October 8, 2012

the passion according to Mathieu...Gosselin

A great many things contradict common sense or any sense. Two come to mind as I was driving to visit Mathieu Gosselin in Rigaud from Montreal. Organic heroin or cocaine...something pretty disturbing if ever it comes to be and animals raised without ever having seen and felt our great powerful sun...something even more disturbing since it is very common.

Guinea fowl is one of those victims. The scenario is simple. A bird with wild and strict hierarchical instincts stuffed into tiny boxes for its entire life. That is what the industrial chicken farmer becoming guinea fowl farmer does. That is the fate of probably all guinea fowls raised in Quebec. Plume des Champs is the exception and the scenario is also simple; they are the only ones (for now) raising free range guinea fowl in Quebec. Gosselin and his three associates created a 5 acre space (soon to become 10), dug a fence a few feet underground which the coyote, the fox and any predator cannot dig and penetrate, and a 'roof' of netting 6-7 feet high (so that the fowl can fly but the air borne predators cannot dive and kill). Standing with the shy guinea fowl and Mathieu describing in detail their habits and nature, I knew that this was another ally of artisans, of education and of the love of all things beautiful.

Arguments that guinea fowls run around too much and therefore become too tough also fail. Gosselin's guinea fowls are juicy, tasty even without sous-vide cooking. And standing in the field with his birds I can testify that they do not cease to move. Serving them at Renard Artisan Bistro and having eaten a few myself I can say that the too much movement argument is false. Period. Plume des Champs are the first that I have seen with this type of elevage, which is extremely sane, but worrisome because they are still in our day of online information and imagery of the rare few. Why? Well there is no doubt that information is extremely abundant...so? are we cheap? do we not give a shit? are we selfish? are we stupid? are we fucked? You decide.

July 3, 2012

our Nordic fruit's return. Sherrington Quebec.

Driving into southern Quebec, off highway 15 towards Sherrington I was debating whether rhubarb was a fruit or a vegetable. After having pushed Renard artisan bistro experiment into the limits of local food, the Nordic winter was a little difficult. We relied mostly on a few preserves, apples and pears. It was easy to abandon olive oil, but fresh fruit?

Down intensely straight rows of lettuce on the dead end rang St-Joseph I was more than excited to begin working with the first fruits of summer. I pulled into the driveway, stepped out and found myself staring in a sort of chaotically organized mixture of gardens, fruit trees, bushes, weeds, post asparagus cloud like beige cotton candy , dog house, farm tools, children's toys, a shed, a goji berry bush? After all those long perfect rows of lettuce this seemed definitely wild, or part of something else. All these 21 arpents I am staring at are part of Les Champs Fruites experiment begun by Valerie Leclair in 2003. We walk through her land as she shows me her cassis, gooseberries, red lake currants, pink champagne currants, ground cherries, Boyne raspberries (juicy soft, the kind you will probably never find in a supermarket), autumn raspberries, toka prunes, mont-royal prunes, Reine Claude prunes, Saskatoon berries, Trappist and Isaac varietals, big late, Juliette and Romeo cherries, blackberries, black raspberries, a few pear varietals, and the camerise a truly boreal tear drop shaped blueberry like fruit that she is testing. I could not help feeling that this compact quiet place was becoming a sort of history of our northern fruits.

Valery's father explains to me that most of the farms in the region had to become larger with a bigger production in order to survive, essentially because of big supermarket's pressure on increased production and lower prices (the frightful modern feudal horn). Farmer's have very few choices, and Valerie's choice is of the micro type kept alive by farmer's markets in cities, the one I would say most sane, honest and sustainable.

She bought two bee hives in 2011 to aid the pollination of her land, and she talked about a sort of asparagus honey which had me immediately thinking about potential dishes....I thought, of course, that is why we have no choice to love our artisans. Playful, intense, chaotic, curious, eternal...a place of real tradition always becoming.

April 23, 2012

the magical mysterious land of maple

Standing in the silence of a maple forest near Bonsecour Quebec I was expecting to hear the sap flowing, groaning, dripping....nothing; just a soft wind through the tree tops and barely visible shoots. It is strange and magical that so few trees have this characteristic, next in popularity being the birch. A Northern thing I suppose. I was also surprised that Quebec accounts for 75% of world production with almost 25 million liters a year, with the rest of Canada adding another 5% to that figure. That's a lot of fucking syrup man.

