, but the idea didn’t come to fruition until they had to open up the restaurant early one morning for a photo shoot.

They took a look around them and realized that it would be a great place to do breakfast. They discussed the menu and how they would organize the kitchen, and their plans were well underway by the time the photo shoot was over.

Sharing the space
Chad says that there are definite advantages to sharing the same location. They make good use of the space. Neither partner is on 24/7, and they’re not working in total isolation. “We play off each other,” says Chad, “even though we each have a different style.”

“We’re really one company with two different brands,” Chad explains.

The two restaurants have distinct personalities. The tablecloths and fresh flowers are replaced by larger, square table tops, funky candleholders and very different music when Flint moves in. And yet, the dual use of the space has encouraged customers to patronize both restaurants, which might not otherwise have been the case.

Eggs bennie and pecan-maple syrup bacon rollups
“We try to offer dishes that didn’t seem to be readily available in Saskatoon – things like poached eggs over asparagus,” says Chad.

My favourite dish on the menu is the French toast filled with caramelized pears and apples, brandy, maple syrup and brie. Chad says one of his favourite dishes is the eggs benedict: “The hollandaise sauce with dill and parsley is amazing.” He also recommends the breakfast plate with potato croquettes made in house, pecan-maple syrup bacon rollups, two eggs your way and salad fixings on the side.

Chad says that he likes to switch the menu around frequently. The spring menu will be lighter than the winter menu with some lunch-style offerings of sandwiches and salads. Chad is also hoping to identify more local suppliers and fine tune some of his offerings.

Massive learning experience
Chad grew up in Wakaw. After working in Calgary for a year, he moved to Saskatoon and took a travel and tourism course before working for WestJet for four years. He hadn’t worked in the food industry, but he loved food and restaurants.

“I felt I could do it,” Chad says. “It would be a massive learning experience, but that’s what I was craving.” The challenges have been offset by the satisfaction of knowing that the majority of people who come through the restaurant have very positive things to say about it.

Awesome employees
Chad says that he has a great staff. They get along well together and share the same idea of what they want to achieve.

“I’ve tried to adapt the WestJet management system,” Chad says. “It’s all about approachability. We’re working in a very confined space, so we need to resolve issues immediately.” Chad believes that there’s a way to be fair to everyone; the policies and procedures aren’t set in stone. For example, Chad gives staff a say in who they work with, in terms of both the schedule and new hires.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Flavourful Saskatoon, March 28, 2011

Foodie news and events in and around Saskatoon – recipes, plants, cider, quinoa and barbecues

Staying in touch
I’m attempting to stay on top of the Saskatoon food scene by following businesses on their blogs, Facebook, and/or Twitter.

Sweetsugarbean has a lovely blog full of recipes. I particularly appreciate this Saskatoon chef's sweet tooth. Be sure to check out the recipes for Pains au Chocolat and her Red Velvet Cupcakes with Dark Chocolate Ganache and Raspberry Cream Cheese Icing (with beets so this counts as eating your vegetables!).

If you’re a gardener, you’ll love Mistik Acres’ blog with stories of harvesting pussy willows and tips for growing leeks and chyrsanthemums.

The owners of Sushiro, just off Broadway, are renovating a nearby restaurant (I believe it’s Weczeria’s, which is moving to a bigger location right on Broadway) and turning it into a wine and tapas bar. You can follow their progress, including the making of limoncello, here.

If you are following Living Sky Winery on either Facebook or Twitter, you’ll know that they started selling their Three Day Dog hard cider at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market on March 26th. Don’t worry – they have 9,000 bottles, so there are still a few left.

What’s your favourite foodie blog or Facebook/Twitter account? Let me know, and I’ll share it.

Saskatchewan-grown quinoa
I visited the Saskatchewan Made Marketplace on 8th Street recently and was excited to discover the wide range of locally-grown products that are available. Of particular interest was organic golden quinoa from the Northern Quinoa Corporation, a specialty grain and food processing company located in Kamsack, Saskatchewan.

