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Curds and Eh, Episode 5: THUNDER OAK GOUDA breaking new ground

This post is part of a guest blog series by Kelsie Parsons.   See the recent Globe and Mail piece about his travels.

Thunder Oak Cheese is famous for their Gouda. The Schep family produces aged and flavoured Goudas on their family farm in Thunder Bay, Ontario and are the only Canadian cheesemakers within a 650km radius!

It wasn’t until more than 30 years after Jacob Schep’s first trip to Thunder Bay that he began commercially producing cheese. Jacob Schep arrived in Thunder Bay from Holland as an exchange student in 1968. His dream was to work on dairy farm but unfortunately he was placed on a potato farm instead.

The following year Jacob returned with his partner Margaret to show her the land that he loved but after a 3 day train ride from Montreal to Thunder Bay, Margaret decided it was too remote and too far from her family. Back in Holland, Jacob and Margaret ran a dairy farm for 10 years but they found there wasn’t land available to expand so in 1981 they immigrated to Ontario and the following year they set up a dairy farm in Thunder Bay.

Thunder Oak Company

Their cheese factory opened in November 1995 and in 2007 their son Walter and has wife Joanne took over the cheese production. As Margaret recalls the past 30 years she laughs and says she never wanted to marry a farmer, move to Canada or end up making cheese but she ended up doing all of the above and seems incredibly happy.

Forms filled with Gouda Curds

Walter Schep is a 6th generation cheesemaker and his family still makes cheese in Holland and Belgium. His mother, Margaret, explains that their Gouda recipe has been passed down through her family for generations but making cheese is a lot like making cake – everyone in her family uses the same recipe but there are small differences in the final product.

Thunder Oak Gouda flavours (from the Thunder Oak website)

The cheeses at Thunder Oak are a rainbow of colours and cover a huge range of flavours. In total they produce 12 varieties of flavoured Gouda including sun-dried tomato, nettle, smoked, classic cumin spice, and jalapeno, their most popular. They also make regular Gouda at 4 ages (mild, medium, old, and extra old) and Maasdammer which is the size and shape of Gouda but has holes and a flavour similar to Swiss. Due to the demand for fresh curds Thunder Oak began selling Gouda curds, which are less salty than their cheddar curd cousins but equally as delicious.

Gouda Pressing at Thunder Oak

For anyone traveling across Canada or visiting Thunder Bay, Thunder Oak Cheese is a must stop destination. Visitors have a chance to watch Walter produce cheese every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning and of course there are plenty of samples too. Thunder Oak’s cheeses are so popular locally that they can often be hard to find across the country.

It’s worth looking for at your local fine cheese retailer. Not to worry though, Thunder Oak is about to break ground on a new facility down the road that will double their size and allow them to keep up with the demand of their highly sought after cheeses.  Now that’s gouda news!*

*A Gouda joke is obligatory in any article about the classic Dutch cheese.  Read more about the city of Gouda itself.

For Curds and Eh 1 (the itinerary), click hereCurds and Eh 2 (Quebec), Click Here, Curds and Eh 3 (Quebec) , click here and Curds and Eh 4 (St.John’s).

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Tawse Winery: Offering Delicious Wine… and speedy automotive repair (thank you!)

One fine day my pal Linda and I set out to for the Shaw Festival to see a play, taste some wine in Niagara-on-the-Lake and visit Upper Canada Cheese Company.  I had never been to the Tawse Winery though I am a  big fan of their chardonnay.  We made that our first stop.  Tawse is beautiful as you can see in the picture above.   To the left of this driveway were some of the vineyards (below).

We arrived right at 11am sharp when the tastings begin and were taken down into the cellar/lower tasting area.  We started with a flight of the Tawse Chardonnays:

• 2010 Quarry Road Chardonnay  • 2010 Robyn’s Block Chardonnay  • 2010 Tawse Estate Chardonnay

2010 Tawse Estate Chardonnay

Already a fan of the Quarry Road (which is only being sold in half-bottles, a perfect not-for-sharing, weeknight size) I had never had the Robyn’s Block and had not yet tried the 2010 Estate Chardonnay.  These wines all have different taste profiles by virtue of the fact that the Tawse vineyards are several kilometres apart.  The terroir helps impart their distinct character.

