The Canadian Artisan Tasting Fair wakes restful foodies from slumber

Written by Leigh Van Maaren
Photos by Mike Sirois

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Sunday mornings are not my forte. As somebody who regularly finds themselves unable to get out of bed until 3pm on Sunday afternoons, I’ve long been relegated to all-day brunch places as my only option. When we heard about the Artisan Food Fair at Wychwood Barns on December 1st, however, the promise of a load of delicious cheese a mere 10 minute walk from my front door would get me out of bed on a Sunday morning.

They were already off to a good start – Artscape Wychwood Barns is a real gem of a venue – it opened in 2008, and is a bit under the radar still – but they’re artist-friendly and very food-friendly, along with just being a beautiful heritage space for an event. My only qualm with the space is that it can be a bit tight – when we arrived around 1:30pm, the space was very full. It was difficult to move through the crowd and even more difficult to find a place to put our bites down to eat, but as time went on the crowd thinned a bit and we were able to move around and sample without issue.

First and foremost, we needed coffee – and Pig Iron was there to provide us with our caffeine fix. I know the glory of the beans from Pig Iron after being treated to it a couple of weeks ago at Yuli’s place, so I’m excited. I went for the cappuccino because I can’t live my life without dairy, and Mike, my partner/photographer, opts for the Americano. Both are exceptional, and with coffee in tow we’re ready to pick up some doughnuts from the vivacious ladies manning the Glory Hole doughnuts booth. There was also a wide selection of beer available, but I’m still feeling the effects of Saturday night far too much to enjoy a beer at this hour, so we skip this part of the fair.

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Glory Hole came prepared with huge stacks of yeast-risen doughnuts; cinnamon-sugar, glazed, and chocolate dipped – probably because they know that once you try one of their doughnuts, you’re hooked. Even better, they’re armed with toppings. I got my glazed doughnut with whipped cream and raspberry sauce, and Mike opts for his cinnamon sugar donut unadulterated. I enjoy my glazed doughnut so much, I strongly consider just camping down in front of the booth for the rest of the afternoon.

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When we get to the table shared by Sanagan’s Meatlocker and Blackbird Baking Co. I’m glad that I decided to move on. I thought that having a shared table to showcase both products was one of the best ideas at the fair – Sanagan’s pork cretons and chicken liver mousse are prepared in to fantastic bites on Blackbird’s bread. I am always a huge fan of both cured and spreadable meats, and the varied and expertly prepared selection at the fair will have me in to Sanagan’s in the future.

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While many of the booths at the fair fell were Artisans in the downtown, hipster sense of the word – my favourite booth at the fair was definitely not. Crossroad Farm, based on Oxford County, which offered up two varieties of Sheep’s Gouda. We chatted with farmer, cheese maker, brand ambassador and social media manager, Dan McMillen, who told us that he started making the cheese as a use for the excess sheep’s milk that the farm couldn’t sell in 2012. Both varieties of Gouda wow me – and as a Dutch girl, Gouda flows through my veins. I prefer the exceptionally nutty old variety, although the tangier, more floral mild was extremely tantalizing as well. Since Crossroad Farms isn’t based in the city, you can find their cheese at the Leslieville Cheese Market, where we finish up our trip by trying way too many amazing blue cheeses.

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Overall, the Canadian Artisan Tasting fair was a success – we left with our bellies full of delicious samples of breads, meats, cheeses, and treats from around Ontario. I would have felt inclined to enjoy some of the delicious beer offered by a myriad of local breweries as well, had the event taken place a little bit later in the day. Ultimately, however, we left very satisfied and with a roster of new artisans to seek out in the city; which I imagine is what the tasting fair hoped to achieve. I’m looking forward to the next installment of the fair, and you should be too.

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