Blooming canola fields glow a rich yellow.<br />Photo courtesy iStockPhoto/Thinkstock Credits: Blooming canola fields glow a rich yellow.<br />Photo courtesy iStockPhoto/Thinkstock
Canada's westernmost Prairie province continues to embrace its deep roots in agriculture. Here are three of the most common crops grown in the province.
In 2010 Alberta produced 8,170,100 tonnes of wheat, or about 30 per cent of the national total. Most of the province's crop is of the standard spring, winter and durum varieties, but there is a growing movement toward heritage wheat. This includes Red Fife wheat, the oldest wheat variety grown in Canada, which made its debut in the mid-1800s. It was the dominant breed until the early 1900s, when it was outstripped by the Marquis variety, one of its offspring. With today's renewed interest in traditional and local foods, heritage wheat varieties, such as Red Fife, are making a comeback on many farms across the province.
Annually, Alberta produces almost 5 million tonnes of barley, which equals half of the country's total production. Barley is one of the most important livestock feed crops, but the demand for barley in the food and beverage industries is growing significantly. More than half of the barley grown in Alberta is of the malting variety, used to flavour beer and spirits. Malt extract is a common food additive, used to enhance flavour, colour and texture in packaged foods.
Canola is the main oilseed crop produced in Alberta; in 2010 the province harvested 4,490,600 tonnes of it. Bred in Canada in the 1970s from rapeseed varieties, canola is truly a made-in-Canada crop. Its name is a contraction of the phrase "Canadian oil, low acid." Canola plants produce yellow flowers that turn into tiny seed pods, which house minuscule seeds. The seeds inside are just over 40 per cent oil, which is extracted for use as a cooking fat. The remaining meal is used as livestock feed. Canola oil is low in saturated fat, the type of fat you want to reduce in your diet. It is also relatively high in monounsaturated fat and has a moderate amount of polyunsaturated fat – both "good" fats – and is becoming increasingly well known as a healthy cooking oil.
– Rheanna Kish
Page 1 of 9 – Is natural Albertan honey the best kind there is? Find out on page 2!
Talk about Alberta's liquid gold and people will assume you're talking about oil. But if they spent some time strolling through farmer's markets or eating at the growing number of small, local restaurants around Alberta, they'd see that the conversation could just as easily be about honey.
While beekeepers spent 2010 mystified by the collapse of colonies around the world, Alberta's bees were busy producing 28 million pounds of honey, valued at about $47 million – almost 40 per cent of Canada's honey market. What makes Alberta's honey so special is what's missing from the nectar: water. A dry climate and native Prairie vegetation make for a thicker, richer honey that has a very mild flavour – and makes a great addition to recipes.
Ron Miksha's family has been in the honey business for 70 years. To him, honey is special because it is a truly natural product. Miksha's Summit Gardens Honey Farm outside of Calgary is the largest comb honey producer in the country. Summit Gardens leads this niche market with only 400 bee colonies – a fraction of the 13,000 maintained by some large commercial producers. Comb honey, unlike the clear, liquid variety, is unprocessed and virtually untouched by humans. The bees make the honeycomb right in the container in which it is sold. "We just put a lid and a label on it and it's ready to go," says Miksha.
Natural may be king, but Chinook Honey Company proves that sometimes a little processing can make a product like honey even more appealing. In Okotoks, Alta., the honey harvest is put to good use at Chinook Arch Meadery, where owners Cherie and Art Andrews ferment honey into eight varieties of mead, including Buckaroo Buckwheat and Ginger Snapped – which provide the perfect buzz for those summer cocktails.
– Melanie Stuparyk
Page 2 of 9 – Find out what the best Albertan beers are on page 3 and be sure to try them out when you visit.
Top 6 Alberta craft beers
Alberta is experiencing a craft beer revolution. Unique brews made in small batches are popping up across the province in brewpubs and local liquor stores. We asked Kyle Baines, manager of Andrew Hilton Wine and Spirits, an award-winning specialty wine, spirits and beer store in Lethbridge, Alta., to share some of his favourites and tell us what he loves about them. Sadly, few of these fine brews are available across Canada, but if you're in town, they're worth searching out.