Quarry Road is lemon, green apple, mineral, refreshing, just hinted with oak and I find as it opens and warms slightly you get rounder peachy notes.

Estate Chardonnay is a combination of  fruit from a few of the vineyards.  It is a medium body white which spends a year in French Oak and is a little more toasty and creamy than the quarry road– just thinking of it makes me eager to pack it for the cottage this second.

Robyn’s Block is what Tawse calls their “flagship chardonnay” and comes from 28-year-old vines.  Spends a year in French Oak barriques and then 6 months in stainless steel.  The 2010 vintage was a warm year so it rounded and softer with stone fruit notes.

Tawse Cherry Avenue Vineyard 2010

I also walked away with a bottle of the Cherry Avenue Pinot for my “cellar”  (basement wine rack).   Nice long finish but the tannins were still a little unintegrated (is that a word?), the wine seemed a bit young yet for drinking. I was told that the Cherry Aveue could age still a good 5-7 years and will continue to get more complex.

And while we were chatting and sipping and generally sinking into the ease of a relaxed summer day in wine country….

Keeping it classy in the Tawse parking lot.

My car battery died.

CAA did arrive in quick time.  Less than 30 minutes but meanwhile we had been offered a glass of wine by the people at Tawse and while we stood in the beautiful, air conditioned store area, one of the Tawse gentleman (why did I not ask his name?  Sorry)  went out to see if he could get the car running.

When the battery was finally charged, we left not only with a good story (all’s well that end’s well) but a complimentary bottle of the Tawse sparkling wine, and a bottle of wine was given to the CAA driver (all’s better that ends in free wine).

The wine was an unexpected gesture on top of already amazing customer service– and just a kind bunch of people.

Linda and I are saving the bubbly for when we re-watch His Girl Friday (the movie) as we cannot recommend the play (sadly).  We couldn’t really connect with it 100%,   the script was a bit uneven in tone and the humour fell flat a few times.  (The cast was excellent, we will give it that.)

Linda happily sipping while our car drifted into a deep summer slumber.

But looking back I think we’d have rather spent that two hours  stranded at the Tawse Winery.

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Curds and Eh, Episode 4: the growing food scene in St.John’s Newfoundland

  Jellybean Row of colourful homes, St. John’s

This post is part of a guest blog series by Kelsie Parsons.   

The purpose of this trip was to learn the ways of the locals and to visit Newfoundland’s two cheese factories. Both Central Dairies and Five Brothers began production within the past 2 years and from talking with residents, no one can remember any commercial cheese factories ever existing in Newfoundland before.

Brad Quaile from Central Dairies shows off young Friulano.

Central Dairies mainly produces fluid milk but they recently decided to create value added products by making cheese. Their cheesemaker, Brad Quaile has an impressive resume with 21 years of experience split between St. Albert, Skotidakis, and Pine River cheese companies. Brad has developed their Edam, Gouda, and Swiss, which is Central’s specialty. The recipe calls for the Swiss to be aged for 50-80 days at 20˚C and flipped often. This creates an even eye (hole) formation and develops the nutty flavour typical of this style. To me, the Central Dairies Swiss is a decent cheese because it’s firmer and more flavourful than other commercial Swiss style cheeses, which too often seem to be flavourless and full of water.

Adam Blanchard of Five Brothers Artisan Cheese

Despite the name, Five Brothers Artisan Cheese, the company consists of only one guy making cheese (cheesemaker Adam Blanchard does have four brothers though). After my visit to Central Dairies, Adam and I met up at Yellowbelly brew pub to enjoy some of the best brews produced in Newfoundland. That was followed by dinner at Duke of Duckworth (as seen on Republic of Doyle), Adam’s pick for the best fish and chips.

Fish and chips and…dressing.

The fish was served with fries covered in dressing (stuffing) and gravy; a classic Newfie dish.

There are many things that are awesome about Five Brothers Artisan Cheese. Adam is a trained chef but when it comes to cheesemaking he’s totally self-taught. Not only is Five Brothers the only artisanal cheesemaker in Newfoundland but it’s also North America’s Easternmost cheese factory and perhaps the smallest. Adam actually buys up to 150L of milk per week in 2L cartons from Sobeys grocery store and makes cheeses on a stove top. Wait, what? Is that even possible? It sure is but due to the small batch size it requires a lot of work. Adam began making cheese at home it was a huge hit with his family and friends. With their support, Adam built a commercial kitchen in a rented space where he hand crafts the cheeses and ages them in a series of fridges.

