Food Matters – Biscotti di Notte

Most food-based businesses these days start out with a business plan.  Planning for profit is important, of course, but what about a business plan that includes saving those profits for a trip to your homeland of Italy? That’s part of the plan for the island artisan I profiled on CBC Radio’s All Points West this week.

photo 2Traveling to Italy sounds like a very specific part of a business plan, but it was a clear dream for Mirella Trozzo of Qualicum Beach when she started her small baking company ten years ago. A couple of weeks ago I visited Mirella at her home-based business, Biscotti di Notte, where she has built a lovely little commercial kitchen in the garage. The whole business came about by way of a sort-of challenge from her husband: “I always wanted to visit Italy, I have never been since I got here, and my husband, typical Italian, seven years older than me, said, ‘where are you going to get the money?’ and since I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, I guess I needed to start some sort of home-based business, and that’s what I did.”


Mirella's almond biscotti

Mirella’s almond biscotti

The name of her business, Biscotti di Notte, means Biscotti, for the Italian twice-baked cookie commonly dunked into coffee, and Notte, for night. She started making the biscotti late at night, when her two young boys were asleep and she could get some time to herself. Once she had perfected her recipe, things started to take off: “I brought some to my son’s elementary school, and the teachers there went nuts for them and wanted to buy them, then some cafes started buying them from me, and now I’m also in Quality Foods, and they have a number of stores on the island, and I’m actually starting to have a problem keeping up with the demand.”


Mirella Trozzo

Mirella Trozzo

The first thing that makes them stand out is that they are actually different from most other store-bought biscotti. Mirella only bakes them once, but she bakes them on special stones in her oven and makes them in rectangular metal moulds she had specially made. It took her a year to perfect the recipe, which was adapted from her family’s original recipe. It’s a very labour intensive process, but Mirella is pleased with what she came up with: “I really love the result, the texture is beautiful and I try to stay true to using the best quality ingredients whenever possible, pure vanilla or vanilla beans, I roast all the nuts myself before putting them in the batter. And then I have come up with different flavours, so for Seedy Saturday I have an all-seed biscotti, and for our community event Fire and Ice I came up with a chocolate, lime and chilli biscotti, where you get the sweet chocolate when you first taste it and then you get the hot chilli.” 


Inside Mirella's kitchen

Inside Mirella’s kitchen

Mirella hasn’t restricted her business strictly to the biscotti, I brought in a couple of other treats as well…including an Italian shortbread, which is more ball-shaped than traditional flat shortbreads. It’s stuffed with roasted pecans, and coated with icing sugar. You also have a piece of chocolate cinnamon vanilla pizzelle there. Mirella says the pizzelle is the oldest cookie in the world, tracing roots to the 8th century in her home region of Abruzzo. This is the very flat wafer pressed and baked in a decorative iron press, traditionally made with the licorishy flavour from anise, but Mirella has come up with some more modern flavours.

But you know what? She’s been at this for ten years now and she still hasn’t made that trip to Italy! Life happens, she says. Two young teenage boys, so there are tutors and braces and sports and it just hasn’t happened yet, but she knows that someday soon it will, and she wants to use the trip to learn how to make even better products. 

DSC_3799I really hope she gets there. She came to Canada when she was just a baby, and I just know she will love Italy when she goes for her long-awaited visit. In the meantime, you will find Mirella at the Errington Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings. Come back to this page in a little bit, because I’m adding some photos of her wonderfully vintage decorated commercial kitchen which you can visit on certain days.

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Food Matters – Alcohol Sales at Farmers’ Markets

Farmers’ markets are now in full swing across BC, with more and more crops coming into their harvest seasons, nugget potatoes, snap peas, early garlic, and…wine? Yes, very soon you will start seeing local wine, beer, mead and spirit producers with their own booths at BC farmers markets.

Serving SeaCider

Serving SeaCider

In a bid to update many of our archaic liquor laws, the provincial government is now allowing the sale of beer, wine, cider and spirits at farmers’ markets across BC. And because we are talking farmers’ markets, the organizers at many farmers’ markets will apply the same standards as they do to their other vendors, in that they will focus on local producers of these beverages. I’ve seen wines and spirits for sale at farmers’ markets in Oregon and all over Europe. You can get a little taste of what the producers are selling, and it all seems to take place in a quite civilized manner. After all, people are not buying drinks, they are just getting little sips to try.