Quinoa originated in the Andes and is an excellent source of protein (12-18%). It also provides vegetarians with a balanced, complete set of amino acids (unusual for plant proteins). It’s a good source of fibre, phosphorous, magnesium and iron.
Quinoa is becoming much more popular in North America. Unfortunately, a recent article in the New York Times reports that this has had a very negative effect on South American countries, such as Bolivia, as the local people are exporting their crop and can no longer afford to eat it. Another good reason for eating locally.

Barbecues and container planting
I’ve been writing some articles for Fine Lifestyles Saskatoon and came across several interesting new products.

Shaughnessy Gardens (280 Valley Road) sells a wide range of planters. This year they’ll be offering peas, beans and even pumpkins in a pot. They also have a large vegetable garden and plan to grow red romaine lettuce, purple cauliflower, fennel and salsify. Send them an email if you would like to receive a weekly electronic newsletter.

Jacuzzi Premium Spas and Billiards not only sells barbecues, they also sell barbecue tools and spices from Steven Raichlen, the author of Barbecue Bible.

Flavourful Saskatoon is a weekly Monday feature. Email me if you have products, events or places that you would like me to include.

See Also:
     Flavourful Saskatoon, March 21, 2011
     Mistik Acres
     Living Sky Winery

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Petrofka Bridge Orchard

a Saskatchewan apple orchard:
collaborating with family, community and university researchers

Retirement and a new career
Retirement has been the start of a new and demanding adventure for Mike and Anne Noel. “We used to work 8 to 10 hours a days – now it’s 15,” says Mike, owner of Petrofka Bridge Orchard. His wife Anne smiles quietly and says, “Mike does it for love of the trees. I do it for love of Mike.”

Mike was a financial planner for many years. As he and Anne looked ahead to retirement, they purchased 50 acres of riverfront land overlooking Petrofka Bridge for their retirement home.

They had no thoughts of starting a business, but Mike has always loved trees, so he was interested when his neighbour started planting apple trees. “I used to go out on the property and trim the poplar trees. I might as well prune apple trees as old trees in the bush,” he decided. Petrofka Bridge Orchard was on its way.

Grower-managed test orchards
Mike’s neighbour put him in touch with Rick Sawatzky, a plant breeder technician with the University of Saskatchewan fruit program.

The fruit program provides farmers with root stock and basic instructions in pruning, grafting and setting up an orchard or berry farm. Then they turn it over to the farmers to develop their orchards and to assist the university in evaluating the yield and quality of the different varieties.

Mike developed his skills by helping out at the field lab, and the annual taste tests were instrumental in choosing his trees. He started planting 400 to 600 root stock every spring and grafting every fall.

The variety that first impressed Mike was Prairie Sensation. But the apples had only been grown under very controlled conditions. The real test would be in the orchard. “That’s the purpose of the Co-operators program,” explains Mike. “At the start, we really didn’t know how the apples would grow in different locations around Saskatchewan. We work with the university researchers and help them with their research.”

Establishing an orchard
Mike and Anne planted their first orchard of 1800 trees on river bottom land. Unfortunately, seven inches of rain in the fall of 2007 meant that the young trees didn’t have time to harden, and winter kill caused a major setback.

The next orchards were planted on east-facing sloping with the trees running north to south so they would all get the same amount of sun. You can plant up to 900 dwarf apple trees per acre, and despite being small in stature, the trees are good producers. Five-year old trees can produce 10 pounds of fruit, while mature, seven-year old trees produce 20 to 30 pounds. The trees are also very hardy, an important consideration in Saskatchewan.

Variety is the spice of life
The Noels grow a variety of different apples. They weren’t sure at first which ones would be successful on their land and variety improves pollination.

In my opinion, it also improves the product. Open a bag of their dehydrated apple slices, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised. First of all, the only preservative used is lemon juice, so there is no nasty chemical taste or smell. Secondly, the slices are from a mix of different apples. So the first slice may be tart, while the next is sweet.