Five Brother’s Mozza, goat cheddar, queso fresco, rhubarb

Adam Blanchard and I finally sat down to try his cheese a mere two hours before my flight off the island. On Adam’s desk sat a jar of bottled moose given to him by his Grandma, which he explained was a Newfoundlander specialty. I was eager to try it but due to the time constraint we skipped it and headed right for the cheese.

Handstretched mozzarella is one of Five Brothers’ most popular products. It’s firmer than Italian mozzarella but has a lovely layered texture and a flavour of cream. This is a cheese that I could just keep eating. Up next we tried the Latin-American style Queso Fresco, which has a taste of cream with a citrus tang and can be crumbled in salads or fried in oil. Five Brothers also produces goat and cow milk cheddars aged in yellow wax. I tried the goat cheddar and was amazed at the intensity of the flavour that developed after only 2 months. You sure can’t compare this cheese to your typical mild cheddar! The flavour lingers on your palate and would be perfect in pesto or grated in savoury dishes.

St. John’s, Newfoundland

Adam has a loyal following and sells out of all his cheese every week at the farmers market. His cheeses can also be found on the plates of the finest restaurants in St. John’s such as Aqua Kitchen|Bar and Chiched Bistro. I think it’s awesome that Brad and Adam are producing cheese for the Newfoundland market but the real thanks go to the people of Newfoundland for supporting these ventures.

Rocket Food cookies on display (from the Rocket Food Facebook page)

I fell in love with St. John’s. It is at the top of my list of cities to return to. With new restaurants popping up, a relatively new farmers market (this is its 5th summer) and 2 cheese companies the food scene seems to be blooming. One of my favourite foodie spots is Rocket Food, a café and bakery with delicious food and friendly staff (though I really didn’t meet anyone in St. John’s that I’d consider unfriendly). Downtown St. John’s is full of young people, hip shops, hangouts and of course the legendary George St. which boasts the most bars per square foot on any street in North America. I spent a couple of nights out on George St. but details are still a little hazy and best not recorded.

Yellow Belly Brewery and Public House

The cheese movement in St. John’s is very much still in its infancy. The local cheeses aren’t perfect and the producers are continuing to learn and experiment with new products. Customers are vital to the development of a food community and local products so please give your cheesemaker feedback and ask for local cheese where you shop and eat. There’s something special happening in St. John’s right now and I can’t wait to return. To all those supporting local cheese I raise a pint of Yellowbelly Pale Ale in your honour!

For Curds and Eh 1, click hereCurds and Eh 2, Click Here, and Curds and Eh 3 , click here.

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Local Brew, Local Cheese: Canuck Pairings that are Beauty

Cheese and Charcuterie Plates at Obladee Wine Bar, Halifax

After I tweeted a story on general beer and cheese pairings,  Heather Rankin, owner of Obladee Wine Bar in Halifax  suggested we do this thing right–and list great CANADIAN beer and cheese pairings.  Heather (cheese lover, sommelier and mum) chose the cheeses and Craig Pinhey (Beer Judge, Sommelier and writer) did the beer honours.  Heather wrote the blog. 

So Happy Together

Canada makes fantastic beer and phenomenal cheese. But often we forget to pair them together. “What grows together goes together” is a fundamental food pairing principle: by combining food and drink from the same region there are automatic similarities in aroma and flavour which set the foundation for a harmonious pairing.

Here we pick six of our favourite Canadian beers and pair them with an outstanding cheese from the same province. Try them yourself. You may never reach for potato chips and pizza with your brewski again.

1. Creemore Springs Premium Lager & Comfort Cream – Ontario


The combination of vibrant carbonation and sweet biscuit-like malt in Creemore Lager make it an ideal partner for a rich, bloomy-rind, Camembert-style cheese.

