By Graham Duncan
Spread on bread, baked into a cake or enriching a sauce, better butter is best.
Butter is milk fat, separated and solidified from cream by an agitation process called churning. If you take pure heavy cream at home and shake it or beat it long enough, you’ll be making butter. Standard butters are 80% - 82% butterfat, the remaining content being almost all water. High-fat butter is 84%. Does that make a difference? Read on.
Golden Dawn salted and unsalted are high quality butters with the former being enthusiastically salty. Golden Dawn has been made at Alliston Creamery since the 1960’s. Owned and operated by the Kennedy family, Alliston Creamery is the last small independent dairy in Ontario. Alliston favours small scale production barrel churns which produce flavourful small batches of butter.
Photo: Alliston Creamery
A batch of butter just out of Alliston Creamery barrel churn
COWS butter is so good we decided to import it all the way from Prince Edward Island. COWS Creamery comes in 84% butterfat which makes for outstanding baking. To confirm this, we whipped up two identical batches of scones, one made with COWS Sea Salted butter and the other with No Name salted butter. In a blind scone tasting (my new blues name) there was no mistaking the difference. The COWS scone was decisively richer, saltier and more, uh, buttery.
Take a video tour of the COWS Creamery butter facility here.
Churned at Alliston Creamery from the cream of organic, grass-fed, Jersey cows. Jersey milk is renowned for its fat content and for its rich yellow colour. Both of these properties translate directly into Emerald butter with its pronounced golden hue and 84% butterfat content. And make no mistake, their southwestern Ontario cows’ all-grass diet — pasture in the summer, hay in the winter — give this butter an unmistakable depth of flavour. The salted version is made with sea salt from Vancouver Island. Emerald is as dedicated to creating a special kind of butter as they are to ensuring the sustainability of the grass-fed dairy industry.
By: Graham Duncan
Not long ago my wife and I shared a Sanagan’s cote de boeuf. We were on our own at an 100-year-old cottage in Muskoka. There was red wine, there was salad and there was that majestic slab of 50-day dry aged rib steak. It was an absolutely simple and memorable dinner, as a meal can be when it features ingredients of the highest standard.
So the question is, what makes dry aged beef such a significant culinary experience?
Dry aging has been part of carnivorism for as long as humans have understood that changes occur to an animal’s flesh after it dies, the most obvious example being rigor mortis. For centuries beef and game have benefitted from various forms of controlled aging. While modern processing techniques sidestepped the procedure, nothing can replicate the flavours and textures resulting from the painstaking tradition of professionally dry aged beef.
Sanagan’s dry aging fridge is a funky place indeed. In this low temperature, moderate humidity environment sub primals (bulk cuts) of bone-in rib and strip loin sections bide their time, slowly growing crusty exteriors that will later be trimmed away. During this period our friends, the enzymes go to work .
Enzymes are molecules that accelerate chemical reactions in cells. With beef, enzyme actions enhance flavour by converting: proteins into savoury amino acids; glycogen into sweet glucose; and fat and fat-like membranes into aromatic fatty acids. At the same time, they’re working their magic on tenderness too, breaking down collagen fibres.
But what age is the perfect age? 28-days is the steakhouse standard (or that’s when your steak turns into a zombie). Some establishments probe the outer reaches of aging with 120-day-old rib steaks, all gnarled up like Yoda. Assistant head butcher Christopher Spencer, who’s been overseeing the Sanagan’s dry aging program since 2018 explains our process: “We experimented; just a lot of testing. Anything more than 60 to 70 days gets very cheesy. We found that 40 to 50 days achieves a good balance of accessible aged flavour”.
And just what is that aged flavour? I think the only way to describe it is steak-ier. Those elements of savoury juicy succulence that makes your mouth water when you think of a steak are all refined in a dry age steak. There’s oxidized fat lending aromatic depth, all the gelatinized protein (enzymes!) creating that melt-in-your-mouth thing, the absolutely indescribable flavours of age; you know like wine, like cheese. If you’re familiar with the concept of umami, that gives you an idea. But really, words don’t do the trick. You’ve got to try it for yourself. But you’ll have to find your own cottage.
by: Graham Duncan
Did you know that at one point, Peter was thinking of changing the name of the business to Sanagan’s Meat, Charcuterie, Prepared Foods, Sauces, Pickles, Rubs, Mustards, Produce, Gelato, Dairy, etc. Locker? Wouldn’t fit on the sign though. But we’re definitely more than meat. We’re happy to share our shelves with local food entrepreneurs who produce fantastic Ontario-made goodies.
One of those people is Christine Manning of Manning Canning. Her story is indicative of the food community we work with. After a successful career in marketing, Christine’s hobby of making preserves became her second act, an undertaking that not only encompasses producing and marketing prizewinning preserves and pickles but the creation of a full-service rental kitchen supporting numerous other independent eat-trepreneurs.
