Friday, December 3, 2010

December: It was a very good year

It seems to be a common theme in the media at this time of year to look back at the past year as though to sum it all up and package it away for the history books. We at Slow Food Pelham have compiled our own list of highlights for 2010. Looking back over the year helps to bring into perspective how busy we have been as a group; it has been a very active year under the guidance of our indefatigable leader, Renée Girard.

Pelham Slow Food has meetings like any other organized group, but at our meetings, “business” is conducted informally and in about fifteen minutes; then we get down to the real purpose of our gatherings: eating, drinking, and conversing with friends. To give each meeting a focus, we decide on a theme for the food and drink, and everyone prepares a dish to share. It’s potluck with an international flavour. This year’s meeting themes were Scandinavian, Spanish, and Tex-Mex, and members outdid themselves with creative, delicious, and imaginative dishes that reflected the cuisine of each location.

In April, we gathered at Alvento Winery in Vineland where Bruno and Elyane Moos hosted an evening of matching Alvento wines to cassoulet. This is the second cassoulet evening held by Slow Food Pelham, and it reflects my enthusiasm for a dish that seems to me to embody all the principles of Slow Food. It uses exclusively ingredients that were local to the area where it originated (the southwest of France, specifically the town of Castelnaudary)… and it’s possible to make it from ingredients local to Pelham. It requires lots of time and care in its preparation (the very antithesis of Fast Food), and is best when prepared in large quantity, so should be consumed with a gathering of friends. In this instance, Bruno and Elyane turned over their tasting room for the event, and beautifully matched their big, flavourful red wines to the weight of the beans, duck confit, and pork that are the essential ingredients of cassoulet. It was a perfect meal for the end of winter.

In June, Renée organized an exclusive visit to one of Niagara’s most celebrated wineries, le Clos Jordanne. There, winemaker Sebastien Jacquey led an informative and delicious tour and tasting of the winery’s small batch production, emphasizing the importance of “terroir”… the unique flavours and characteristics imparted to the wine by the specific location of the vineyard. Our tour was not long after the winery’s chardonnay had shocked the world of wine criticism by being the consensus winner of a blind tasting in Montreal that put it up against the very best of France, California, and Australia.

July brought another winery tour and tasting, as Slow Food Pelham attempts to work its way through tastings at every Niagara wine producer! This time, we ventured out to Niagara on the Lake to Southbrook Vineyards, and their unique and impressive winery on Niagara Stone Road… a structure that has recently been awarded the SAB Award for its sustainable design, architectural excellence, and technical innovation. Just as impressive were the wines that we tasted, produced from organic and biodynamic vines.

In September, we once again produced our flagship event, the Featherstone Lamb Roast. Dave Johnson and Louise Engel turned over to us their gorgeous wraparound verandah at Featherstone Winery on Victoria Avenue, and provided one of their vine leaf-fed lambs to be spit-roasted over coals of vine cuttings and charcoal. Salads, vegetables, and desserts were created by members of Slow Food Pelham, and Featherstone 2007 Merlot was a perfect accompaniment to a superb meal. This event, too, is a perfect example of what the Slow Food Movement is all about: local produce, creatively and painstakingly prepared, and enjoyed in convivial company. As several people remarked, the thirty or so diners gathered around the long table on Featherstone’s verandah overlooking the vineyards could easily have been in Tuscany or Provence.

In October, the members of Slow Food Pelham gathered at About Thyme Bistro in Vineland for a meal of local delicacies prepared by chef Ryan Shapiro. Ryan introduced each of the four courses, and detailed his innovative method of “sous vide” cooking that produces the tender and flavourful duck confit which was featured in the main course.

Finally, in December we celebrated Terre Madre Day on the 10th by gathering for one of our “meetings” and sampling a spectacular array of finger foods created by our members. Terre Madre is a day specified by Slow Food to put into practice the principles of the movement and for the more than 100,000 members across the world to join together in a single day of celebrating food, those who produce it, and those who try to preserve food traditions and traditional foods.