Sunday, April 15, 2012

The power of Twitter in local eating

The Veenstras of Boar and Chick Farm and some of their Berkshire pigs.

By Suzanne Taylor, Grimsby correspondent and sassy foodie extraordinaire

I love Twitter.

I was not enamoured of it at first use, but it has entirely won me over. I think it’s because I’ve had quite interesting conversations on it, sometimes with very famous people.

I was wished happy Thanksgiving by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, I chat fairly regularly with opera singer Deborah Voigt, I’ve conversed with my beloved singer Neko Case, and I’ve even been scolded mildly by author Margaret Atwood, all via Twitter.

But on a more local level, Twitter has allowed me to connect with some amazing local food producers and today, I was lucky enough to visit one of them.

The Boar and Chick is a farm in Troy, where I had never been prior to this visit, and a mere 40 minutes away from my home. I found this farm, located between Hamilton and Brantford, via Twitter and my curiousity was piqued. I do love a good pig farm.

I wanted to visit Mark and Tania Veenstra, the owners, because I found them on Twitter, I had never visited any of the greater Hamilton area farms and because they had recently sold pigs to award-winning chef-sommelier Ryan Crawford of Stone Road Grille in Niagara-on-the-lake.

Ryan takes his meat seriously, as anyone who has visited his restaurant knows. He is the sort of chef who uses the whole animal and produces really astonishing cuisine with it. Duck confit lollipops, anyone?

I knew any producer Ryan would deal with would be worth visiting and I was certainly right. Tania and Mark mostly concentrate on pigs and laying chickens, with occasional lamb and beef, raising my beloved Berkshire pigs on their farm nestled in a really lovely agricultural area that is worth a visit.

Berkshires are a 350-year-old heritage breed from England and are extremely practical on a farm. Their black coats mean they don’t get sunburned the way your typical pink pig does. The meat is by far the most delicious there is; it will truly change how you think about pork.

Also, I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it: there is nothing like the taste of meat that is hormone and antibiotic-free and pastured, rather than disgusting feedlot corn fed grocery store garbage meat. Try locally sourced, drug-free meat, and you will soon understand why I’m its evangelist. Come to my house for dinner some night and I will teach you all about it.

I love pigs. I’d like to have a pig for a pet, in fact. Berkshires are social and curious and enjoy interacting with people. In fact, Freckles the sow nosed my arm so hard, she left a mud print on it. Freckles can also drink through her nose. I did not know pigs could do that. Such is the life of a pig who lives in stress-free, happy conditions — you learn new tricks. In fact, it takes twice as long to grow a Berkshire pig under these conditions versus conventionally raised pork — at least 10 to 11 months — but the end result is entirely worth it.

The Veenstras have only had the farm 18 months but have already had their pigs and chickens featured in Lush Magazine. One sow featured in the photo shoot has since been named Chanel.

Eat happy, eat local, the Veenstras say.

They are happy to take your pork orders or have you out for a tour, and there are neighbouring farms with a sugar bush and Texas Longhorn cattle to visit as well (10 days’ notice preferred for a tour).

The Veenstras can be reached at 519-647-0700. It’s amazing to think that this farm is half an hour from downtown Hamilton and it’s worth a visit. Be sure to follow them on Twitter as well.
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