“We believe a rising tide lifts all boats”, says Christine. “There was no rental kitchen when I started out. I thought an affordable space would help others. Everyone thinks a food business is a low barrier start up but a commercial kitchen is expensive.”
“We’ve always competed on taste. We only make products based on seasonal availability, like the green beans. We only make them when we can get them fresh from the fields. We actually process our fresh plum tomatoes, they don’t come in a bucket.” How serious are they about fresh ingredients? Imagine having your marmalade win a gold medal at the World’s Original Marmalade Awards and then you decide, because you can’t guarantee a reliable, affordable supply of quality Seville oranges, that you would stop making your Gold Medal Marmalade. Manning Canning does not compromise.
That’s why Sanagan’s entrusts the production of our Giardiniera and Pickled Red Onions to Christine and Company.
Here’s a full list of our Sanagan’s/Manning Canning product line.
Charcuterie boards of the world unite; Sanagan’s Giardiniera, an Italianate mix of pickled peppers and veggies packed in oil and vinegar is here to help. And beyond. Salads, sandwiches, pizza — the zesty possibilities are endless.
You just won’t know how versatile these babies are until you have them in your fridge. Case in point — last night’s doggy bag of perogies. I threw some pickled onions on that bland plate of leftovers and—Hey Now—those perogies were energized! Ditto, burgers, cheese plates, meat pies—need I go on?
Manning Canning Spicy Pickled Carrots
M.C.’s all-time bestseller. Spicy, crunchy, zippy. Don’t even think of mixing up a Bloody Caesar without them. Perfect in potato or tuna salad. And I bet they’d be awesome along with baked beans.
Manning Canning Spicy Pickled Green Beans
Old-school steak houses often lay out a tray of pickles at the start of a meal as appetite stimulators. Carry on that tradition at home with M.C.’s green beans before you serve one of our beautiful steaks.
Manning Canning Angry Pickled Garlic
Not only can you enjoy the pickled garlic but save the brine for use in a vinaigrette or make your dirty martini an angry martini. Or re-brine something else and reawaken all that garlicky goodness.
Manning Canning Tomato Mustard
Remember those fresh plum tomatoes? They’re here in spades. The apple cider-soaked mustard seeds pop with flavour. Great in dressings or on burgers. Also a fantastic marinade for pork.
Before Drake proclaimed that we all live in The Six, Toronto’s original alias was Hogtown. A number versus a pig; The Big Apple we ain’t. But we sure used to slaughter a lot of pigs.
Sanagan’s currently carries pork from three Southern Ontario family farms. Like all Sanagan’s suppliers, our pork farmers value small scale, humane animal husbandry. The pigs are processed at low volume facilities located near the farms. By contrast the abattoirs that inspired the name Hogtown were anything but small scale. So, while Sanagan’s embraces a different approach to the life and death of the pig, we’re proud to be selling great pork in Hogtown and thought you might be interested to know how the name came to be.
Sanagan’s heritage pork raised on Murray’s Farm
If the name Hogtown can be attributed to one person, it would be William Davies whose ascent from a single St. Lawrence Market stall in the 1850’s to the establishment of Canada Packers (now Maple Leaf Foods) firmly implanted the pig’s footprint on Toronto’s identity. Along the way the William Davies Corporation became the largest supplier of bacon to England, shipping out of North America’s second largest pork processing plant, located in the Don Valley at Front Street. Davies is credited with popularizing peameal bacon, making him the Godfather of Toronto’s signature sandwich. Eventually the animal world tired of Mr. Davies attentions. He died as a result of injuries suffered after being butted by a goat.
It’s not difficult to witness a herd mentality at Keele and St. Clair as shoppers descend upon Home Depot and Canadian Tire, but this area used to support actual herds of cattle, pork, and horses. The Stockyards, a 300-acre network of rail sidings, loading platforms, stock pens, and processors, including Maple Leaf and Swifts, was once North America’s largest livestock facility. The fortunes of the Stockyards rose and fell with the railroad. By the time trucking eclipsed rail as the most efficient form of livestock transport, and combined with the pressures of Toronto’s ravenous real estate market, the demise of the Stockyards was inevitable. The majority of processors moved from Toronto to Cookstown in 1994 but not after doing its share to consolidate our nickname as Hogtown.
Up until its closure in 2014, for many Torontonians the name Hogtown was embodied by Quality Meat Packers on Tecumseth Street near Fort York. Even if you never saw the abattoir there’s a good chance you saw the trucks, loaded with pigs, driving towards it. I remember working at Fort York in my early 20’s. You either got the industrial beer smell of the Molson’s brewery or the raunchy not quite bacon smell of Quality Meats. Grimly, it felt historically accurate. There had been a packing plant on the site since 1914 in the form of the Toronto Municipal Slaughterhouse. This facility was bought in 1960 by Quality Meats. At its height, Quality processed one third of Ontario’s pork. While it defied animal rights protests and condo-mania it was eventually brought down by the cruel variables of the free market. The last straw was the piglet-killing virus of 2014. Thankfully for Sanagan’s, and the pigs, our small-scale pork farmers were unaffected by the outbreak.