Similarly, each jug of soft apple cider is unique. The flavour depends on the mix of apple varieties and on the timing. Cider that is made in October will be sweeter than the initial batches as the fruit will have had more time to ripen.

The Noels have recently started producing apple cider vinegar. Anne drinks some every day for its health benefits, but it’s also wonderful on vegetables and salads.

Bags of apples are available at the Orchard from mid- to late September. The concession is open from the second week of June to the end of October and sells neighbourhood produce, greenhouse tomatoes and cucumbers, and Anne’s apple pies and jam.

A family business
Starting a new business requires a huge investment of time and money. The Noels developed the process by preparing their first batch of cider at the Food Centre on campus. They then built and equipped their own facility. At the beginning, they used a small handmade family press. They are now harvesting 20-24,000 pounds of apples a year (including apples from their neighbour’s orchard) and have invested in a 20-ton press.

Mike and Anne have 4 children and 14 grandchildren, who lend a hand on the farm.

Mike has been encouraged to expand the business outside of Saskatchewan, but the couple have already dug into their retirement money and have yet to see a profit. “The step up to a commercial unit is a dangerous one,” says Mike. “We could start producing hard cider, but it would need a further financial investment, equipment, a tasting room, sales and marketing. We’re not going that route. We’re retired. We like having a small family business.”

Generosity and rural development
Mike has driven from one end of the province to the other to show people how to graft and is organizing an association of apple growers. The Noels are also strong supporters of Saskatchewan’s francophone community.

Mike delights in telling people that he is the “second little guy from Shawinigan.” He moved to Saskatchewan with the RCMP when he was 19, and he’s never left. Anne is from the francophone community of Ponteix, Saskatchewan.

Mike and Anne are participating in the Projet du Terroir sponsored by l’Institut francais, University of Regina, and l’Assemblee communautaire fransaskoise. Projet du Terroir is a rural development project that is designed to revitalize the agricultural sector, enhance community pride and slow or halt outward migration by creating jobs for young people and retirees. It is being tested in the region encompassing St. Isidore-de-Bellevue, St. Louis, Domremy, Hoey and Duck Lake.

The project is twinned with the district of Charlevoix, Quebec, which has successfully integrated tourism, agriculture and local cuisine. Business owners and community members from the two provinces have visited each other in order to share ideas. Mike visited an orchard and cider facility on l’Isle aux Coudres a few years ago, and this was the start of his apple cider vinegar. The Quebec group will be visiting Saskatchewan at the end of March, and Mike is looking forward to working with his Quebec colleague to develop cider vinegar blends. (interview on Radio Canada)

Anne and Mike don’t live in a francophone district, but they strongly believe that the development project could work well in any rural area in Saskatchewan.

Purchases
Some or all of Petrofka Bridge Orchard’s products can be found in Saskatoon at Bulk Cheese Warehouse, Dad’s Nutrition Centre, Little Market Store at the Farmers’ Market, and Souleio. In Lloydminster, they’re available at From Harvest to Home Market.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Flavourful Saskatoon, March 21, 2011

Foodie news and events in and around Saskatoon – from collard greens and hot cross buns to environmental films about coffee and bees

Spring Greens
I picked up fresh chard and collard greens from Goodlife Greenhouses at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market on Saturday. (They had fresh basil, radishes and lettuce as well.)

Collard greens are members of the cabbage family and a close relative of kale. They have a long, proud history as both the Greeks and the Romans cultivated and ate collard greens. Collard greens are also very popular in the southern United States.

Hot Cross Buns
Every spring, I look forward to hot cross buns – it must be part of my British heritage. I was afraid I’d miss out on them this year as I’ll be in Spain in April. However, they are already available! (photo credit and recipe)

Earthbound Bakery on 8th Street is currently selling hot cross buns on Fridays and Saturdays. In April, they will be available from Tuesday to Saturday. All the ingredients – from the currants and candied papaya and lemon peel, to the flour and spices – are organic. Yum!