Comfort Cream (canadacheeseman.wordpress.com))

Comfort Cream from Upper Canada Cheese Co. is an oozy, velvety, buttery cheese that loves the mouth-cleansing action of sudsy bubbles with just enough tartness to cut through the fat. Enter Creemore Springs Premium Lager. Because it’s not overly bitter, the beer doesn’t trump the cheese and accentuate unwanted undertones. True to Camembert form, the cheese offers classic mushroomy, earthy flavours which are right in step with the marked floral notes in this beer.

2. Blanche de Chambly & Grey Owl – Quebec

Grey Owl  (Rob Wilkes for chasingthecheese.com)

Wheat beer often goes well with goat cheese, but the pairing gets more interesting when good character is present in both. Grey Owl, from Fromagerie Le Détour, has a mild, chalky, paste that is complex enough to hold its own, but doesn’t try to compete with the delicate spice of this white ale.

Blanche de Chambly

The pairing really comes together on tangy, citrus notes with Blanche de Chambly‘s orange and lemon tartness echoing the citrus acidity of the cheese. Grey Owl’s ash-rind might be a tad too vegetal/green for this match if it weren’t for a prevailing coriander note in the ale that pulls it all together.  Not your typical Wheat Beer/Goat cheeses pairing, to be sure!

3. Propeller Pale Ale & Ran-Cher Acres Chèvre – Nova Scotia

Propeller Pale Ale

The mellow, balanced Propeller pale ale requires a younger, tamer cheese – but not so tame that the cheese disappears. Moderate hoppy flavours are a good mate for tartness in a cheese – which this fresh goat’s milk cheese has plenty of.

Chèvre ( JilGL)

The chèvre is also fruity, picking up on similar elements in the beer (pear), and is delectably creamy, not sour. Ultra creamy cheeses like the Ran-Cher Acres Chèvre cry out for a crisp, cleansing, companion like the Propeller Pale Ale. A match made in Maritime heaven.

4. Iron Horse Brown Ale & Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar – PEI

Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar (citylifemagazine.ca)

The dark chocolate and roasted nut notes in this brew fuse perfectly with the creamy, rich, toffee flavours of of this aged, linen-wrapped cheddar from Cow’s Creamery. The beer completely winds itself around this cheese and does not let go. (Think: Caramilk bar… but better!)

Iron Horse Brown Ale

There is also a rustic, bitter edge to the Iron Horse which mimics the earthiness of the Clothbound – especially toward the rind – and provides a savoury/sweet contrast that is pretty unbeatable. Never have a horse and a cow been so happy together.

5. Red Racer IPA & Alpindon – BC

At Kootenay Alpine Cheese (Kootenaybiz.com)

Fashioned after the Beaufort d’Alpage, Kootenay Alpine Cheese Co’s Alpindon is intense and complex – precisely what this racy IPA craves in a mate. The Red Racer is a bit of a hop monster and so requires a cheese that is just as shouty.

Red Racer IPA

Part of the cheese’s pungency comes from its dark textured rind that has a lovely burnt, woodsy taste which highlights the brawny bitterness of the IPA. Tiny crystals nestled in the Alpindon’s paste add an exciting crunch and their buttery, herbaceous flavour sings against the beer’s caramel maltiness and florality.

6. Pump House Blueberry Ale & Marti – New Brunswick


The dominant element in both the Blueberry Ale and this firm, unpasteurized sheep’s milk cheese is a mild sweetness. Marti, made by Bergerie aux Quatre Vents (in Dieppe, NB), is a delicate fruity cheese with vanilla notes that couple brilliantly with the berry and malt characteristics of this fruit beer

Pumphouse Blueberry Ale

The cheese’s rind is tender and without harsh flavours that might disrupt the softness of the Pump House. There is a subtle saltiness to the
cheese which is nicely contrasted by sweet fruit and peppery notes in the ale.

Both the beer and cheese are more or less equal in terms of flavour intensity – an important element to consider, even when similar flavours appear in both.

For more information on how to contact/follow/thank profusely either Heather or Craig you can follow Heather @curlyluddite  or @obladeewinebar.  Craig tweets from @frogspadca and writes at frogspad.ca.  I am grateful to both for their enthusiasm, making time to share their knowledge and especially for making me look good next time I put out a cheese board with beer.

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Curds and Eh: Episode 3- Our Home and Native Cow

Who says Canadians aren’t beautiful?

