Kitchen Smidgen is a small bakery — a smidgen of a spot along the beautiful Thames in St. Marys operated by Cindy Taylor. Stop by for sweet and savoury treats; perhaps pick up some C’est bon cheese or Transvaal Farm preserves. Taylor’s cinnamon buns and scones have a bit of a cult following.
BY BRYAN LAVERY
To bond with the rural charm that defines Perth County, consider day-tripping by car and staying in farmhouses or farm guest houses. Agritourism, as it is defined most commonly, constitutes any agriculturally-based operation that brings visitors to a farm. Many agro-tourists have a strong interest in all things culinary. They want to meet the local farmers, artisans and processors and talk with them about what is involved in food production while getting an authentic taste of rural life.
In Perth County, culinary entrepreneurs continue to develop fresh takes on the farm-to-table ethos while examining the roots of local cuisine and developing new region-specific specialties and products. They characterize the entrepreneurial spirit of the modernist vanguard by re-imagining the food chain, safeguarding the terroir and adding their unique contributions to the collective Ontario culinary identity.
On a beautiful mid-September day, at the invitation of Stratford Tourism and the Ontario Culinary Alliance, I visited Transvaal Farm and the small on-farm family run C’estbon cheese business as part of the itinerary of a carefully planned FAM tour. The tour was geared to familiarize the press with many of the epic culinary attractions in and around Stratford and St. Marys, Ontario.
Down a bucolic backroad on the verge of the historic stone town of St. Marys lies Transvaal Farm at the end of a tree-lined driveway. The pastoral 50-acre farm has been home to Cindy Taylor’s family for over three decades. Cindy and her raconteur husband Scott McLauchlan are our formidable hosts on this informative and entertaining agritourism experience. The main elements of this adventure are a guided tour by Scott of the storybook property and farm gardens, a tour and a lavish farm-to-table breakfast prepared by Cindy at the guest house, and a tour of the small-scale artisan goat cheese plant operated by Cindy’s brother, owner and cheesemaker, George Taylor.
Shortly after our arrival we walk over to the chicken coop to meet “the girls” a bevy of Rhode Island Reds, and collect some freshly laid eggs for breakfast. Although they are excellent free range foragers, McLauchlan tells us, “the girls” need some protection from the late-night wildlife interlopers that prowl the farm.
Despite the intense hot weather we’ve had, part of the farm garden is overflowing with the bright greenery of nasturtium leaves and their vibrant edible flowers. There are plenty of hardy vegetables still in the field, especially colourful varieties of ubiquitous peppers and tomatoes ripe for the picking.
Back at the Transvaal Farm guesthouse the refrigerator is stocked with samplings of fresh, milky and satisfyingly tart C’estbon goat cheese, made on the property from a neighbouring herd of goats. There is farm fresh goat milk on offer and a delicious creamy goat yogurt that is like crème fraiche – “Not without similarities to Iceland’s super-trendy Skyr,” says Ontario Culinary Alliance, Community Manager, Agatha Podgorski – the yogurt we are told is still in the beta stage and we are the first to enjoy a sampling. Technically, the yogurt is a cheese with full-fat content.
Cindy a graduate of the Baking Arts program at George Brown College has outdone herself by crafting a selection of high-quality baked goods made in small batches using traditional methods from Transvaal Farm’s fresh ingredients. These are the products that Cindy takes to the St. Marys Farmers’ Market on Saturdays in season. We are the recipients of much culinary largesse that includes her baking and Transvaal Farms preserves.
George is welcoming and willing to share his story. What began as a retirement project sixteen years ago – which George hoped would be able to sustain its own costs – became a successful artisan goat cheese operation that soon showed both sustainability and profitability. George famously swapped a flock of sheep for a herd of Toggenburg and La Mancha goats, and began crafting farmstead, small-batch, cheese- by-hand, using only the milk from his own herd to create his proprietary C’estbon chèvre.
In time, George eventually relocated his goats to a neighbouring farm. Today, once a week about 5,000 litres of goat milk is delivered from a local producer, Hewitt’s Dairy, and the process begins. Not a single item goes off the property without George’s thumbprint on it. Authentic artisan cheese can’t be mass-produced: it is limited in quantity and has specific characteristics deemed to be specialty in nature.
A sense of community and an entrepreneurial culture are important economic drivers in rural areas. Upwards of 80 percent of Stratford’s upscale chefs and restaurateurs purchase C’estbon chevre.
One of the experiences Cindy offers to farm guests is the opportunity to participate in an on-site hands-on culinary workshop. She offers workshops on preserving, home-made bread or pastry, chocolate truffles, and even making your own goat cheese. You choose which culinary experience you would like to partake in and Cindy will arrange a convenient day to make it happen.
The culinary tour of Transvaal Farm and the C’estbon cheese operations was both inspiring and informative. It reminded us of the strong links of like-minded entrepreneurs by talking about the things we all have in common — enjoying the benefits that we receive from a healthy entrepreneurial, artisan and agriculture culture. On another level it reminds us to embrace unique products that are locally conceived, locally controlled and as rich in local content as the distinctive terroir and time-honoured ways of preparing them of any given era.
4675 Line 3, St. Marys, Ontario