I attended the Fraser Valley Food Show as a guest on a media tour, but had no obligation to review or write about any aspect of the show. All opinions are my own.
I grew up in the Fraser Valley, in a typically suburban neighbourhood, with 1/4 acre lots, corner stores, and tiny drive-in shopping centres that housed things like the local library and bank branches, along with bakeries, hardware stores and a Greek-Italian steakhouse or two. If we hopped on our bikes, we could ride out to where the farmland began, but it was mostly hobby farms and horse barns. The working farms were farther away.
We weren’t completely divorced from those farms, though. We were lucky enough that there were what we called ‘farm markets’ at intervals along Fraser Highway, stocked with local fruit and vegetables. My parents preferred to shop there over the supermarket, while also keeping an eye out for seasonal goodies like Chilliwack corn, fruit stands, and ‘U Pick’ berries. So, long before farm-to-table became de rigueur, we knew how lucky we were to live in such a fertile place.
But the Fraser Valley has more to offer than just the building blocks of good meals. From charcuterie to chocolate, from bread to beer, there are more and more businesses offering the kind of food and drink that’s been celebrated in hotbeds like Brooklyn or Portland. And the Fraser Valley Food Show does a good job of showcasing the range of what this region has to offer.
I went on Saturday, just in time to beat the line for the Oktoberfest Sausage Tasting. I found it hard to choose amongst the nine or ten sausages I tried – they were all wonderful, some with a slow heat and others with a meaty savour. I certainly would have hated to be one of the three judges for the competition round. They had to sample 112 different sausages before coming to a decision about handing out multiple ribbons and trophies. You can see a list of the winners here. I suspect it might make a good basis for a self-guided tour of Metro Vancouver sausage makers.
The rest of my day was spent exploring the stalls, listening to speakers, and sampling, sampling, sampling. The Gluten Free Living show was particularly interesting to me, as my partner has celiac disease and we’re always looking for good gluten-free staples. There were lots of great prepared foods there, of course, but there were two things that really impressed me. First, all the exhibitors at the Food Show were knowledgeable about whether or not there was gluten (or allergens) in their products, whether they were in the gluten-free area or not. Secondly, there were some interesting ingredients on offer, like Nextjen gluten-free flour mix. It’s great to be able to buy a box of gluten-free cookies or pasta, but for someone who likes scratch cooking and baking, base ingredients that are safe and easy to use are an exciting development. And buying local makes it even better.
As for all that sampling I did, well, I’m going to give you a short list of some of the things that stood out for me this year. It won’t be comprehensive, because there was a lot of good stuff to eat, drink, and buy.
ChocolaTas’ Chocolate Ganaches
JD Farms’ turkey sausages
Fire Belly’s pepper sauces
Shuswap Infusions’ teas
Parallel 49’s Schadenfreude Pumpkin Oktoberfest beer
Glutenberg’s Chestnut Brown Ale
Campbell’s Gold mead and melomel
I don’t know about you, but whenever I go to an event like this, I find myself a little intimidated by the line in front of the All You Need is Cheese demonstration area. I don’t know if it’s because we got to the Food Show a little early, but there was only a short line on Saturday. So, I ducked in with Mary from Vancouver Bits and Bites and Cathy Browne. (It was so nice to meet you, ladies.) In a short time, we had a tasting of seven different cheeses across several categories. Many of them were BC cheeses, too. I learned a thing or two and my taste buds were primed for heading over to the Wine, Beer, and Spirits Tasting.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Ned Bell’s presentation. He spoke about his cross-Canada cycle trip in support of sustainable seafood and then he showed us how to break down a salmon, while giving us tips and information on how to work sustainable seafood into our diets. I wasn’t aware that land-based fish farming is one source of sustainable seafood and I certainly hadn’t thought about the cost savings involved in buying a whole salmon, breaking it down, and freezing it in portions. You can find out more about Bell’s ride at Chefs for Oceans and here’s a link to my go to resource for information about sustainable seafood, Ocean Wise.
My only quibble with the show is that I’d like to see them showcase more local restaurants in their Bite of the Valley category. I’d love the opportunity to sample small plates from any of the great restaurants that put the food produced in the Fraser Valley to such good use. It would make the show a complete journey from farm to plate.