Waterloo region benefits from ‘world class’ food: Andrew Coppolino

I will throw down the gauntlet and state that there are many foods prepared in Waterloo region that could rival any dish anywhere and anytime.

While there are many other examples I could give, here are just a handful of world-class eats, whether they are made by restaurants or food manufacturers. Some are well known; others fly under the radar.

One great way to start the day is with a fresh, warm bagel with cream cheese — even run-of-the-mill cream cheese. No offence, New York, but the Montreal-style bagel wins a head-to-head taste-off hands down.

Montreal-style bagels might have a touch of sweetness from honey that balances perfectly with their wood-fire bake. Woodfire Bagels and City Café in Kitchener (the latter open, by the way, this Labour Day Monday) have lovely flavour and can stand up to the renowned St-Viateur Bagel of Montreal.

According to City Café founder John Bergen, the recipe is simple, but the result is delicious.

Montreal style bagels at City Cafe (Andrew Coppolino)

“It’s low salt, some sugar and rye flour for moisture retention,” Bergen said. “There are no eggs because it can make them dry. They have a 24-hour fermentation, then it’s boil and bake in a wood-fired oven.”

For another pastry, Kitchener-based Bosanski Burek has been making eastern European phyllo pastries in Kitchener since early-2000. A popular snack for morning, noon and night, the burek (or borek) is likely originally a Turkish creation.

The Bosanski burek comes out of the husband-and-wife team and their Bosnian Serbian heritage. The coiled phyllo flatbread is available plain, with potato or meat, or with spinach and cheese. They can be found at Eurocan Foods, Italo Foods, Glogowski Euro Food and Ammar’s Market.

European phyllo pastry, Burek, from Kitchener based Bosanske Burek (Andrew Coppolino, CBC News)

The region is blessed with many Middle Eastern restaurants with Lebanese, Turkish and Syrian food preparations.

Taking out a hummus or baba ghanouj as an appetizer from Ammar’s Market or Arabesque is mighty satisfying — the latter a distinctly different baba ghanouj than you’ll see from the grocery store versions.

From smoked salmon pâté to pita chips

Heading to Canada’s east coast, the smoked salmon pâté at T & J Seafoods has been a popular spread, but one which may fly somewhat under the radar.

Created by T & J founder Brian Jardine 15 years ago, the recipe starts with Atlantic salmon smoked for 17 hours before it’s seasoned, blended and packaged, according to T & J’s owner Jeff Tailby.

(They are not dips, but if you’re adventurous try T & J’s “Digby chicks” smoked herring — excellent saltiness and smoke to go with a crisp beer.)

T&J Seafoods offers “Digby Chicks” smoked herring (Andrew Coppolino/ CBC NEWS)

To scoop up these dips and pâtés, grab some crisp and tasty pita chips from Arabesque, or mix culinary spheres with a bag of corn tortillas from Taco Farm.

The tortilla chips are made via a three-day process that begins with a dough of masa, water and salt, and then cranking out tortillas in the restaurant’s big machine. The tortillas are aged for a day so that moisture is removed (a critical step) before they are cut, deep-fried, salted and bagged.

These chips are available in many local stores, including Central Fresh Market and Kitchen Kuttings, and over 100 cities across Canada. Thanks to working with the local company Faire, the chips are also available in the United States. That puts them in a class of their own. 

A recent delicious discovery for me has been Crema La Vaquita — a thick, rich sour cream made by Local Dairy in Ingersoll, a business that started in Kitchener in the 1960s.

Crema La Vaquita, a thick, rich sour cream made by Local Dairy in Ingersoll (Andrew Coppolino/ CBC NEWS)

With thrice-weekly milk deliveries, the dairy adds healthy bacterial culture to pasteurized cream and lets time and microbes do their job.

Twelve hours later, salt is added and a rich and unique-tasting Latin-style crema is packaged. Even the cheesemaker is amazed by the transformation.

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and it still fascinates me when we drop four grams of culture into 500 litres of cream and it thickens,” says Sajeev Singh of Local Dairy.

Sweet treats

For sweets, fine chocolate by Aura-La Pastries & Provisions and ice cream by Four All Ice Cream are top-notch by any standard.

We’re moving into fall this month, historically a time of the year people would be preserving meat – including what we know as “cotton-bag summer sausage.”

Summer sausage on display at Kitchen Kuttings in Elmira (Andrew Coppolino/ CBC NEWS)

Before refrigeration, in many countries across the globe in the cooler weather of autumn and winter, animals were processed and every morsel — including ground meat that became known as “summer sausage” — was preserved and hanged to cure so that it could be eaten later that spring and summer.

Kitchen Kuttings of Elmira uses an old German recipe for their summer sausage (which is made by A.F. Weber of Wallenstein), co-owner Lydia Weber says.

“The beef or the beef and pork combined is mixed with spices, pressed, bagged and smoked for about a week,” Weber said. “It then hangs another two weeks to cure.”

As the fermentation process develops a tangy flavour in the sausage, it also impedes the growth of bad bacteria. (By the way, each batch of Kitchen Kuttings’ summer sausage is tested by the health department.)

But the really remarkable thing about summer sausage is that it doesn’t need refrigeration as long as it is stored in a dry place and out of plastic.

“If you choose, you can store it in the fridge wrapped in brown paper,” Lydia Weber said.

Here in Waterloo region, we have world-class summer sausage with world history in the bag, along with many other top-quality foods.