Before the winter maple trees will store starch in the roots and trunks which will convert to sugar in the spring. This sap, the stored energy of the maple will start flowing when temperatures rise above 0 degrees Celsius, or when an intense sun heats the bark exciting that half of the tree to flow while the shaded side remains dormant. The buckets we all remember hanging from a tree below a spout burrowed in the trunk have largely been abandoned, replaced by a long system of surreal tubes which are hung around the forest leading to a central shack where the maple water is collected. From there another long journey to a separation bin or a concentrateur of the brut water by osmosis, which is then sent to an evaporateur, which concentrates the syrup, and for some less industrial businesses with send the syrup to a finisseur which heats the syrup on a flat bed, evenly, timely. And Les Sucreries d'Or's organic maple syrup definitely taught me again the important lesson, it takes time, and a lot of it to get there.  Then comes the classification, different everywhere, and in Quebec is divided into two classes No.1 and No.2 and with 5 colour classes in each. The tastiest and most complex I think is the extra claire No.1, also the rarest and least affected by bacteria.

According to the Federation des producteurs acericoles du Quebec 20% of erablieres are organic on the French site, translated into English it reads that only 12% are organic...don't know how that got mistranslated, or which figure is the right one, but one thing is for certain is that we'll be enjoying our organic maple syrup at Renard artisan bistro for some time to come, maybe even in our homemade bread.

March 27, 2012

In Organic We Trust

Organic definitely means a lot of things. Someone recently told me that it was a return to the essence, the way things were meant to be. Someone else was explaining how it was the path to real health. Indeed for some organic is almost Edenic or paleolithic or pure. On a more or less lucid day I think that organic is really post caveman, post biblical, post industrial and pushed a little further post Fritz Haber. It is exactly the pressure point which counters the immense, insane expansion of use of ammonia synthesis, the overuse of pesticides, growth hormones and liquid shit. Organic is about time. Relatively it takes an 'organic product' much more time to grow that an 'industrial super pumped enriched' one, sometimes by a third. This of course means more feed, more rented space, and probably more expensive. But it also mean as many studies have proven more mineral complexity, more molajuja in organic products etc....I will leave that to them to test and describe.

What is fundamental for me in organic is sincerity and transparency.

What it should not be is lies and abuse and hidden practices.

In 2001 Picardier farm sold their milk quota, and in 2003 became organic. Not a difficult certification because the farm has more or less been matter of fact in their practices. And they are very matter of fact; ready to give figures, costs, percentages, let us say down to earth, calculating, with probably one of the tastiest, juiciest chicken I have ever roasted...to be continued...again and again pure and simple.....Renard artisan bistro

February 13, 2012

very far from the Potemkin place of things

I once visited a farm, was shown around by the owner who explained to me that his farm was in essence organic, but he did not believe in being certified because it was such an additional useless cost, because of course one (being me or any other) could see and understand that being a farmer already was difficult and with so little revenue and tight margin, why bother I was told again and again that it was clear that his farm was...sane...good for my health, good for humanity. Until walking around some storage space to get to the butcher room I see quite a few cardboard boxes with Cargill printed on them, and also fertilizer and feed bags that were far from anything considered organic. Not to mention that he talked of every other surrounding farm as cheating and lying to their clients, not very neighbourly to say the least . We continued the tour, he piled gifts of meat and charcuterie on us with the hope of doing future business. Never called him, never will.

I must admit that at the beginning I was charmed, nodding my head as if I understood, or was in the process of trying to understand, gullible and believing. Immediate kindness and attention is something we all have a weakness for. But upon leaving the farm, and actually visiting the surround farms I realized that the whole thing was something of a Potemkin experience, lied to, bullshitted to, convinced of something that was otherwise, rimmed with false information...a Glengarry Glenross situation. I was sold something that was not quite.... Exactly what each of us hates about the 'world' and 'humanity', the elusiveness of all the dark themes, each thing that each of us hides....all this was intensified at that farm. In short, the uncomfortable feeling of being in the echo of corruption.

And years later I find myself at Ferme Morgan in the dead of Quebec winter. Chickens pecking at my boots, stepping in duck crap, and petting boars. I began to think that all these animals, guinea fowl, ducks, cows, would become meatcycles as cold as it was. No. You notice how animals huddle, create a space, and leaning against a cow I realized how warm it was, how comforting. They did not have to be confined, as some would have you believe. We just showed up in Weir, along an icy road and were invited to go wander where we wanted. No one followed us, no one explaining what was there. I then understood the modern importance of what transparency means. It is not what someone says, not the print, not the advertising, but the open backroom, the figures, the silence of truth. Back at the 'boutique' we talked to Joel, one of the 10 new owners of Ferme Morgan.