Good Spirit Bakery, Saskatoon Farmers’ Market, sells great organic buns right before Easter. And Sonja Pasloski is my go-to source for light-as-air buns with icing sugar crosses (across from Wild Serendipity Foods at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market).

Saskatoon Food Bank
Did you know that you can donate online to the Saskatoon Food Bank? $20 buys enough formula to feed a baby for a week, while $130 will buy milk for 100 children and pregnant and nursing women.

Chef Kevin Dahlsjo
Congratulations to Kevin Dahlsjo of Prince Albert who will be competing again this year in the Saskatchewan Gold Medal Plates, a cooking competition that features the top 10 chefs in every province.

Environmental Film Festival
The Saskatchewan Eco Network is sponsoring the sixth annual Environmental Film Festival at the Roxy Theatre on 20th Street from April 1 to 3, 2011. (via SB – thank you!)

Strong Coffee (12 pm, Saturday, April 2 – 48 minutes) tells the story of Café Feminino, a women's organic coffee co-operative in Peru.

Vanishing of the Bees (12 pm, Sunday, April 3 – 90 minutes) explains why honey bees are disappearing and introduces some of the people who are trying to save them. Following the film, Barry Brown, University of Saskatchewan, will lead a short workshop on beekeeping.


Vanishing of the Bees - Trailer from Bee The Change on Vimeo.

Flavourful Saskatoon is a weekly Monday feature. Email me if you have products, events or places that you would like me to include.

See Also:
     Flavourful Saskatoon, March 14, 2011
     Earthbound Bakery
     Chef Kevin Dahlsjo

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Level Ground Trading Ltd.: Fair Trade Coffee

Quality Coffee: linking fair trade producers and consumers

Collective Coffee on 20th Street in Saskatoon serves various brands of high-quality coffee, including Level Ground Trading’s fair trade espresso, which has received a 90-point score from Coffee Review.

Josh Del Sol, Roastmaster and Quality Control for Level Ground recently visited Collective Coffee, and I had the opportunity to talk with him and participate in a cupping (coffee tasting) that he organized.

Level Ground Trading
Level Ground Trading was established in 1997 by four Canadian families who wanted to establish direct relationships with groups of small-scale farmers in developing countries and help them benefit socially, environmentally and economically from the trade relationship while at the same time offering consumers ethical choices.

Level Ground’s initial conversations were with a group of small-scale coffee farmers in Colombia who wanted to send their children to school. Level Ground began importing their coffee and established educational scholarships for their children. Over the next few years, the company’s operations spread to Bolivia and Peru and, in 2006, to Ethiopia and Tanzania.

The company also started importing dried fruit from the trees shading coffee plantations as well as Colombian cane sugar.

Level Ground products have been sold in Ten Thousand Villages stores across Canada from the very beginning, and Ten Thousand Villages continues to be Level Ground’s largest customer.

Quality and fair trade
By 2007, Level Ground was bursting at the seams. They needed more space, but they also needed new procedures. Costco had agreed to sell their coffee, but this meant they would have to establish a food safety system. The company also wanted to obtain organic certification for their production facility.

Joshua Del Sol had many years of experience producing and distributing organic food. His expertise was invaluable in helping Level Ground to establish quality control procedures that would take the company to the next level.

Josh’s first step was to develop the product line. He tweaked the roasts so that they changed with the seasons, and he introduced unique roasts for each country of origin.

Measuring quality
Josh’s next task was to measure and evaluate the quality of the coffee. Rigorous quality measurement has two benefits: the company can guarantee a quality product for consumers, and they can help producers to continually improve their crop, thereby increasing sales. “The company story sells the first bag of coffee, but future purchases will be based on taste,” says Josh. “If the quality isn’t in the cup, and if we aren’t roasting it well, we wouldn’t be able to keep buying and selling more.”

