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Monday, 2 May 2011

Eat Alberta - A Feast for the Senses

Eat Alberta, held in Edmonton on April 30th, 2011, was a celebration of Alberta's homegrown culinary feats and practices. Imagine a day where one can forget the troubles and bustles of the outside world and, instead, slip into a world that abounds with tantalizing scents, flavours, textures and - above all - education in the ways of local food.

Alberta's collective culinary knowledge is enviable, and it spans an impressive spectrum that encompasses farming, animal husbandry, baking, preserving, and perpetuating all of these traditions. Attendees at Eat Alberta were treated to several keynote speeches: philosophical insights into local farmers Jennifer Berkenbosch and James Vriend's (of Sundog Organic Farm) connection to their land, and forays into the storied and complex lives of farmers, all captured by Kevin Kossowan's "From Local Farms" film series.

It was difficult to select sessions from the impressive roster of hands-on workshops. Goat cheese tasting, hosted by Holly Gale of Smoky Valley Goat Cheese, presented six artisan incarnations of goat cheese (pictured below). Our senses were guided through the nuances of scent, texture and flavour inherent in each. One - St. Maure - could be described as lazily sweet, slightly chalky to the nose and lightly crusty to the touch, while another - Annette - is firm but yielding and subtly bitter with notes of mould and herbs.

Worldly foodie Kathryn Joel (of Get Cooking in Edmonton) instructed participants in the art of pasta making. The process requires focus and patience; the ingredients are simple (flour and eggs), but one must slowly incorporate the correct amount of flour into the eggs and knead vigourously until the ideal, silky but firm, texture is achieved. A simple pesto Genovese - heady and fragrant with garlic and basil - allows the noodles' toothsome essence to shine. This session has an additional bonus: I am no longer jealous of David Rocco.

Home Coffee Brewing Techniques, explained by Chad Moss of Transcend Coffee, outlines the intricacies inherent in three common java brewing methods: French press, drip and aeropress. The same variety of coffee will express different notes, depending on the technique. French press produces a coffee with a heavy, lightly gritty, body, while drip coffee possesses a greater rainbow of flavour notes within the brew. Moss advises avoidance of percolators, for this method ejects flavour compounds from the grounds - the result is a room that smells like great coffee, but the liquid leaves much to be desired.

The day was over too soon, and so much more could be discussed. The artistic charcuterie at lunch. The camaraderie. The riotous raffle for the espresso machine. The honey tasting. The deep sense of gratitude that comes with acquisition of new skills, forging of personal connections, and gaining a heightened appreciation of the depth and breadth of culinary knowledge that our city and province is so fortunate to possess.

 Making pasta requires patience but the end result is worth the effort.

A snowy kaleidoscope of goat cheese. From the bottom (clockwise) Valencay, St. Maure, Annette, Farmer's, Tomme and Chevre.

Charcuterie for lunch included (from the bottom, clockwise) duck, wild mushrooms, bison with berry sauce, bread, and cheese.


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