Much like its namesake across the pond, Stratford (Ontario) is often associated with the theatre. It’s home to the popular Stratford Festival, highlighting classic Shakespeare as well as musicals and various other playwrights. And recent months, Stratford has also become known as “Justin Bieber’s hometown.”
Shakespeare (and Bieber) aside, this town is underwhelmingly known for something else: the food. To say that the Stratford culinary scene is a recent phenomenon would be a misnomer. Stratford has had a thriving local food scene for a number of years now, and is home to the Stratford Chefs School, founded in 1983. But in recent years, the town’s culinary profile has started to create some serious buzz amongst foodies in neighbouring regions, and have them flocking to the humble town to find out what it’s all about.
And so, last Saturday, I found myself flocking to Stratford to discover what the buzz is all about. Thanks to Stratford Tourism Alliance and Suresh of Spotlight Toronto, a small group of Toronto food bloggers were invited to a mini-culinary tour of Stratford.
Our first destination was to Monforte Dairy. Owned and operated by Ruth Klahsen, a graduate of the Stratford Chefs School herself, the dairy was still undergoing final touch-ups for its grand opening when we stopped by. Ricotta. Toscano. Halloumi. Cheddar. Crème fraîche. Yogurt. All of these and more will be coming out of the cheese facility at the back, where magic will happen. Monforte plans to have five streams of dairy flowing through its facilities to bring us delicious cheese: cow, sheep, goat, water buffalo, and fermented milk. They also hope to make raw sheep's milk cheese in the future at a separate facility.
What’s also unique about Monforte Dairy is its Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) program, which allows consumers to pay in advance for a designated share of the season’s harvest (but also share the risks in factors beyond the farmer's control). So far, 899 subscribers have purchased subscriptions with Monforte, totaling $400,400.
Maureen took us around the facilities, showing us all the various rooms and equipment that will be integral throughout the cheese-making process. Monforte Dairy officially opened for business this past Tuesday, and will be open for tours, tastings, and cheese-making workshops on weekends throughout the summer.
After the tour, we were treated to breakfast of Mapleton's sheep’s milk yogurt and house-made granola courtesy of Tango Café. Coffee from Balzac’s Coffee (Stratford is the original location) and Earl of Monforte, a tea specially blended for them by Karen Hartwick, were also served. The sheep’s milk yogurt really stood out for me. Being made from sheep’s milk, I expected quite a strong flavour from it but was surprised by how mild it was and less tart than some of the yogurts I typically have. And despite being low fat, it was incredibly rich, creamy and thick, much like Greek yogurt. (And note that Ruth plans to start producing her own sheep’s milk yogurt—full fat—in the new dairy as well.)
As we enjoyed our breakfast, Danielle Brodhagen of Stratford Tourism Alliance, our wonderful guide who also helped organize the day’s events, went through the day’s itinerary and the media kit we received. Looks like we’ll have a full day ahead of us!
Tomorrow’s post: Meet the Manic Organic farmer, Antony John, as we explore Soiled Reputation.
49 Griffith Road