Nestled amongst large rocky mountains (hills to some) in Baie-Saint-Paul lies Laiterie Charlevoix, a cheese factory owned by the 7 Labbé brothers. One of their most popular cheeses is Le 1608, a washed rind cheese that was launched in 2008 to coincide with Quebec City’s 400th anniversary. This cheese is aged 4-6months, has a pleasant pungency and is one of only two cheeses that I know that is made solely from the milk of the Vache Canadienne, a rare breed of cow (Pied-de-Vent is the other).

1608 at rest.

The ancestors of this breed were introduced to Canada from Brittany and Normandy in the early 17th century by Samuel de Champlain. I met with Mario Duchesne, a biologist and leading expert on the Vache Canadienne, who explained that the cows originally weren’t a distinct breed but a population with a variety of genetic traits. At their peak there were 300,000 Vache Canadienne but now only around 1000 are left in the world. Mario, the farmers, and Laiterie Charlevoix are fighting to protect this rare breed and ensure they don’t disappear forever.

Inside the leading edge waste water treatment plant

Besides delicious cheese, and a rare breed of cow, one of the most interesting parts of Laiterie Charlevoix is their wastewater treatment system. I know that’s generally not something to get excited about but things are different here. The Labbé family actually created an environmentally friendly system for disposing of their whey and wash water. Basically, bacteria cultures are added to the wastewater to ferment it. Methane gas is produced then collected and burned to heat water for cleaning, heat-treating the milk and warming the cheese vats. The remaining grey water is then cycled through a series of ‘ponds’ with plants such as canna, papyrus and elephant ears which act as filters removing Nitrogen and Phosphorus. At the end of this system, the clean water flows into a pond with koi fish to demonstrate its cleanliness and then into the nearby river.

Cabins on the Laiterie Charlevoix campground–walking distance to fresh Pain au Chocolat. Now that’s roughing it.

The Labbé family also produces a line of ice cream and preserves, has a dairy museum and runs a campground near the dairy.

It’s easy for travelers and curd nerds alike to spend several hours at Laiterie Charlevoix. It’s definitely worth a visit!

This post is part of a guest blog series by Kelsie Parsons.    For Eps 1, click here and Eps 2, Click Here.

(Kelsie will be blogging from the East Coast in the next installment, stay tuned!)

Sue’s Note:  I visited the Charlevoix region last year and other than beautiful scenery there is a whole Flavour Trail of delicious aritisanal foods to try; from the local cheese to traditionally made foie gras to the famous local lamb chops, sausages and smoked salmon.  Here is the Charlevoix travel piece I wrote about the adventure.

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Toast Post: Cravings for the Fourth of July-California’s San Joaquin Gold

San Joaquin Gold shaved onto toast

As the Beach Boys sang on a forgotten B-Side, “Wish they all could be California Cheese”.  And you will hum along too after a taste of the Fiscalini San Joaquin Gold from Modesto, CA.

It’s the salty buttery combo that is so seductive when balanced perfectly in a cheese and this one had me at first bite of this firm, aged wedge.  It will keep you captive well into a long, smooth finish.

In fact, I had to laugh at myself because I took a piece and held it up to my nose to get a sense of the aroma when suddenly it was gone! I ate it on impulse.  It was like holding a piece of ham up to my cat.

I’d better lay my cards on the table-you can’t get the San Joaquin Gold in Canada right now, but as many of us travel to the US I figured it might be a good one to enter into you TO DO list on the iPhone or Blackberry (or jot on a piece of paper that you will find 2 years from now in your denim capris).

Above is the label for your shopping reference.  You can see the cheese is farmstead, made from the milk of the Fiscalini’s own cows.  They are very proud that their milk standards exceed even the California State Standards and “cleaner” than organic.  The farm is animal welfare certified, environmentally certified and powered by renewable energy produced on-site.  This cheese is made from raw milk in 32 pound wheels and typically aged about 16 months.  The one I had was a bit older–from March 30, 2010.

The slightly “blueing” on the far edge of the cheese is simply a small crack where oxygen and natural bacteria snuck in. Nothing to worry about.