Of course there are some regulations. I spoke with Elizabeth Quinn, the executive director of the BC Farmers’ Market Association, and she’s just sent the regulations out to her member markets. She says many of the regulations came about with the association’s direct consultation with the provincial government. Any liquor vendor at a market will have to have their ‘Serving It Right’ certificate, and they also must have an existing storefront where people can already buy their products. Some markets have let her know they are not interested in having the beverage producers there, while others are wholeheartedly embracing it. She says how each farmers’ market decides to integrate the producers will be up to the individual market, since they all have their own unique culture, and some municipal bylaws may have to be amended if they don’t already allow liquor sales to take place at public venues like the markets.

I’ve received a variety of reactions from some of the beverage producers I know on the Island.  Stephen Schacte in Duncan has been planning and building his Ampersand distillery for the past three and a half years and he’s just about ready to start producing gin and some specialty liquors like a tayberry-infused vodka made from berries at Sol Farm, which he and his wife Ramona own. They have already been selling their fruits and vegetables at the market, so now he’s really looking forward to being able to greet their regular customers and new ones at the market with his products. I’m going to go out and visit his distillery for a future column because he tells me the still he’s building is unlike any other.

Peter Kimmerly of Island Spirits Distillery

Peter Kimmerly of Island Spirits Distillery

But up at Hornby Island, Peter Kimmerly from Island Spirits Distillery (the folks that make pHrog gin and vodka) says he’s not interested in doing farmers’ markets, especially off-island, because he has more than enough people coming right to his door these days, and a lot of his profit can be eaten up by just taking the ferry to the mainland.

One of the larger producers near me in Cobble Hill is Merridale Cidery, where co-owner Rick Pipes helped lead the way in getting liquor laws friendlier to the artisan distilling industry. Rick’s wife Janet Docherty says she thinks the idea of being able to promote your craft at local markets is great; she’ll definitely look into it, likely won’t bother sampling their ciders there, but they would like to get people tasting and more familiar with their distilled products such as their apple and pear brandies. And I got the same reaction from Linda Holford at Rocky Creek Winery and Marilyn Schulze at the Venturi-Schulze Vineyards. Linda already has her application in to the Duncan Farmers’ Market so I wouldn’t be surprised if Rocky Creek is one of the first producers will we see at a market here on Vancouver Island.

Spirits from Merridale Estate Cidery

Spirits from Merridale Estate Cidery

Potential downsides to this? As Marilyn Schulze said to me today, the devil is in the details. Anything new to established set-ups or a cultural change may take a little while to settle out. Each market will have to determine how they will deal with the new vendors coming in. Steve Schacte was concerned all the producers may get lumped into one area, where he would rather just add on to his established table for his farm. Elizabeth Quinn told me the Whistler Farmers’ market has already decided to limit their vendors to one craft brewery, one distillery and one winery each week, and they will rotate among the different producers who want to come in so no one gets an exclusive run at the market. So I just hope that the markets themselves don’t add on too many unnecessary or cumbersome regulations that would end up driving the artisans away instead of encouraging them, because I think this has the potential to be a great way to encourage more local spirit production in this province.

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Food Matters – Foodie Film Fest

fffThree words for the weekend. Food, film and fun. The second annual Foodie Film Festival kicks off in Victoria tomorrow and the organizers are sure they have chosen a delicious line-up. I have to admit I totally missed it, somehow it was not on my radar last year but I know all about it this year and people who like film and like food are in for a treat. It’s not a big festival, but does give you a good taste for some of the more entertaining and informative food films that are out there right now. I talked with Kathy Kay from the Victoria Film Festival, who also curates this weekend’s festivities, and she told me that they came up with this idea in the first place as something to fill in the gap between the film festival dates, and thought they might as well do combine things that people like to do in Victoria, like eat, drink and watch films.

This is more than just simple screenings with popcorn and soda. Your ticket price includes snacks themed to match the ethnicity of the films, as well as beverages, including cocktails.  All the films being shown at the David Foster Foundation Theatre at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel have food conceived of by executive chef Iain Rennie, things like samosas and curries for the Indian-based movie, noodle box for the Japanese film, and so on. One of the screenings even takes place at the de Vine winery in Saanichton, with snacks from Chiarellis. The Food and Beverage team at the hotel has also been busy coming up with beer and cocktail pairings for the showings there. 

I have to confess that I have watched an advance copy of Jadoo: Kings of Curry, about the feuding restaurateur brothers and it really is charming and funny and you will definitely be hungry if you don’t have something to eat before you see the film.