• Wild Rose Brewery Alberta Crude Oatmeal Stout: For me, this beer is always worth a trip to Calgary to Wild Rose Brewery, as it is only served on premises. Made in an unusual style called "sweet stout," this beer isn't sweet so much as it lacks the abrasive bitterness common to many stouts. It's a velvety, oatmeal-driven beer that makes Guinness seem quite light indeed. The lack of aggressive bitterness also makes the subtle nuances simpler to appreciate; notes of coffee, dark chocolate and a variety of nuts come through easily.
• Alley Kat Olde Deuteronomy Barley Wine: Traditionally, this is the fall seasonal from Edmonton's Alley Kat Brewery, but it's brewed in sufficient quantities to make it available year-round in finer Alberta liquor stores. Big, moderately sweet and quite strong (between 10 and 12 per cent alcohol, depending on the year), this barley wine offers lots of caramel, raisin and chocolate notes. Potent in its youth, it ages wonderfully: The 2008 bottles drink better now than they did at release.
• Banff Avenue Brewing Co. Lower Bankhead Black Pi`lsner: From one of Alberta's newest microbreweries comes this fascinating pilsner – a worthy addition to the growing Alberta microbrew scene. My favorite beer from Banff Avenue, it is only available at the brewery itself, either on tap or in to-go bottles or growlers (1.89 litre jugs). A soft, creamy brew with tea-like complexity, it strikes a delicious balance between the minerality of the water, the light coffeelike roastiness of the barley and the spiciness of the hops.
• Big Rock Brewery Scottish Style Heavy Ale: Big Rock, Alberta's original microbrewery (started back in 1985), introduced the Kaspar Shultz line last year. It consists of the brewery's small-batch, experimental and frankly, most interesting beers. Scottish Heavy is a traditional, heavy-bodied beer, aged on oak chips. Only available on draft in better beer bars Alberta-wide, this beer will please brown ale fans with its earthy, oaky, lightly perfumed nose and its big, warming, surprisingly complex flavour.
• Wild Rose Brewery Imperial IPA: This seasonal India pale ale, available from January to March each year, is for the hopheads out there. Available at Wild Rose both on draft and in bottles, it is the best heavily hopped beer made in Alberta. An excellent example of the Pacific Northwest style, it has loads of grapefruit-driven citrus and spicy pine notes. Every year, this is my most anticipated seasonal offering from any brewery in the province. White Rose's other seasonals tend to be quite excellent as well, especially their Saison, available during the summer.
• Brewsters Czech Pilsner: I realize most beers on this list are strong, black, bitter or all three. But heres something on the lighter side. Making flavourful, low-alcohol beers well is a challenge for any brewer, and making great pilsner is perhaps the biggest challenge of all. The Brewsters chain of brewpubs, with several locations in Calgary and Edmonton, make this truly excellent pilsner, and for that they deserve high praise. Not too aggressively bitter, not underhopped and certainly not boring (the worst crime for a pilsner), it's a smooth, balanced, brilliantly executed showcase for the classic Saaz hops.
– Kyle Baines
Kyle Baines is the manager of Andrew Hilton Wine and Spirits, a specialty wine, spirits, and beer store in Lethbridge, Alta. Founded in 1985, Andrew Hilton is one of the oldest privately owned liquor stores in Canada. It is known for its selection of microbrewed beers, award-winning single malt whiskey section and vast wine selection. When not writing about beer, Kyle can be found brewing, drinking, selling or endlessly discussing beer.
Page 3 of 9 – Discover the thrill of the Calgary Stampede on page 4.Farmer's markets
"Make It, Bake It, Grow It" is the philosophy that governs Alberta's 100-plus approved farmer's markets. A strict 80/20 policy for all vendors requires that the bulk of goods be produced locally and that the rest should help make those local products shine.
In its 29th year, the Millarville Farmer's Market has grown to become one of southern Alberta's largest. True to its roots, it offers visitors (most from nearby Calgary) a chance to experience rural agriculture, with Wild West shows, petting zoos, an annual rodeo and more than 170 vendors selling grass-fed beef and bison, homegrown produce, baked goods and handicrafts. Customers can enjoy a stroll in the grounds every Saturday from mid-June through October.
