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  • Signatures Spring Show features top Ontario food creators

Signatures Spring Show features top Ontario food creators

Serious and seriously good food creators

Ontario has a wealth of fine food creators and because of our size, it’s sometimes challenging to find the best of the crop as companies struggle to get noticed.

Luckily art and craft shows are there to help corral some top talents and bring them to our attention. In today’s line-up, you’ll be pleased to know that all the products represented are entirely clean label, which means that only recognizable and pronounceable ingredients are used.

Sprucewood Handmade Cookies has been in operation for 24 years and under the direction of founder chef Mark Pollard, their fabulous bites are now found coast to coast.

Pollard had spent his early years working on Wall Street and eventually found that he needed to satisfy his creative impulses. Back in Canada, he started Sprucewood Catering and Event Planning and his cheddar shortbread cookies became so popular that he added a cookie division to his enterprise.

Sprucewood cookies. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout

Sprucewood cookies. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout

Not satisfied to just make great tasting cookies, he was interested in developing a treat that had less sugar but would still be a full representation of the flavours on the label. 

Today his beloved cheddar shortbreads come in four flavour directions and not one has sugar in the mix. He does however use four-year aged cheddar in his recipes and the results show in one satisfying bite after another. You can enjoy them as they are but Pollard would encourage you to try a favourite soft cheese or a red pepper jelly as toppers.

Butter is in all his products and his sweet shortbreads have only one gram of sugar per cookie. Yet they are full on in character. Personal favourites include: lemon zest, raspberry and lavender. You also don’t want to miss the original shortbread, and at $7 per box, Pollard’s creations are true value propositions.

As an extra bonus, he’s particularly proud of the fact that all his ingredients are sourced from within 200 km of Cobourg where he has his manufacturing facility. He also refuses to use off-shore packaging, using a local company instead.

Contact chef Mark on where to find his shortbreads in Ottawa, or simply take advantage of the offers on the website. He also has a robust show schedule posted and because he’s so affable and gregarious, you’ll want to meet him in person.

In fact, Pollard will be back this coming weekend April 12-14 at the EY Centre’s Cottage Life and Backyard Show, where he will have special show pricing on his goods.

Paradisio Bees

Owners Kamila Imbir and Joel Helmer. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout

Owners Kamila Imbir and Joel Helmer. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout

The focus at Paradisio Bees is small batch raw and pure honey made from Basswood aka Linden trees. These trees are native to Europe and North America and how wonderful for me as Linden honey is a favourite of mine. 

Having grown up with this honey, I was impressed by the quality of their products. Tasting it, it had a waxy mouthfeel on the finish and it was long and floral. 

As beekeepers the husband and wife duo make a variety of other products such as soaps, candles, bodycare butters and lip balms but they also focus on internal health care and here is where I need to talk about the next item: Elderberry Elixir.

Every once in a while I come across an item that is singular in its taste and formulation. The Elderberry Elixir is one of those standouts.

Elderberry Elixir. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout

Elderberry Elixir. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout

The immune boosting properties of elderberry are well known (link under Quick Bites below) and here the berry syrup is combined with apple cider vinegar, honey, cinnamon and ginger for an eye-popping lift. The product is so well conceived that you may be inclined to finish it in short order.

I’ve opted to take it as a daily one teaspoon tonic but I did compromise its purpose the other night and added an ounce to an ounce of vodka and four ounces of sparkling water. What a delicious nightcap and the honey flavour was actually amplified multiple times.

But don’t restrict yourself. This elixir is perfect for your morning oatmeal or over french toast. It’s also delicious in tea. 

They offer other health oriented items such as bee pollen and the Golden Elixir and The Booster and they continue to work on newer formulations as their online shop expands. 

Order from Paradisio directly or you can find some of their products at Top Shelf Preserves here in Ottawa.

Templeman’s Toffees

Jean Templeman and Rob Russell. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout

Jean Templeman and Rob Russell. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout

We’ve all likely had friends who, at Christmas, make toffee brittle as gifts and I for one was always a happy and grateful recipient. The combination of butter with caramelized sugar can be pretty intoxicating but it takes some practice to get the recipe right.