People are cocktail crazy in Victoria with all the different bars and lounges and even the Art of the Cocktail festival. In the Hey Bartender documentary viewers will see an almost fanatical dedication to the craft of making a cocktail in that film, and a real variety of characters who work and tend bar at the various venues featured in the movie.  A reminder that tickets are sold only in advance to the festival, use the link above to get to the box office.

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Foodie Film Fest – Sneak Preview

fffExtra, extra, listen to this! Some great foodie films are on offer at the Victoria Foodie Film Festival this weekend. I’ll be talking about it in detail on Thursday on my Food Matters column on CBC’s All Points West, but here’s a special sneak preview of the film fest via an audio clip from Victoria Foodie Film Festival Director Kathy Kay.

I’ve seen all of the trailers for the films and they all look like great foodie films. And I’ve watched the entirety of Jadoo: Kings of Curry (here’s the trailer) and it is not to be missed. Funny, touching and makes you hungry all in one go.

Two things to remember: One: Tickets are for sale IN ADVANCE ONLY. To purchase go to this link. Two: I will have some tickets to give away on my column on Thursday afternoon. Two tickets to the de Vine screening on Saturday, and two tickets to the Hey Bartender screening at Oak Bay Beach Hotel to give away. But don’t wait to win, go and buy some tickets now!


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Food Matters – Dairy Cow Abuse

The widespread circulation of an undercover video showing dairy cows being abused at a large farm in Chilliwack is having a ripple effect on the dairy industry. This week on Food Matters, I try help you navigate the maze of dairy products available here on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.


George Boyes and Jersey calf at Farmhouse Natural Cheeses in Agassiz

George Boyes and Jersey calf at Farmhouse Natural Cheeses in Agassiz

That video certainly wasn’t pleasant to look at and it was very unpleasant to see people who clearly did not have any thoughts for the welfare of the animals they were abusing. I think part of the problem with that particular farm in the size of the operation, 3500 cows. The animal rights organization that shot the video, however, is saying that because this was the first farm in which it managed to place an undercover worker, it thinks that the abuse is widespread. Personally speaking, though, with any dairy farm I have ever been to anywhere in BC, I found nothing but farmers who really care for their animals and their welfare. It’s part of their nature and part of their business…production from dairy animals, especially cows, can really drop off if they are stressed, injured or sick.

Nonetheless, the reputation of dairy farmers has taken a hit because of this news. On Tuesday morning when the news broke, I posted a Facebook status that basically said, don’t tar all dairy farmers with the same brush. And while I received a lot of support for that statement via likes and comments, some of my friends were still asking, ‘well, where can I get dairy products that I can trust come from animals that haven’t been abused?’

There is no easy answer to that question. I’d love to say that there is no abuse of farm animals in BC but we’ve just seen the proof that there is. But I can certainly point you in directions where you have a much great assurance that you are purchasing quality products from dairy animals that are treated with care and respect. So, let’s consider the main dairy products we purchase here on the island. Milk, cheese, butter, yogurt and ice cream. Let’s start with the easiest category, cheese. Many of the cheesemakers here on the island either source their milk from animals on their own farm, or a single dairy farm close by that they have carefully selected. Companies that make cheese from their own dairy herd would include Moonstruck organic cheeses on Salt Spring Island, and Little Qualicum Cheeses in Parksville.

Photos of water buffalo and their owner, Darrell Archer, at Pizzeria Prima Strada in Victoria. (where they use Natural Pastures water buffalo mozzarella)

Photos of Fairburn Farm water buffalo and their owner, Darrell Archer, at Pizzeria Prima Strada in Victoria. (where they use Natural Pastures water buffalo mozzarella)

Today I got an email from the wife of the farm manager at Little Qualicum, who told me that farm is the only SPCA-certified dairy farm in British Columbia and that her husband loves the cows more than he loves her, ha ha ha. Any certified organic farms also give you another layer of inspection that may turn up anything untoward in the treatment of animals. Other cheesemakers like The Creamery at Cheese Point Farm, Natural Pastures, Salt Spring Island Cheese, all get their milk from local sources they’ve carefully selected, be they goat, sheep or dairy farms.  Any water buffalo mozzarella you purchase from Natural Pastures comes from the very well-loved herd at Fairburn Farm in the Cowichan Valley.




Goats at Snap Dragon Dairy, milked for Legato Gelato

Goats at Snap Dragon Dairy, milked for Legato Gelato

So if you are purchasing a locally-made artisan cheese you have a pretty good assurance the milk is from a smaller family farm that takes care of their animals. And this would also hold true for businesses like Tree Island Gourmet Yogurt near Courtenay, and the Legato Gelato people near Fanny Bay. Legato Gelato has their own milking herd of goats, and Tree Island gets their milk from one farm in Comox that they carefully chose not only for the quality of the milk, but the kind of care given to the animals.