St. Albert farmer's market, just north of Edmonton, is the largest outdoor market in Western Canada. Each weekend, the market's 250 vendors bring in more than 10,000 visitors, who are eager to support local farmers and artists while enjoying live entertainment in the heart of the charming village of St. Albert. The market is open July through September.
For a list of more farmer's markets throughout Alberta, go to agric.gov.ab.ca and click on the Maps and Multimedia Tabs, then click on Farmers' Markets.
– Melanie Stuparyk
Millarville Farmer's Market: (403) 931-2404
St. Albert Farmers' Market: call St. Albert Chamber of Commerce (780) 458-2833
Sight to see: The Calgary Stampede
Calgary has been home to the Calgary Stampede, the world's largest rodeo and western fair, for 10 days each July since 1923. Marketed as "the greatest outdoor show on Earth," the Stampede is one of Canada's top summer festivals. More than one million visitors from all over the world flock to the event to take in chuck-wagon races, world-class agricultural activities, midway rides and concerts. It's also a terrific place to sample inventive – and sometimes unpredictable – culinary offerings.
Since the beginning, free pancake breakfasts have been the most common culinary event associated with the Stampede. Breakfasts pop up throughout the city during the 10-day festival. At some, the bacon is cooked right into the pancakes – a touch of pure Stampede brilliance!
If breakfast isn't your thing, there are plenty of other nostalgic favourites and not-to-be-missed treats. Some highlights are mini-doughnuts, beef sundaes, pulled pork parfaits, corn dogs, gourmet pretzel sticks and, of course, deep-fried everything – from jelly beans to Oreo cookies to mac and cheese. Local retro candy shops, general stores, ice cream parlours and fudge shops also get in on the act of feeding the ravenous masses at the Stampede.
Page 4 of 9 – Enjoy a joyous and food-filled atmosphere? Alberta's festivals listed on page 5 surely won't disappoint!
Dining: Calgary chic
Much like Calgary's population, the local restaurant scene is experiencing a boom, with new restaurants popping up and old standbys continuing to evolve and flourish. Perhaps there was a time in Calgary's past when dining out meant cowboy steaks and ranch cooking, but today's restaurant scene offers cutting-edge, innovative and inspired menus with an intense focus on local and regional cooking and ingredients.
The chef-farmer-consumer relationship is blossoming in Cowtown, and with it the gourmet scene has become comparable to that of any metropolis in Canada – or on the continent. From über-fine dining to casual bistro fare to authentic ethnic dishes, Calgary has an amazing array of restaurants suited for any occasion. While each brings its unique flair to the table, nearly all use local ingredients. And while there might have been a time when one only associated beef with Alberta, these days everything – from the oil to the garnish – can be found growing somewhere in the province.
Here's a short list of restaurants to consider should you find yourself hungry in Calgary. There's everything from newly opened to tried-and-true, diner-style to fine-dining – and lots in between.
• Boxwood Café: boxwoodcafe.ca
• Catch Seafood Restaurant and Oyster Bar: catchrestaurant.ca
• Charcut Roast House: charcut.com
• Cilantro: crmr.com/cilantro
• Moti Mahal Kashmiri Indian Cuisine: motimahal.ca
• Notable The Restaurant: notabletherestaurant.ca
• River Café: river-cafe.com
• Rouge Restaurant: rougecalgary.com
• Santorini Greek Restaurant: santorinirestaurant.com
• Una Pizza + Wine: unapizzeria.com
– Rheanna Kish
Take in Alberta's food and drink culture at one of these exciting festivals.