Creating a toffee that both tastes great and won’t chip a tooth takes practice. You also can’t skimp on ingredients, as the chocolate needs to be of quality. It is, after all, the first thing you taste.

Enter the wife and husband team of Jean Templeman and Rob Russell who have been creating Canada’s finest toffee since 2006. The two met while studying journalism and a few years later embarked on her eponymous project.

Templeman’s Toffees. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout

After many years of travel promoting their products across Canada, Templeman’s Toffees was named “Product of the Year” by Product of the Year Canada.  They are currently available in six provinces with the bulk of the distribution in Ontario.

Candy-type products are available by the thousands and so if you’re entering this market, yours needs to stand out. Here is where a clean ingredient list is key. Jean uses nothing artificial in her toffees and you can taste the butter. 

The toffee easily breaks and melts without too much sticking to your teeth. Then again, that’s part of the experience. This is a top tier product and the only danger is over-indulging. 

Contact Jean and Rob for direct ordering or to discover where you might find their products in Ottawa.

The Canadian Birch Co.

Rory and Glenda Hart. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout

Rory and Glenda Hart. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout

Being Canadians, especially in the Outaouais, we’re all very familiar with maple syrup. Less common is a different but equally delicious syrup made from birch sap.

Rory and Glenda Hart are behind The Canadian Birch Company and it’s understandable why they feel that their products are the gold standard in birch syrup. 

They took me on a taste journey of their product range and it was another highlight of my visit to the Signatures Spring Show. They really did a great job of creating some fine recipes and their birch bacon jam was tremendous.

Birch whiskey toffee sauce. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout

Birch whiskey toffee sauce. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout

It was interesting to note that as in maple syrup production, birch syrup is made into the various grades of light, amber and dark. Other than sweetness, that’s where the similarities end. The dark version for example exhibits an unmistakable citrus note and you’ll wonder if it’s not had lemon added to it. Lip smacking and mysterious.

Glenda had asked me what a favourite product of theirs was. While not easy, there was the birch whiskey toffee sauce that had gone straight to an emotional core. This was just too good and if you know people with serious palates and a bit of a sweet tooth, they’ll add you to their wills for introducing you.

It was buttery rich with just a lot less sweetness than your mouth is expecting and that’s precisely what made it so dangerous: I wasn’t outdone by the sugar and so I wanted even more. I’ve not had a better dessert topping. I suspect that's why you might have difficulty finding an ingredient list. This is a prize recipe.

Glenda and Rory manage 160 acres of birch trees on their Manitoba property and it’s a labour-intensive enterprise. It can also be fraught with some danger during tick season. When walking their property, a special anti-tick suit is required. Despite this, the suit is not perfect.

I’ve fallen for these products in a big way but, as a writer, I also appreciate the effort they’ve put into their website. It’s replete with information about birch and it offers fabulous applications and recipes both savoury and sweet.

I can’t help but agree with them that birch syrup's time has come. 

Crosswind Farm

Crosswind Farm owner Cindy Hope. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout

As strange as it is, I suppose it’s only fitting that I end today’s tour with something savoury and as I am a cheese fan, I’m pleased to introduce you to Crosswind Farm

Cindy and her husband Kevin make some of the finer goat cheese products available in Ontario. As I went through their line up of flavoured cheeses, I was struck by their delicacy.

Smoked goat gouda. Ralf Joneikies/Ottawa Lookout

Their texture was ephemeral and almost cloud-like with the finishing tang absolutely refreshing. I would say finesse is an ideal way to characterize their cheeses.

I opted to take home the smoked goat gouda. This was flawless in its construction and texture. The smoke was mild enough to add complexity without drowning the fine flavour and there was even the fun element of discovering that it squeaked a little like cheese curds. I’ll be using it tonight on a flatbread with zucchini and caramelized onions.

Farmboy carries her products and they were the first to support her coming to market. You can also find her cheeses at Piggy Market, Herb and Spice and the Byward Fruit Market. I also encourage you to explore the website for a wide range of excellent recipes. Those pictures will inspire you.