Earlier this month I had the pleasure of attending the 2015 Grand Taste Tour put on by Taste Alberta and the 124 Grand Market team.
The Grand Taste Tour is an interactive, educational farm tour experience that celebrates and promotes local food grown and raised in central Alberta. A big aspect of the Grand Taste Tour is educating consumers on where their food comes from and to get a better understanding of the work that local farmers do in this province. The tour took place on a beautiful Sunday, and was split into two groups/buses – the Bee Bus and the Dairy Bus.
Each bus would visit Tofield Packers and Irvings Farm Fresh (and eat an eight-course al fresco meal prepared by Daniel Costa and Corso 32) but would start off at a different location – Bee Bus went to Wolf Willow Honey to learn more about local bees and honey, while the Dairy Bus went to Breevliet Dairy Farms to learn more about local cows and milk. It was a jam-packed day to say the least.
Your bus hosts for the 2015 Grand Taste Tour!
As a Gastropost Edmonton advisory member, I was invited to co-host/tour the Dairy Bus with my friend and Gastropost Community Manager Brittney (@britl). Friends Sharon (@sharonyeo), Mack (@mastermaq), Phil (@baconhound) and Robyn (@joyfulfollies) were in the Bee Bus, a.k.a. the bus that wasn’t as cool as the Dairy Bus. ;)
The Dairy Bus heading to Breevliet Dairy Farm!
Our bus had 30 people and kicked off the Grand Taste Tour at Breevliet Dairy Farms. Breevliet is located about an hour south east of Edmonton, just outside of Wetaskiwin, Alberta.
Welcome to Breevliet Dairy Farm near Wetaskiwin, Alberta.
Breevliet is a family-owned and operated dairy farm, where they milk about 500 cows, three times a day. Husband and wife duo John and Ingrid say they spread out the milking throughout the day (5 a.m., 1 p.m. and 9 p.m.) to help the cows feel more comfortable. It’s also healthier for the cow to spread it out across three milkings. Each cow puts out about 40 kilos of milk per day, and that milk is shipped out each day to different plants in Alberta where it gets processed and sold to Alberta (and Canada).
Breevliet actually has closer to 1,100 cows but the majority of them are younger cows that aren’t ready to be milked, or cows that are “on holiday” – unmilkable for about 2 months before they have calves. When we arrived at the farm, we saw a bunch of the soon-to-be mothers sitting in a field across from the main building, enjoying their “holiday.”
The high-tech milking floor at Breevliet.
We learned that Breevliet milk is taken for testing each day. the milk is tested for antibiotics, fat, protein, bacteria and cell count. It’s a pretty intense system – if any milk gets rejected then John and Ingrid don’t get paid for that shipment and they also get fined. Ingrid, John and the team can tell from a distance if something is wrong with a cow (that might then produce rejected milk), but their high-tech machines also show when there are deviations in amount of milk being produced, which might indicate the milk will get rejected. They also watch for swollen udders or discolored milk as signs that the milk may be rejected.
Their machine also does a pretty thorough cleanse / disinfect after each milk to avoid any kind of contamination too. While it’s an intense system, it is great to ensure the highest quality of milk is being given to Canadians.
This baby calf was just a half hour old! The cutest.
We saw a baby calf that had just been born a half hour before we got there, and there was this cool cow feed roomba-like robot that pushed food and beeped to alert the cows that food was there.
We also learned about Breevliet’s sustainability efforts – and their giant manure composting system that turns cow poop into a fine powder that is then used for cow bedding and fertilizer!
We also took our first felfies (farm selfies) of the day at Breevliet.
I was disappointed to learn that Ingrid and John don’t name their cows – though that is obviously, completely understandable since there are over 1,000 of them… still. Brittney says I live in a Disney world ;) I think since these cows stay with them (aren’t headed to the butchery) it would be nice to develop a name-basis relationships with them! lol.
Very personable cows.
All in all, our dairy tour at Breevliet was so interesting that it ran a little long, so we were running a bit late as we headed to our next stop: Tofield Packers located in Tofield, Alberta, about an hour south east of Edmonton (but a bit more north and more east than Wetaskiwin).
Stop #2: Tofield Packers in Tofield, Alberta.
Tofield Packers was highlighted on the Grand Taste Tour because Taste Alberta and 124 Grand Market wanted to show consumers what a local, smaller foot-print meat production plant looks like.
You can get fresh meat at Tofield Packers!
Tofield Packers has been operating for 20 years and delivers custom processing, slaughter, curing, and fresh meat sales. They can process just about anything it seems – your typical meats – beef and pork, but they also process buffalo, goats, aplaca, elk, and ostriches.
Dale showing us equipment in the kill floor at Tofield Packers.
While Ingrid and John at Breevliet were very detailed in their explanations, Dale at Tofield Packers was a bit more to-the-point. He gave a very no-nonsense, no-fluff tour showing us the kill floor (exactly what it sounds like), drip and aging coolers (filled with giant carcasses), and explaining that ‘Slaughter Day’ is Wednesdays.
Lots of meat at Tofield Packers!