The farms: Ensuring the quality of the coffee begins in the farmers’ fields. Selective picking is particularly important as the berries don’t all ripen at the same rate. New plants are planted next to established plants so that they can benefit from the strong root network that has already been established.

Level Ground works with a large number of small-scale farmers (2,000 in Ethiopia alone), so they aren’t able to visit each individual farm. Instead, they visit the co-operative and a cross-section of the farmers.

For various reasons (cost, proximity to non-organic farms), not all the farms are certified organic. But all the farmers are encouraged to follow environmentally-sustainable practices.

As Jaime Vargas, a Colombian farmer explains, “If I apply those chemicals to my coffee, I’m the first victim and you’re the last.” Vargas makes compost to nourish his plants and uses the methane that it produces to provide electricity for his home.

The beans: The coffee beans are evaluated for size and number of defects. “I’m a bean counter,” explains Josh. “I dump them out and count the number of defects [e.g. insect damage, misshapen unripe beans, etc.] in a 350-gram sample.”

The taste: A regular cupping program to evaluate the taste of the coffee is the third stage in the quality control process. Owners and employees from each branch of the company participate in order to ensure that every demographic has a voice.

Linking producers and consumers
Level Ground reports the quality findings to the producer, indicating shortcomings so that there can be improvement. I tasted a very distinctive light roast coffee from the Philippines. The product is not yet on the market because it is failing its quality tests. But Level Ground continues to work with the farmers to help them so that one day they will be able to sell their product internationally to consumers who are looking for an ethically-produced, quality product.

Level Ground has been importing coffee from Tanzania for the past six years. In the first year, they imported one container (300 sacks or 18,000 kilos). Over the years, the quality of the coffee has improved dramatically, and the company expects to import at least six containers from Tanzania in 2011.

There are both direct and indirect benefits for the farmers. All the coffee in Tanzania is sorted by hand, so it creates work for the women, who receive access to health care for themselves and their families as part of their compensation package.

In addition, through matching funds from various partners, Level Ground was able to grow an initial anonymous donation of $2,000 into $8,000 – enough to build a maternity wing for Mbozi Mission Hospital.

In Colombia, coffee beans are decaffeinated before they are exported in order to provide additional economic benefits for the local people.

Purchases
Level Ground coffee is served and sold in a wide variety of stores, coffee shops and restaurants across Canada. A store locator is provided on the company’s website, although I noticed that it was not a complete list for Saskatoon.

Collective Coffee
Collective Coffee is now open from 8-5 from Tuesday to Friday, from 10-5 on Saturdays and Sundays, and closed on Mondays.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Flavourful Saskatoon, March 14, 2011

Foodie news and events in and around Saskatoon – vegetarian banquets, locally-roasted coffee and québecois beer

Museo Roasters
Jimmy, the owner of Museo Coffee at the Mendel Art Gallery, has started roasting coffee. If you’re interested in coffee, you’ll enjoy reading his blog. I found the article about coffee pricing particularly informative.

Locally Grown
Saskatchewan Agriculture, in partnership with the Nokomis Agricultural Society Inc., is presenting a one-day workshop to help producers respond to the demand for locally-grown food. The workshop will be held on Thursday, March 24, at the Watrous Curling Rink. Topics will include: Food Centre Programs and Resources, Developing an Entrepreneurial Skill Set, Financing and Farmers’ Markets. Pre-register before March 21 by calling (306) 946-3220. A more detailed agenda is available on Amy Jo Ehman’s blog, Home for Dinner.

St. Patrick’s Day
Boffins Club at Innovation Place will be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day on Thursday, March 17 with live entertainment provided by the Celtic band, Back of the Bus, starting at 4:30 pm. Food options include Pig ‘n Whistle and Beef and Guinness Stout Stew.

Vegetarian Banquets
Not one – but two –vegetarian banquets on Saturday, March 26.(via Multi-Faith Saskatoon).