Ferme Morgan was the 1000 acre project of John Bastian, a German businessman who had a vision of an organic farm. Certified organic 300 acres of farmland and 700 acres of forest. A good balance. Duck, guinea fowl, chickens, cows, wild boar, veggies. Pretty incredible. And then the sale. I cannot explain his real reasons for transferring, but suffice it to say that 22 months into it, the 10 new owners of various ages, experiences and backgrounds run the farm now and care for its original vision. Most live on it, work on it, including even an organic bakery. It almost sounds ideal, monastic, and self sufficient. But there are, I am told, the realities of no real government subsidies for organic farming (that all conventional farms get--read consumer taxes that pay anyway to have lower prices, a white lie?). Joel explains that the reasons are the heavy lobbies behind the government that block recognizing organic as something legitimate. I nod. Lobby of chemical fertilizers giants, lobby of....the lobby of the great Potemkin global village giants who insist on selling us something not quite what it is....and visiting ferme Morgan was just that reminder that there still exist people who are honest enough to be transparent. Would it really be crazy to say that 85% of the world, of us, of humans have something to hide, and would not like transparent policy?...... and yet we all demand it of others...while thinking up ways of closing the deal. (note: being certified organic costs about 1300$ to 1500$ a year depending on the products you sell and the size of your farm, so the excuse is already rather limp not to be so...) And as I have always said, to have the assurance of an organization which closely follows the rules is the closest thing that Quebec and Canada for the moment have to an AOC. Ferme Morgan, a great place that Renard Artisan Bistro is proud to know and support.

January 7, 2012

Jan 7th, 2012. St-Tite, minus the Rodeo

I am almost certain that not only will we see in the average Quebec town a Notre Dame street, a church, a makeshift post office, a huge cross at some intersection, and a sign for poutine, but also a microbrewery. That may take a little time, but I swear it's coming. St-Tite is a relative new comer with a solid repertoire of 10 or so beers which rotate seasonally.

The town of Saint-Tite is now mostly known for its insane Rodeo which hosts about 700,000 people in 10 days. Quite something for a small town of around 4000. It is said that this festival was pushed in the late sixties to promote the leather industry, of which Saint-Tite is an important producer. Who knows. But now through the long stretch of forest past Shawinigan, soon a million will pass....

Saint-Tite (Titus), was originally the companion of Saint-Paul. Died in the year 107. And with so many Saint towns in Quebec, who knows why Tite was chosen.

Saint-Tite is known to me for its microbrewery A La Fut. In serious need of beer for Renard Artisan Bistro, with a somewhat crappy snow storm out, my kind of yoga. It is in their brewing room in the beginning of snow storm January that I find myself learning about the beauty of making beer. The smell and warmth of malted barley is strong in the room. Right above my head is a vat of their stout boiling (for 1.30 hours approx.), to which Mathieu, one of the 6 owners of this Co-op ads a mere handful of hops which controls the foam. After this process he explains they then centrifuge the mass to rid of all coagulated solids (much as clarification of a beef stock), then the liquid is chilled and fermented. As passion usual carries, there are may other details and steps that are explained, but after my long drive through the snow storm from Montreal, hunger was distracting me, as to be expected.

To be expected, although a pub menu, most of the ingredients are local, even organic. A goal the brewery would one day like to reach also, although even if much of their grains come from Mauricie, some organic, some not, there are some from England as well as Czechoslovakia. This being more a problem of internal politics and stability in product, than a complete lack of it. Those with persistence and will! (and a little money) will bridge this gap...

I fortified myself with a beer sampler....

Blonde de St-Tite pale ale. Fruity, light with very little bitterness. nice malted side. 100% Quebec grain.

La British. Brune aux noix. A little smoky, dominant cereal taste and smell, lightly bitter, nutty, toasted hazelnut finish.

Cuvee IPA Houblonee 2. floral, grapefruit. Lots of hops! Nice and bitter.

La Bete Noire. Stout a l'avoine. A dose of coffee, chocolat, flirtatious, smooth, graceful. Amazing. But they tell me it will be some time to perfect the Stout in a bottle. A very complex thing, much to do with the frothy head....soon to come.

It is great to taste something which inspires....

Tasty, serious and positioning themselves in the artisanal beer sales in Quebec, which account in total for only 6% provincial beer sales. "In New York state artisanal beers accounts for 30% of beer sales." I am told. And when the Rodeo hits Saint-Tite Molson and the big boys take over completely....but hopefully not for much longer, as A La Fut now holds a much more interesting alternative.