Tofield Packers has no web or social media presence, but is doing just fine without it. You can come and get fresh meat (would make an easy weekend day trip) and say hello to Dale and his lovely wife.
The lovely husband and wife duo at Tofield Packers.
Our trip to Tofield Packers was very quick, but also very enlightening. I always consider myself on the borderline of becoming a vegetarian – I love meat so much, but if you showed me enough images/video (or real-life interactions) with animals that end up getting slaughtered and killed so I can eat them, I could see myself turning pretty quick. Still, I held it together at Tofield (there weren’t any animals waiting to be slaughtered when we went though, so that was helpful), but I also appreciated the reality of it all.
No sugar-coating it! But it’s also a humane process as well. That’s a big part of the tour – educating and showing us where our food comes from (how it comes to our plates) so we have a better understanding of that and so that we care – if there are foods that are coming to us in an inhumane way.
Nicola Irving showing us their Berkshire pigs.
Our last stop, and where we met up with our Bee Bus counterparts, was at Irvings Farm Fresh in Round Hill, Alberta, which is also about an hour south east of Edmonton (only a 20 minute drive from Tofield). Irvings is a family-run farm, home to a herd of free range Berkshire pigs. The pigs are raised outside year-round, and there’s a butcher shop located right on the farm.
Beautiful Berkshire pigs at Irvings Farm Fresh.
Irvings has become an extremely reputable, well-known name in the Edmonton pork scene. Many restaurants boast Irvings pork in their dish ingredients though interestingly, Nicola tells me she thinks some places are using the Irvings Farm name (because of the reputation it carries) when they aren’t actually stocking the pork. (That’s what happens when your farm gets so popular!) My personal favourite Irvings restaurant incarnations is the ‘bacon’ at Tzin, and the kakuni pork belly at XIX Nineteen!
Alan and Nicola toured us around their farm and we watched the Berkshire pigs playing, running, and rolling around in the dirt/mud (naturally, as pigs should). Here, I was also disappointed to learn that they don’t name their pigs either (like the cows at Breevliet), but this is more understandable, since the pigs head out to get butchered – you just can’t start growing a pet/name attachment.
Alan Irving talking about expanding the area for the pigs to roam/eat.
They have a lot of space to roam and the couple have further expansion plans in the works to make their farm/operation even bigger + better.
Taking photos of the piggies.
In the butcher shop, we got to take in a live butchery demonstration from Elyse Chatteron, who is a clasically-trained English butcher at Tofield Packers, who also works with Irvings. Elyse was fantastic and so knowledgeable. She’s so quick at butchering and makes it look effortless. She showed us how she breaks down several different pork cuts and was funny and engaging throughout the demo.
Elyse Chatterton and her awesome butchery demo.
She also gave us some insight into retail butchery – how it’s all about making the meat look pretty! Her job being a butcher for retail is to make the customer want to buy the product based on its looks – before it gets cooked. Pro tip: tying meat with string instantly beautifies it! ;) Also, you want to use a knife to cut through meat but a saw to cut through bone!
Our Grand Taste Tour wrapped up with the most incredible eight-course, outdoor late lunch from renowned chef Daniel Costa of Corso 32. My. God. Most of what I eat on any given day – I do quite like. But every once in awhile I’ll eat something that lights my face up, that I cannot stop forking in my mouth, and that I utter moans over. “Oh my god Brittney,” I said to Brittney (after letting out a food moan). “This is the kind of food that makes me love food. It’s so, so, so good.” That was basically me the entire meal.
Honestly, I think the meal pays for the cost of the entire Grand Taste Tour itself – forget about the awesome farm tours that come along with it.
I hope you can get a sense of how incredible this meal was, through the pictures below:
Course 1: Carrots, peas, turnips and beets.
Course 2: Pea and mint with goat ricotta crostini! (AMAZING!!)
Course 3: Porchetta.
Course 4: Refreshing tomatoes, cucumbers and bread.
Course 5: Delicious spring onion, pea shoot and whey risotto.
Course 6: Grilled pork loin with lemon.
Course 7: Parmigiano cheese with honey.
Course 8: Panna cotta, honey grappa and berries.
It was the perfect summer day spent touring and learning more about our local food and food producers, capped off by an incredible, bright, light, and delicious lunch out in the Alberta prairie countryside.
I cannot congratulate Kirsta Franke (of 124 Grand Market) and her team, along with Carrie Selin (of Taste Alberta) and her team enough, for putting together the loveliest event. I would do it again in a heartbeat. As I said, the value of the eight-course late lunch itself, would’ve been enough for the $90 ticket price, but you throw in the awesome, interactive and educational farm tours, and putting faces (both humans and animals) to food/dishes, then the value of the Grand Taste Tour is just unbeatable.
Applause for the 124 Grand Market & Taste Alberta team for putting on an amazing Grand Taste Tour!
Read Mack’s highlights from the tour too (featuring the Bee Bus’ trip to Wolf Willow Honey!)
Watch the 124 Grand Market website for information on next year’s Grand Taste Tour and be sure to get your tickets!!
Maybe I’ll be your tour guide too ;)