The Hindu Society of Saskatchewan is celebrating the 25th anniversary of Saskatoon’s Hindu Temple with the release of a souvenir book and an elegant evening of Indian vegetarian cuisine and entertainment at TCU Place. For more information, contact Kumar Balachandran at 227-1142 or email hindusocietyofsaskatchewan@gmail.com.

The Avalokitesvara Buddhist Temple (2220 - 20th St. West) is hosting a Chinese-style eight-course meal at 6:30 pm. All the dishes are prepared with authentic vegetarian ingredients (no meat, fish, garlic, chive, egg); some dishes contain simulated meat products made from soybean. Email shum88@gmail.com or contact Doris or Simon Shum at 955-9288. The dinners are usually held monthly.

Québécois Beer and Cheese Fête
Cava Wines is hosting a Québécois Beer and Cheese Fête on Saturday, March 26 at 7 pm as a fundraiser for Victoria School.

Saskatoon Farmers’ Market
Congratulations and appreciation to Michele Zimmer of Wild Serendipity Foods who celebrated her fifth anniversary at the Market this past Saturday. You can follow Wild Serendipity Foods on Facebook.

Rosario Apostol is back with her delicious Phillipine enzomadas, a soft, fluffy bun that is often topped with grated cheese. I particularly enjoy the whole wheat and cranberry version.

Flavourful Saskatoon is a weekly Monday feature. Email me if you have products, events or places that you would like me to include.

Flavourful Saskatoon, March 7, 2011

Monday, March 7, 2011

Flavourful Saskatoon, March 7, 2011

Foodie news and events in and around Saskatoon – a carrotmob, lettuce, seeds and scotch

Mob with a Cause – Moka Coffee Bar
Carrotmob presents Save the Planet . . . Have a Coffee. Join your local “mob with a cause” on Saturday, March 12 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm as we swarm Moka Coffee Bar at 411-E Herold Court in Saskatoon. 20% of Moka’s daily revenue will go towards environmentally friendly upgrades. (via DE – thanks!)

Local Lettuce and Cucumbers
I was thrilled to be able to purchase local lettuce and cucumbers from Grandora Gardens at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market on Saturday. It may be bitterly cold, but spring is obviously just around the corner. Grandora Gardens also sells a wide variety of hot chile peppers.

Scotch Tasting
Souleio will be holding a Scotch tasting with wine educator Drayton Eldon Thomson on Saturday, March 19. The tasting will be accompanied by a selection of amuse bouches – from salad to dessert. Tickets are $50 if purchased before March 15. After that date, the cost will be $60.00 for Wine Mates members and $65 for non-members.

Seedy Saturday
Seedy Saturday, a seed exchange and eco-fair, will be held at E.D. Feehan High School (411 Avenue M North) on Saturday, March 12 from 11 am to 4 pm. There will be workshops on CETA: a deal to trade away food sovereignty (11:45), Soils (12:45), Urban Agriculture (1:45) and Seed Starting 101 (2:45). More information is available on CHEP’s website.

Flavour Country
I discovered Flavour Country, a local foodie blog, this week. Reviews of Museo and Collective Coffee are sure signs of a coffee aficionado. He also reviews Saba’s African Cuisine, a restaurant I’ve been intending to visit for ages.

Flavourful Saskatoon is a weekly Monday feature.
Email me if you have products, events or places that you would like me to include.

Flavourful Saskatoon, February 28, 2011

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Three Farmers Camelina Oil

Bringing a little bit of Saskatchewan to the rest of the country

Three farmers and a scientist
Colin, Dan and Ron are second and third-generation farmers near Midale in southeast Saskatchewan. They are innovative, entrepreneurial farmers who view farming as a way of life, not simply a job, so they are always looking for new approaches.

They heard mention of camelina seed, an ancient oil seed that used to be grown extensively in Europe. Camelina oil faded from view as it was replaced by other culinary oils, and its high levels of unsaturated fat worked against it as it could not be made into margarine.