It becomes more difficult to know about the source of the milk you’re consuming when you’re purchasing products such as cheese, butter, yogurts and milk that are processed and packaged by large processors. They need large quantities of milk, which is available through the Milk Marketing Board quota system, and that milk is a pool of milk which may be produced anywhere in the province. So there is no way of knowing that a litre of Island Farms milk or ice cream, while produced here on the island, comes from Island farms, or farms that you may have visited here and have seen humane treatment of animals. And an individual can’t just go to any dairy farm in BC and purchase milk directly from the farmer….although I am aware of people who purchase something called ‘cowshares’ at dairy farms because they want to purchase raw, unpasteurized milk. It’s a way to try to circumvent the law in BC that prevents the sale of unpasteurized milk. I’m not part of one of those systems but I presume anyone who is would have access to having a tour of the farm, since they own shares in it, after all.

 Trying to buy dairy and other products if you want to keep in mind animal welfare, nutrition and growing practices is hard work! And the animal welfare nature of this particular story gives us another important angle to think about, but I still maintain you can put your trust in smaller, family owned and operated dairy farms in this area. I certainly can’t claim to have all the answers, but over the years I’ve met some very fine producers of dairy products here on the Islands. Check out this story about Farmhouse Natural Cheeses in Agassiz, and this story about two different dairy farms in the Fraser Valley, goat and cow.

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Food Matters – Lantzville Market and Sausages

Good weather means barbecue. Barbecue quite often means sausages. Great for serving a crowd, but of course you want a good quality sausage on the grill or dinner could quite easily go up in flames. I’ve returned from my early summer vacation with some tips on where to get a good sausage.

Lantzville Market

Lantzville Market

Is finding a good sausage kind of like finding the Holy Grail? Of course! Luckily I think there is more than one Holy Grail of sausages here on Vancouver Island but I am always interested in tasting the products of another artisan sausage maker here, and this week I acted on a tip from a friend who lives in Lantzville, just north of Nanaimo. If you’ve never been to Lantzville it’s a bit of a hidden treat most people just drive by on the highway. But it has a pub, a great restaurant called Riso (more on that later), spectacular ocean views and easy waterfront access…AND, the Lantzville Market, where you can find Darrell’s Sausages.


Darrell Pirozzini

Darrell Pirozzini

Darrell Pirozzini and his brother Dean have operated the Lantzville Market for the past 25 years. Tucked into one corner of the market is Darrell’s meat cutting and sausage operation. He likes getting in whole cuts of beef and pork, cutting and grinding and mixing them and stuffing them into casings pretty much by himself, with a little bit of help. And these sausages have become one of the main features of the market, especially Darrell’s Famous Bratwursts. That’s what they’re called and Darrell explained there’s a reason for that. “Well, years ago I used to work in this butcher shop with a German guy who made bratwurst. It took me years to get the recipe, he didn’t want to give it up. Then I finally got it, and now I’m not going to give it up…but the bratwurst is very popular, I sell anywhere from 80 to 150 pounds of it a week.”


Top: Beef and Sun-dried Tomato. Middle: Bratwurst. Bottom: Breakfast.

I grilled all the sausages for tasting today, and Darrell passed on a perfect method that I’ve used twice now. Barbecue on medium heat. Do NOT prick the sausages to let any fat out, because there just isn’t that much fat and you don’t want to dry them out. Turn a few times on each side, and when the casing starts to crack open, they are done.

Operating a small grocery store is tough this days. And yet this little market in Lantzville has stayed alive for 25 years now. Darrell says they have major competition in the area from Costco, Overwaitea and Walmart, but he says they survive on being there for people in the small town, selling top quality meats and sausages and relying on word of mouth. Darrell also sticks to something he learned when he was growing up in the business. “If it’s something you wouldn’t buy yourself, don’t sell it. And I stick to that rule today.”

The art of sausage making is still alive and well on Vancouver Island. Other sausages I have know and loved: Galloping Goose Sausage Company, Ravenstone Farm Artisan Meats, McLennan’s Island Meat and Seafood, and Nanaimo Sausage House.

Riso LunchIf you are in the Greater Nanaimo area I am hosting a market lunch and book signing with some of the artisans in that area at Riso Restaurant in Lantzville on the 17th of this month. Visit the Stir Cooking School Facebook page for more info, and hope to see you there! Oh, if you missed the column on the radio, click here to listen…

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