Sunday, June 2, 2013

June: "Local" Food

Our government has now revised the official definition of local food to include any food produced in Ontario.  This change was driven by restaurateurs and others who found the 50 km definition too restrictive.  A Toronto cheese store could not list Upper Canada Cheese (made here in Jordan Station) as local, nor could a butcher in London say that organic chicken from Fenwood Farm near Ancaster was a local product.  The problem was especially difficult for farmers’ markets where farmers from further than 50 km. could not participate as a “local” producer.   In an age of quick and easy transportation, these restrictions may seem excessive and the media certainly featured many examples of food producers who were negatively affected.

We here in Niagara are perhaps less affected by such a restriction than other less fortunate spots.  Our market gardens produce a seasonal abundance, which can be found at any of the many farmers’ markets in our towns.  Fruit?  Of course.  Niagara is famous for the quality of our peaches and apples, pears, apricots, cherries, and grapes.  As one of the few locations in Canada that has a climate where tender fruit production is possible, we benefit not only from the delicious fruit that is available for our tables, but from the spectacular orchards and vineyards that are the backdrop of our region. 

As for drink, no one in Niagara has to travel 50 km. to get local wine, and the wine on offer is as good as anywhere in the world.  We even have two distilleries that most Niagara residents can get to in less than 50 km. for those who favour whisky, and my tippling contacts tell me that the quality of the rye whisky produced at both Forty Creek in Grimsby and Dillan’s in Beamsville, is world class.  Even local craft beer is available to us at Niagara College’s teaching brewery.  If you have not tried their small batch specialty beers, available only at the college and only in tiny quantities, you are missing a treat.  And two craft breweries have sprung up nearby along Niagara Stone Road:  Silversmith and Oast House… both producing delicious beer that makes them delightful additions to the wine tour.

Our artisans make excellent cheese, outstanding charcuterie, unique breads, and much, much more.  We are a region where “local” is hardly a restriction at all.  Of course, olive oil and citrus fruit are still out of reach (until global warming really gets rolling) so we will always have to go beyond our provincial borders for some of the things that make our meals enjoyable, but for those of us in Niagara, the semantics of local food are not awfully relevant.