Hit the road in celebration of Waterloo Region’s truly local offerings
by Ian Shantz | July 2023
Waterloo Region was a foodie region before being a foodie region was cool.
When you’re home to Canada’s largest year-round market – the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market – and the ample and optimal farmland found within the region’s townships – Woolwich, Wilmot, Wellesley, and North Dumfries – it certainly sets the table for farm-to-fork ideals.
And it’s why Waterloo Region is the focus of a new show streaming on FibeTV1 and the Fibe TV app called Farm to Fork. Hosted by the owner/ chef of The Fat Sparrow Group, Nick Benninger, the show follows Benninger as he visits farm-gate vendors throughout the Region, exploring farmers’ backgrounds and history while going behind the scenes. Benninger ends each show by using each farms’ specialties to produce amazing dishes, cooked outdoors over an open fire.
Farm to Fork also provides inspiration for a foodie road trip to Waterloo Region. Consider a morning visit to Oakridge Acres Country Meat Store and Mountainoak Cheese in the western part of the Region before heading to Woolwich to Shuh Orchards, then ending the road trip at The Charcuterie Bar in charming St. Jacobs. Raise a glass alongside the special charcuterie offering and salute what has indeed been a full-circle Farm to Fork day!
STOP #1: Oakridge Acres Country Meat Store, Ayr
Jessica Gerber of Oakridge Acres County Meat Store with their herd of bison
At the heart of what’s now the globally popular farm-to-table movement is a push towards a neutral or positive environmental impact by, among other things, reducing travel between food and consumer.
“In 2004, we were hearing almost new words: Buy local. Buy fresh. Support local. Local foods,” says Jess Gerber, whose family blazed a farm-to-fork trail of sorts by opening Oakridge Acres Country Meat Store on their 175-acre farm on the outskirts of Ayr in North Dumfries Township that year.
The store at the end of a picturesque laneway surrounded by grazing bison is one of the six local producers featured on Farm to Fork. Waterloo Region’s unique farm culture is worthy of celebration and exploration — and Oakridge Acres is an ideal first road-trip stop for farm-gate fanatics.
Oakridge Acres is Ecocert Canada-certified, putting its commitment to sustainability at the forefront for its customers who come from near and far to shop for meat, produce, dairy, preserves, baked goods, and health and beauty products.
The certified kitchen on site has been popular from the start, offering various ready-made frozen meals, including homemade soups and entrees using all-local meats and vegetables, ideal for health-conscious seniors and busy families alike.
Oakridge markets some of its own goods and partners with about 45 local farm producers, including Mountainoak Cheese, located a short drive away on the outskirts of nearby New Hamburg. Mountainoak is also featured on Farm to Fork, making it an optimal second stop on this foodie delight day trip.
STOP #2: Mountainoak Cheese, New Hamburg
Wilmot Township dairy farmers and cheesemakers Adam van Bergeijk and his wife Hannie arrived in Canada from Holland in the ’90s. They specialize in award-winning Goudas, Quarks, and curds using farm-fresh milk from their very own dairy cows for all their products.
“We help take care of our environment, leaving the smallest possible carbon footprint by producing our cheese right here on the farm with no extensive traveling or cooling,” said Adam van Bergeijk. “Just our own pure milk right into the final product.”
A wide selection of Mountainoak products can be purchased at the farm store at 3165 Huron Road. Public tours are also regularly offered to provide a peek behind the curtain into the world of cheesemaking.
STOP #3: Shuh Orchards, West Montrose
Robert, Lisa and Tim Shuh of Shuh Orchards
If an apple a day keeps the doctor away, take your medicine by heading to Shuh Orchards in Woolwich Township where north of six million apples are produced annually, including Honeycrisp, Gala, and Ambrosia varieties, all picked by hand.
“I would just really highlight the role that the seasonal workers play. They’re fantastic guys and we appreciate them,” said Robert Shuh, referencing the positive and lasting relationships he has built with his migrant employees from Jamaica.
“We don’t waste any product,” added Robert’s son, Tim, who runs consumer sales for the fourth-generation West Montrose orchard.
About 99% of Shuh’s production is sold to nearby Martin’s Family Fruit Farm, known for its recognizable and widely distributed apple chips. The rest are sold at Shuh’s laneway apple stand near West Montrose.
The 62,000 trees at Shuh begin blooming in mid to late May and the harvest season runs from mid-September to the end of October. The Shuhs offer photo-session packages during these times where guests can use the orchard as a stunning backdrop.
STOP #4: The Charcuterie Bar, St. Jacobs
In conjunction with his show, Benninger is introducing a special Farm to Fork charcuterie board at The Charcuterie Bar – one of his Fat Sparrow properties in the village of St. Jacobs. This special board showcases a variety of locally sourced artisanal meats and cheeses, including many from the farms featured in Farm to Fork.
We sampled a sneak-peek version of the board, and it was delectable, entirely local and absolutely delightful.
Mountainoak’s Wild Nettle, Gold and Truffle goudas were perfectly creamy, aromatic and subtle, while the bison tongue from Oakridge Acres was a unique, elevated taste, encased in jelly and Foie gras. Martin’s apple chips (produced using apples from Shuh Orchards) and Jewels Under the Kilt maple pecans provided some simple snacking to go with a special feature of dry-cured pork loin (Lonza) from Walton, ON Linton Pasture Pork. The dish was topped with pickled ramps, honey gastrique, truffle aioli and chips from Ray Woodey’s Craft Chippery. Stacked atop in-house Stone Crock Bakery bread, it all worked in unison to create heaven in a bite.
Our board was finished with made-in-house apple chutney and grainy mustard.
The Charcuterie Bar’s wine, beer and cocktail lists are extensive and provide perfect sips that pair nicely with charcuterie chef Matheson Duff and executive chef Loreena Miller’s house-made and locally sourced offerings.
Mountainoak Cheese, Shuh Orchards, and Oakridge Acres are all featured in episodes of the six-part Farm to Fork series. Additional episodes (10 minutes in length) highlight the Wisahkotewinowak urban Indigenous garden collective in Kitchener and Waterloo, Wellesley’s Fall Harvest Farm, and Fergus-based Jewels Under the Kilt.