The original site of Quality Meat Packers
Things change. The hogs have left Hogtown. Toronto’s de-industrialization has been rapid. But high quality, locally raised, family-farmed pork will never leave Sanagan’s and Sanagan’s, finger’s crossed, will never leave The Six.
Photos: Graham Duncan and Toronto Archives
It was a grey and cool late summer day when Brian and I drove up to Shane and Brenda Forsyth’s farm on the Bruce Peninsula, just off the wind-swept west side of Georgian Bay. The land around this area is difficult to farm – the soil is rocky and not as rich for produce as the land around southern Ontario, where Shane grew up. As a young man, he decided to move north to start his farm; land was cheaper, and anyways, sheep and lamb didn’t need lush vegetation to thrive. This was back in the early eighties – Brenda found her way to the farm the following year, and they’ve been raising a family and their animals ever since.
Shane and Brenda have about 400 ewes on their farm; each one gives birth about three times every two years. One of the reasons I’ve been working with them for over a decade is because their lamb is consistently flavourful, with a lean finish and firm muscle. When asked what they do to maintain this consistency, Shane modestly shrugs and tells me it’s probably because they prefer to raise their lambs in a more traditional way. He explains:
“In modern lambing, lambs are weaned from their mothers at around 6 weeks, then fed a soy-based formula that quickens their development. I prefer to keep them with their mothers for at least 3 months. Then I’ll wean them off, having them eat as much grass as possible. When they get up to eighty pounds, we’ll finish them with lot of hay, and some dried peas, barley, and oats. This will get their weight up to about 110 lbs or so, that’s when they’re ready for market. Sometimes they’ll hit that weight at 5 months, sometimes at 10 months; it all depends on the animal.”
Whatever age Shane and Brenda’s lambs are, one thing is for certain. They produce some of the best tasting meat I’ve had. It may be the wild apples they munch on (wild apple trees are one of few trees that flourish around this part of Ontario). Or maybe it’s the damp cool air blowing off of Georgian Bay that forces the animals to eat a little more to bulk up. Or maybe it’s the care Shane and Brenda have and bring to these animals, day after day. I like to think it’s the latter, and after having spent the day with them, that care can be seen in how they treat guests as well. (I didn’t tell you about Brenda’s delicious cabbage borscht and fresh rolls – that might be for a different post).
Hunting season in Ontario generally lasts from mid-September to mid-December. As we roll into December at Sanagan’s, you won’t have to hunt for delicious offerings to fill any of your holiday needs.
One offering that may have eluded you in the past is our Hunter’s Pie. Chef Anne and her team in the kitchen have refined this recipe over the past few years to it’s near perfect current iteration. Rich venison, elk and wild boar are slowly simmered with red wine and paired with hearty lentils and aromatics inside a buttery, flaky crust, topped with a true trophy in the form of a piece of bone marrow.
Our Hunter’s Pie is the very definition of a special occasion dish. It is rich, and delicious, and one should likely fight the desire to enjoy it every day, reserving it for gatherings with friends and family. My suggestion would be to keep things simple, and serve this with a crisp green salad using a mix with bitter greens and a mustard vinaigrette.
We have a quiet Christmas planned this year, but our centrepiece on Christmas Eve will be one of Chef Anne’s delicious Hunter Pies. Happy hunting, and happy holidays!
Christmas and the holidays are a time to indulge any number of eccentric traditions. We hang totally dry socks on the fireplace. We encourage our children to sit on the laps of strange old men. We bring whole fir trees into the house. And strangest of all, we consume a medieval-ish “pudding” that’s not like any other kind of pudding.
If you’re reading this and you haven’t got your own old fashioned Christmas pudding aging in the basement, have no fear, because this December, Sanagan’s will once again have our wonderful house-made Christmas puddings and hard sauce, stacked like cannon balls, ready to fire into the shopping bags of our holiday feasters.
And let’s get this straight — we’re not just talking any old mass-produced Christmas-pudding-in-a-can. Ours are made by hand by our chartcuterie specialist Scott Draper, based on his grandmother, Verna Draper’s recipe.
The Draper’s lived on a farm in Stouffville and like much of Ontario’s U.K. immigrant population they emphasized the Scottish side things. Their style of pudding, made with brown sugar, dried fruit, suet, breadcrumbs, carrot, egg etc., has a slightly lighter finish due to the absence of molasses. And it’s contained steamed within a cloth as opposed to a metal or ceramic mould. And it’s Holidayliscious!
All you have to do is steam it in its cheesecloth wrapping for one hour, and then dollop on and the hard-sauce (butter, icing sugar and brandy).
Oh — I forgot the best part. Like all Christmas puddings worth their fruit peel, ours is best moistened with warm brandy and then set it on fire. Turn the lights down low and present the flaming pudding. Now that’s an eccentric tradition.