Back in August, Mack and I had the privilege of co-hosting another Grand Taste Tour with Linda. Organized by Wild Heart Collective and Taste Alberta, the Grand Taste Tour was in its forth year, again showcasing some of the great local producers we are so fortunate to have in our province (you can read about past tours in 2016 and 2015).
This year, we would be visiting farms and businesses in and around the Lacombe area. Our first stop was Rock Ridge Dairy, where we were met by second generation farmer Patrick Bos and his wife Cherylynn.
Goats at Rock Ridge Dairy
Patrick’s father started Rock Ridge back in 1998, converting an ostrich farm to house the goats they would go on to raise for milk. The farm now spans 640 acres total.
We had fun with the goats
The goats mostly consume alfalfa and barley grown right on the farm, and, during the milking process, are provided with additional nutrients at the milking station based on its RFID tag. The machines are very efficient, and can milk their herd of 650 goats in about an hour.
Patrick shows us the milking machines
Rock Ridge processes about 45,000L of goat milk per week and is a primary supplier in Western Canada from Vancouver to Winnipeg. When they began, they originally shipped the milk off-site to process, but in the years since, they have acquired and created the equipment needed to not only process milk, but to also make cheese (find it under the Happy Days label). Patrick even had to repurpose a sausage stuffer in order to fill bags of chevre.
Cherylynn explains the packaging process
In 2012, Rock Ridge expanded their farm to be able to process organic cow’s milk as well. They work with local producers and process about 20-25,000L of cow’s milk a week. One of the unique types of milk they offer is from Jersey cows (labelled separately, as only one farm supplies it). The protein in Jersey milk is the same protein found in human milk, and may be easier to digest than milk from Holsteins.
Linda loved the goats, too
Rock Ridge products an be found at Blush Lane and through SPUD and the Organic Box.
Our second stop was at the Lacombe Crop Development Centre, which breeds different types of barley and wheat.
At the Lacombe Crop Development Centre
Different stations about honey, pulses, and farming equipment were set up and the group was encouraged to explore and ask questions of the knowledgeable representatives present. Mack and I learned about “winter wheat”, a variety that is planted in the fall. Although it has a lower yield, it is used to help with field rotation.
Andrea among the wheat
Next, we headed to the happy hour stop on the tour. Back in the spring, Mack and I planned a weekend trip out to Lacombe, and checked out Blindman Brewing and Old Prairie Sentinel Distillery then, but were happy for the opportunity to revisit these two vendors.
At Blindman, we were led on a tour by one of the brewery’s founders, Hans Doef. If his name sounds familiar, that’s because his father owns and operates Doef’s Greenhouses, where he worked for many years (we immediately recognized him from our weekly visits to the Doef’s tent at the City Market).
Hans Doef of Blindman Brewing
Blindman has been on a meteoric rise since it opened in 2015. They had to relocate to their current facility to accommodate more tanks and increase their bottling capacity, as their product is now available in up to 400 locations. Their Blindman River Session Ale and Longshadows India Pale Ale are their most popular brews.
Hans estimated that their beer takes two weeks from grain to glass – Blindman leaves their beer in tanks longer than other breweries because they don’t filter their beer.
In late 2016, Blindman undertook a crowdfunding campaign to help them purchase two 3,000L foeders from France that once held cognac. Their first brew, a Brett Saison that has aged in the barrels for the last four months, will be released later this year.
Next door at Old Prairie Sentinel, we were amazed at the transformation of the space since our last visit. In May, we learned from co-owner Rob Gugin that they had plans to build a tasting room that would allow them to serve samples of their product. The end result is stunning, incorporating wood accents into the high ceiling and a long bar.
Old Prairie Sentinel Distillery
In addition to high balls and cocktails made with their vodkas and gins, Old Prairie Sentinel also offers warm spent-grain pretzels to accompany those drinks.
We picked up a bottle of their Prairie Berry Dry Gin (made with 100% malted barley, as are the rest of their products) to take home.
Our final stop on the tour was the one I was most looking forward to. We’ve been regular customers of Doef’s Greenhouses for years, but there’s something special about seeing where and how the products we buy every week are grown.
Eric Doef, a second generation farmer, provided us with an overview of their year-round operations. The greenhouse spans 11 acres where they grow tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and lettuce hydroponically. They plant one tomato and pepper crop annually, and harvest the products throughout the year, while cucumbers require three crops a year.
Water is the foundation of their crops, which they draw entirely from surface ponds and collected from snow melt and rain water. When their dugouts on their property are full, they have enough water for two years. It’s mind boggling how much water they go through, however – Eric shared that on a hot day, they might use up to 400 million litres of water.
Peppers as far as the eye can see
Fertilizer is added directly into the water, while carbon dioxide is brought in through tubes. Computers monitor exactly what nutrients each crop needs, and they can adjust the levels accordingly. Regarding pests, they prefer to be as preventive as possible by ordering the appropriate “beneficials” every week (e.g., wasps to eat white flies). We also saw bees which are used to pollinate the flowers.
The overhead lights are typically turned on in September, and though they employ LED lights for their lettuce crops, most of their other crops need the heat given off by the HPS lights. Their lamps run for up to 15,000 hours before needing to be replaced.
It was a fascinating tour that preceded a long table dinner set in one of the greenhouses, one of the most distinctive settings for a meal I’ve experienced.
The 7-course family style meal was prepared by Chef Liana Robberecht of WinSport Canada. She prepared a beautiful array of dishes, including a smoked Alberta lentil hummus with fennel crackers that I couldn’t stop eating, and a maple bourbon potato salad that nearly outshone its accompanying proteins.
Roasted Chinook honey carrot tacos with yogurt, bee pollen, and cilantro
Given the surroundings, a salad comprised of lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers sourced from Doef’s, dressed in a sea buckthorn vinaigrette was entirely appropriate, and delicious.
Alberta pulled lamb shank, served in a Sylvan Star gouda parkhouse roll was another favourite around the table.
Pulled lamb shank in Sylvan Star gouda parkhouse rolls
Chef Robberecht ended the meal as brightly as it began, with her twist on spiced dark chocolate mousse, combined with a roasted sweet pepper curd, and a fabulous carrot cake with whipped Chinook Honey cream cheese.
As I mentioned, it was particularly meaningful for Mack and I to tour the greenhouse because of our weekly purchases at the market. It was also great to see that the family farm will continue with Eric – and perhaps even with a third generation in the years to come!
Thanks again to Wild Heart Collective for organizing another wonderful Grand Taste Tour!