Sure, we talk about farm-to-fork dining but do we ever walk the walk? I’ll be first to admit that I’ve never done any farm work in my life. Try to contain your shock. I am, however, a firm believe that meeting the people behind my food makes it taste better. I also take sustainable eating as a responsibility and I’m certainly not alone.
I brag to my guests about the local ingredients that goes into our menus. Then it dawned on me: it’s been far too long since I’ve visited the farmers and artisans in my own back yard.
To make things easier, I followed Circle Farm Tour‘s handy maps while I explored. Here are some of my most memorable stops.
When listening to Debra Amrein-Boyes describe her farming techniques to raising the healthiest cows and goats she can, I knew she was serious about her craft. This award-winning cheese maker creates artisanal cheeses on her farm and is eager to show them off.
She is so passionate about educating others about the art of fine cheese making that she even wrote a book on cheese recipes. Indeed, such impressive women do reside in humble British Columbia. While all of her cheeses were delicious, I was particularly drawn by the mild, but complex goat gouda.
Just a skip away, I found myself surrounded by rows of low, twisted trees. Here, they take sweet and buttery BC hazelnuts and turn them into gourmet treats. Candied, spiced, and chocolate dipped, I love them all. They sell them in the shell too, of course, and also offers you-pick in the summer.
My favourite product of all is their hazelnut butter. Slightly chunky, this rich spread is perfect on toast with a drizzle of Okanagan honey. Their chocolate flavoured hazelnut butter kicks Nutella’s butt to the moon.
Speaking of honey, I’ve eaten honey from this Chilliwack farm for years. I usually buy them at the market but it’s some kind of special when I get to say “hi” to the bees that work so hard for us. The bee farmer is a humorous man that explained the science of bee-keeping. They lend out the bees to different farmers to assist with pollination. Depending on the farmers’ crops, the honey would take on the plant’s flavour and even colour.
This was the first time that I jabbed my finger into the honey comb. I felt bad for breaking their comb at first but the bees repair it at a lightning speed. Getting to taste such fresh honey straight from the comb didn’t hurt either.
The quaint little shop is lined with a collection of vintage honey tins. Here, they only sell natural, unpasturized, and hand bottled honeys, along with candles and beauty products.
After sampling all of the honeys on display, I decided on a large jar of blueberry honey for its fruity, caramel tones.
Edible soap? I wish… wouldn’t that be amazing? As a break from all the food, I made a detour to Rustic Soap Co. where all the handmade soaps smell good enough to eat. Think: lemongrass lavender, rosemary mint, and spiced orange. I simply love that the soaps do not contain artificial fragrance or colouring.
The soap maker explained that she became passionate about soap making when her son developed skin problems as a baby. She took it upon herself to create the most natural, gentle and soothing soaps that she could. When she saw the dramatic improvement on his skin, she continued to refine her soaps and eventually developed an entire line of body products. You go girl!
She sweetly demonstrated the soap making process, which actually looked similar to baking. When she added the natural essential oils and herbs, the whole shop was filled with a burst of sage and olive oil. Mmm! I made myself a goodie bag of soaps, lotions, and candles to make my skin and home smell happy.
Despite the nibbles of cheeses, honey, and hazelnuts, I was famished after a day of touring around Chilliwack and Agassiz. On our way back to town, we stopped off in Abbotsford to dine at a restaurant I’ve been aching to try.
When we stepped foot into the restaurant, Chef Jeff Massey emerged from the open kitchen to greet us with a warm smile. Massey has worked in restaurants throughout Vancouver including the highly acclaimed Ciopinno’s. He relocated to Abbotsford in 2006 and this young chef is now the executive chef and owner of Restaurant 62.
Abbotsford feels like a faraway suburb to most Vancouverites. Imagine my intrigue when I discovered this fine dining establishment that promises to source their ingredients as close to home as possible. After visiting the many farms, it’s time to see the ingredients put to good use.
The menu maintains a fine balance of simplicity and sophistication. The fresh ingredients from nearby farms are clearly the stars here. I enjoyed a piece of perfectly seared salmon from Bruce’s Market that rested on sautéed baby spinach. Since rhubarb was in season, the chef served a dollop of tangy preserved lemon and rhubarb compote to compliment the fish.
When I peeked into the kitchen, I watched a cook pound Rockweld Farms chicken into a thin sheet. She topped it with some Vedder Mountain morels and rolled it up tightly. The result was a rustic mushroom stuffed chicken with some roasted leek on the side.
The highlight of my evening was the succulent Lepp Farms pork, encrusted with the hazelnuts from the farm I visited earlier that day. The flavourful pork and Yukon potato combination paired seamlessly with the 2007 Township 7 Reserve Chardonnay.
We ended our satisfying meal with a bowl of Birchwood Dairies vanilla ice cream with some organic strawberries. A no-brainer dessert.
As much as I love a good adventure, Circle Farm Tour‘s handy guides made it easy for me to choose and find my stops without getting lost. If you’re ever in this neck of the woods, I encourage you to venture out of the city to taste what BC’s farmers produce with pride.