• Christmas in November: The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, Jasper, Nov. 4 to 14, 2011; christmasinnovember.com
• Rocky Mountain Food and Wine Festival: Banff, May 2012; Calgary and Edmonton, October 2012; rockymountainwine.com
• Indulgence Slow Food: Edmonton, May 2012; slowfoodedmonton.ca
• Taste of Edmonton: July 2012; eventsedmonton.ca/taste.php
• Calgary Stampede: July 6 to 15, 2012; cs.calgarystampede.com
• Taste of Calgary: Aug. 2012; whatsonwhen.com
• Harvest of the Past and Taste of Heritage Food Fest: Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village near Edmonton, Sept. 2012; culture.alberta.ca
• Great White North Pumpkin Fair: Smoky Lake, first Saturday of October; smokylakeregion.ca
– Rheanna Kish
Page 5 of 9 – Read about where Alberta's best cheeses can be found on page 6.
Alberta's best cheeses
We asked Tania Hrebicek, co-owner of Everything Cheese in Edmonton, to fill us in on her top picks in locally made Alberta cheese. Here are Tania's three favourite places to taste and enjoy cheese made in Alberta.
Sylvan Star Cheese Ltd.
The Schalkwijk family emigrated from Holland in the 1990s. Jan Schalkwijk came from a family of cheesemakers, and when he couldn't find a Canadian cheese that met his homeland's standards of excellence, he decided to make his own. His company, Sylvan Star Cheese, was born in 1999 in Red Deer, Alta.
With his 30 years of cheesemaking experience from "the old country," it's no surprise that Jan's Grizzly Gouda won best artisanal farmstead cheese at the 2006 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix. Sylvan Star's cheeses, particularly their Goudas, continue to win awards today.
The cheeses are made from Holstein cows' milk, which is "thermalized," a process that heats the milk to a temperature lower than the one used for pasteurization. All the Goudas made at Sylvan Star are lactose-free. As the cheeses ripen, the culture used to make them eats up the lactose very quickly – often within a week.
First, I recommend Old Grizzly, a toffee-coloured, very firm Gouda with a brittle paste; it was crowned champion at the 2006 and 2009 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix. It's the oldest cheese on the farm (aged over one year), and with age comes taste. You'll detect notes of nuts and dried fruit in the cheese's intense, lingering flavour. As you chew, crystallized bits of protein release a buttery toffee-like flavour.
Next, sample the Medium Gouda Smoked, which is a must for summertime barbecues. It placed first at the 2006 and 2009 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix and fifth at the 2008 World Cheese Championship.
Established in 2009 in Kitscoty, Alta., The Cheesiry is run by Rhonda Zuk and Brian Headon. They raise and milk about 80 dairy-bred East-Friesan/Lacombe cross dairy sheep, who dine primarily on grass. The Headons create Old World–style artisan sheep's milk cheeses from the unpasteurized milk. Like all farmstead cheeses, these are made not of "modified milk ingredients" but of real milk. For this reason, their cheeses are only produced in the summertime and aged over the winter. The artisan cheese-making process the Headons use (which Rhonda learned from a small farm in Tuscany, Italy) is hands-on: Each piece of cheese is hand-pressed, hand-flipped and hand-washed.
First, I recommend The Cheesiry's Fresco fresh cheese. Try it in place of crème fraîche or sour cream. The sweetness of the sheep's milk comes through, but the cheese is still tangy. Fresco comes in plain and flavoured varieties, including chive.
Next, sample The Cheesiry's Tuscan-style pecorino, which is aged from two to nine months, depending on the time of the year. A firm nutty cheese, it's versatile – in the summer, it's great for camping and picnic cuisine. Try it with honey and fig jam for a tasty treat.
Page 6 of 9 – Not enough cheese? Discover another well-known Albertan cheese company on page 7.
Smoky Valley Goat Cheese
Owned by Holly and Larry Gale, Smoky Valley Goat Cheese produces traditional artisanal goat cheese and dairy products just north of Smoky Lake, Alta. Cheesemaker Holly transforms fresh Nubian goat milk into farmstead yogurts, semisoft cheeses and an array of ripened cheeses in a variety of textures, flavours and styles.
Established in 2010, this is Alberta's newest cheesemaker. The milk comes from a local dairy in St. Michael so the Gales can focus on cheesemaking and marketing. However, when the creamery is better established, they hope to milk their own goats once again.