In recent years, camelina sativa has been reintroduced as a biofuel because it is cheap and easy to grow. It’s drought resistant and cold tolerant. It can be planted in the spring or in the fall, and it has a short growing season so it will be ready to harvest in September even if we have a late spring. It doesn’t require pesticides or herbicides.

Culinary oil
Colin approached Ken Greer, a friend of his who is also a crop scientist, and asked him to take a closer look at camelina as a culinary oil rather than simply a biofuel. Ken and Colin analyzed the oil and discovered that it was rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and vitamin E. In addition, it was very stable and had a much longer shelf life than other cold-pressed, high omega-3 oils.

Camelina didn’t congeal when it was cold so it was perfect for marinades, but it could also be heated to high temperatures so it was useful for frying and baking.

Unfortunately, camelina had never been consumed as a food in Canada, so Three Farmers had to put together a novel foods application for Health Canada. Despite what people had said, the application process was time consuming but not all that difficult. Colin’s wife, who is also a scientist, compiled the research and the historical information, and the oil received food status in January 2010.

Enriching the Saskatchewan economy
All too frequently, Saskatchewan farmers export their harvests to another jurisdiction to be processed. Three Farmers wanted to add value to the provincial economy by processing the seed and exporting it as a finished product.

They looked at various uses that would highlight the oil’s characteristics – nutraceuticals, skin care, food – and decided to export it as a culinary oil.

The next step was to identify their target audience. They decided to sell their product through farmers’ markets and independent specialty stores because this would be the best way to reach people who enjoy good food, who care about where their food comes from, and who are trying to reduce their environmental footprint.

Where does this oil come from?
More and more consumers want to know where their food came from and who produced it. Three Farmers is trying to strengthen the link between farmers and consumers by making it easy for us to find out where our oil comes from. Each bottle of oil has a product code. Enter that code on the company’s website, and you’ll learn the name of the farmer who grew the camelina, their GPS location and the growing conditions when that batch of seed was grown.

The company is adding a QR barcode to the bottles which consumers can scan with their smart phones to immediately obtain the background information on their purchase.

This is new technology, and the company is proceeding by trial and error as they work out how to apply the QR code on a curved surface and how to ensure that the image is large enough to be easily read by BlackBerrys as well as iPhones.

Marketing a brand-new product
Natasha is a farmer’s daughter. She started working for Three Farmers in June 2009, and her degree in Economics has been extremely useful as she identified ways to profitably market the oil.

The company decided to market the oil themselves via trade shows and individual sales rather than relying on a distributor.

Three Farmers has a limited budget, so they are starting in Ontario as they attended a trade show there last December and have already had some favourable press coverage. Plus, Natasha has family in Ontario so she can reduce her expenses by staying with them.

And then Natasha will start going from door to door. “The great thing about specialty stores is that you can walk in and actually talk to someone. You couldn’t do that with the big supermarket chains,” she says.

Three Farmers has also identified a courier company that can be relied on to make small deliveries to a number of different stores. Another company will organize tastings, just like the ones in liquor stores.

Future plans
Three Farmers is looking forward to strengthening their company. They have obtained their own oil press, so they’ll be pressing their own oil in the future. They are also working with the Food Centre on campus to extend their line. By late spring 2011, we should be able to enjoy Three Farmers basil pesto and roasted red pepper lentil dip, and they’re also working on a camelina hummus.

I asked Natasha if they were able to find a use for the meal which is left over after they have extracted the oil. She said that they would have liked to be able to sell it as animal food, but the approval process was far too expensive and complicated as it would involve testing and feeding trials. They are currently donating the meal to universities for research studies.

Purchase Three Farmers oil:
     Saskatoon – Bulk Cheese Foods, Souleio, Saskatoon Farmers’ Market, Cava   Cuisine
     Regina – Italian Star Deli
     Estevan – Nutter’s Bulk and Natural Foods
     Online