It seems to me like Northern Ontario agriculture has been experiencing a sort of grass-roots renaissance over the past five to ten years.
Admittedly, it could be that I’ve only recently begun paying attention to our region’s food production, or that I coincidentally moved to the Algoma area almost ten years ago, where you can’t help but notice the idyllic farmland scenery as you drive Highway 17 between Echo Bay and Bruce Mines.
But I think it’s more than that. The sudden accessibility of regionally produced food is certainly new, with farmers’ markets and innovative food co-operatives proliferating across Northern Ontario, in some cases playing important roles in urban revitalization strategies because of the masses they draw.
And it’s not just meat and vegetables from the farm fields these days.
Pay attention to our regional business news, and you’ll undoubtedly read about value-added producers like Fromagerie Kapuskoise in Kapuskasing, Rheault Distillery in Hearst, or Slate River Dairy in Neebing Township – all bringing us some of our favourite foods and drinks, with a local provenance.
It’s important to think about, because as we look to support our regional breweries and strive to engage in our Northern Ontario beer culture in meaningful ways, we should consider the possibilities that exist by marrying local food with local beer.
It’s a simple enough idea, but if it ever was a trend in Northern Ontario culinary practice, it has probably largely laid dormant since we started shipping our beef into this region from Alberta, and our produce from Mexico.
Nowadays, though, it’s as easy as can be to pick up some locally produced food and beer and prepare a delicious meal. Granted, right now in the darkest, coldest days of the year, it’s going to be more difficult to go with 100 per cent Northern Ontario produce for anything you might be looking to cook, but amazing frozen meat products are still commonly available, as are winter vegetables such as squash and potatoes.
I bet the creative home-chef could come up with some great stews and braised meals using Northern Ontario beer, meat, and produce that’s still for sale. I recently made porter-braised oxtail, using Precambrian Porter from Outspoken Brewing, oxtail from Penokean Hills Farms, and carrots from my mother’s garden in the Slate River Valley. It was delicious, and a lot of fun to make.
Here are some other ideas for anyone who likes the idea of cooking with beer:
- Beer and butternut squash soup using 1870 Amber Ale from Union Jack Brewing Co.
- Beer-battered pickerel using Sultana Gold Blonde Ale from Lake of the Woods Brewing Co.
- Oven-roasted beer-can chicken using Saturday Night Cream Ale from Stack Brewing
Just check online for inspiration, where food-and-beer recipes abound, devised by everyone from random bloggers to world-renowned chefs.
As a final note, I hope you’ve been having fun following Beer Up North! I’m taking a one week break to focus on the holiday festivities, so look for my next column in two-weeks time.
If you want to stay apprised of all my beer musings, you can follow me on my public Facebook page. Just look me up and find the profile with the Beer Up North banner.
Until next time!
Stay tuned for a further discussion of the Beer Up North.
Jason McLellan is a self-professed beer geek. He wants the world to know he's damn proud of his Northern Ontario roots, even though he couldn't catch a fish if one jumped in the boat. His columns run Wednesdays at 12:00 p.m. (with the exception of Wednesday, Dec. 28).