I recommend the St. Maure, a log-shaped chèvre with a bloomy rind based on the original Saint Maure de Touraine from Burgundy, France. It can be firm or soft, depending on its age, but it's always very creamy with a damp, earthy taste and a nice goaty finish. It's great as is, but it also makes a delicious addition to a summer salad. Try it sliced on a baguette, baked crostini-style or with bacon.
Next, try Smoky Valley Farmer's Cheese, a firm, dry cheese with a lightly sharp, nutty, slightly earthy flavour. It's excellent on a cheese board with charcuterie, especially dry-cured meats and olives. Take it along on hikes and picnics; it holds up beautifully, thanks to its firm texture.
– Tania Hrebicek
Everything Cheese was founded by Tania Hrebicek and her longtime friend Lydia Charalambakis in October 2010. The store typically carries more than 100 cheeses from around the world, including a large variety of best-in-class Canadian cheeses and European classics. A selection of carefully selected fine foods and cheese-related tools round out the store's offerings.
Page 7 of 9 – Health-conscious? Find out the quality of Albertan meats on page 8.
Profile: The new cowboys
Hunting season is the worst time of year to harvest meat. Dr. Terry Church, manager of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Ranch (CRMR) in the foothills of the Rockies, says this accounts for generations of people who wrinkle their noses at game meats. But when bison, elk and deer are allowed to graze properly, the resulting meat is fresh, lean and a welcome change from the same old grocery store fare.
Bison were all but wiped off the map by the 1960s. Today, thanks to conservation efforts, their population has rebounded, making them one of the most popular menu items in Alberta – not to mention Dubai, Europe and the United States, all of which snap up the province's bison exports. Leaner, more flavourful and always raised without hormones or antibiotics, bison are giving Alberta beef a run for its ranchland.
"The health benefits of the meat aside, the way bison are raised is more humane." says Peter Haase, owner of Buffalo Horn Ranch in Eagle Hill, Alta. "It's more a matter of quality than just profit." Haase and his wife, Judy, took on the demanding task of running a bison ranch in 1994, when the game meat industry was just beginning to pick up. They admit that their ranch dream may have been idealistic, but the average of 150 head of bison they keep are an important part of a growing grassroots industry. "People want to buy from the farmer; they want to connect," says Haase. "They don't want to go to the grocery store, where the clerk doesn't even make eye contact with them."
The Haases, like many modern small ranchers, are embracing the notion that everything old is new again. Albertans are going back to the land in an effort to make healthier, more responsible food choices. The Haases sell their bison to consumers at Cochrane and Bearspaw Farmer's Market during the summer and deliver directly to their homes throughout the winter when the markets are closed.
Page 8 of 9 – Discover more about the quality of Albertan meats on page 9.
CRMR is at the forefront of this movement in southern Alberta on a slightly larger scale. "Though we're not mega or multinational by any means," clarifies Church. The O'Connor family established the ranch in 1997 to ensure a consistent game meat supply to its restaurants and resorts. Today it sells 40 per cent of its meat directly to consumers at the Millarville Farmer's Market and through its ranch stores in Calgary.
"The feedback we get from customers at the market is invaluable," says Church. "In the last four years or so, the idea of local food has become more important. People like to speak directly to the farmer, grower or baker at the market to ask questions and understand where their food really comes from." This feedback has helped to more than triple CRMR's sales since 2000; the ranch now maintains more than 600 head of bison and elk.
Church and his team offer samples of elk and bison meat at the Millarville Farmer's Market to help consumers see that game meat doesn't have to taste like it did when they were kids. Bison is rich and dense, with less fat, fewer calories and much more iron than beef, pork, chicken or fish. All that flavour leaves you feeling fuller, and the meat cooks about 30 per cent more quickly than beef. Adventurous cooks curious about bison and elk can substitute them in any recipe calling for beef, though Church says keeping it simple on the grill is the best way to enjoy it.
– Melanie Stuparyk
Alberta ranch-style menu
Create this hearty and comforting down-home menu inspired by the local and seasonal foods of Alberta's rolling ranch lands.
Honey Mustard Vinaigrette
Beef and Bean Casserole with Cheese Biscuits
Roasted Squash Cake
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