The cheese has a similarity to Parmigiano Reggiano and was originally created to be a Fontina-style product which ended up evolving into something rather unique.  The Fiscalini’s refer to the Joaquin Gold as their “Gold Medal Mistake” (winning Gold at the World Cheese Awards in London 2004/2005).  As it ages the cheese develops the tasty and crunchy tyrosine crystals and develops some toasted nutty notes.

Snack on it, grate it, melt it, travel with it.  This cheese is extremely versatile.

Fiscalini Clothbound Cheddar, 18 month–Fred Lum, The Globe and Mail

And while your mouth is watering you CAN get the amazing Fiscalini Clothbound Cheddar here in Canada (Sobey’s carries it).  For more details you can read my ravings in this Spread piece (because it really deserves to be raved about.).  Cheesemaker Mariano Gonzales, who honed his skills at Shelburne Farms in Vermont (where he created one of the first American clothbound cheddars) is responsible for the Fiscalini clothbound but credit for the San Joaquin’s creation goes to Tom Putler.

The San Joaquin gold is vegetarian friendly as it is made with a microbial rennet (and has a natural rind).  (The clothbound is also made with microbial rennet but rubbed with lard before being bandaged).

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July 7–better than the Canada Day Long weekend (Farm, music, chefs) GROW FOR THE STOP FUNDRAISER

Better than the long weekend? Uh-huh.  In case you hadn’t heard, The New Farm’s 5th Annual Fundraiser for Grow For The Stop is happening this Saturday July 7.  Montreal band Stars will be performing amongst delicious, organic local food prepared by some of Ontario’s top chefs.  Here are the deets:
Saturday July 7th, 2012
Gates Open and Dinner: 5:30
Opening Band: 7:30
Stars Perform: 8:30
Admission: $45, plus eventbrite ticketing fees – http://www.eventbrite.ca/event/3540334235
Food and drink sold separately – cash sales

  • Rodney Bowers of Hey Meatball, Organic French Fries with Ketchup and Mayo
  • Chris Brown of The Stop Community Food Centre – Twin Creeks Grilled Pork Sausages with New Farm Cucumber Slaw
  • Kristin and Dan Donovan of Hooked – Fish Tacos served with Luis Valenzuela of Torito Tapas Bar’s Fresh K2 Milling Corn Tortillas
  • Matt Flett of Georgian College – New Farm Pulled Pork on Brick Street Bakery’s Artisanal Buns
  • Brad Long of Cafe Belong, New Farm Salad Greens and Spring Vegetables with Brown Butter Dressing
  • Giacomo Pasquini of Vertical Restaurant – Fenwood Grilled Chicken with Panzanella Salad
  • Aaron Bear Robe of Keriwa Cafe – New Farm Fried Green Tomatoes with Snap Pea Guacamole
  • John Sinopoli of Table 17 and Escari –  Spring Vegetable Frittata
  • Caesar Guinto of the soon to open, Creemore Kitchen – Heritage Grain Donuts with Sweet Beet Filling
  • Mapleton’s Organic Ice Cream
  • Ingredients distributed by 100km Foods Inc.
Bar Selections Generously Provided by:
  • Creemore Springs Brewery
  • Martini Bar by Tag Vodka with Local Flavours
  • Wine by Innisikillin
  • Organic, Fair Trade Coffee by Merchants of Green Coffee 
  • Cider by Avalon Orchards
  • Dairy by Organic Meadow 

  • The New Farm is a small diversified organic farm, near the Village of Creemore. Three years ago, The New Farm formed a partnership with The Stop Community Food Centre in Toronto, a wonderfully innovative and inspirational organization that works to increase access to healthy food in a manner that maintains dignity, builds community and challenges inequality. The New Farm does many things to support their work, including holding events on their farm that feature great music, dram and delicious food. They built a stage in their 100 year old bank barn and have had bands like Fred Eaglesmith, The Sunparlour Players and Elliott Brood perform. To date, The New Farm has raised over $50,000 for Grow for The Stop’s Food Program, where 100% of the money raised goes towards buying the best organic food grown in Southern Ontario for use in the Stop’s many programs and Foodbanks in Stayner and Collingwood.This year, The New Farm hopes to raise $25,000 on July 7th, with an event that will draw 500 people. The renowned Montreal Band, Stars will perform and this year, the event will showcase a variety of different food stations featuring a number of Ontario’s top chefs and restaurants.



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