I’m an omnivore. There, I said it. In fact, meat is something I eat with great pleasure and fervour. However, after learning more about the treatment of farmed animals and how industrialized meat-production is, I do feel a harsh guilt about my involvement as a consumer in this market. So when we were assigned a blog post to write for Theory of Food II where we were to visit a local butcher, I relished in the opportunity to not only learn about how and why they choose to provide Toronto with sustainable meat, but also how it makes their product differ. I decided to visit Cumbrae’s on Church (http://www.cumbraes.com/) to learn more and get to know my local butcher since I live in the neighbourhood.
As soon as you walk up to their store-front, you know you’re in for somewhat of a treat. My financial situation doesn’t allow for Cumbrae’s to be a staple of my grocery shopping, but I was willing to drop a little more money in exchange for quality and sustainability in the name of research.
You walk in and are greeted with one side with endless, delicious-looking meat including cuts of beef, lamb, pork and veal with a second section for poultry (images below). One look at the variety presented and my mind was racing with recipe ideas and thoughts on how I would prepare the gorgeous cuts in front of me. Along the adjacent wall, Cumbrae’s has cemented itself as a go-to for grab-and-go meals with a huge selection of vacuum-packed, savoury pies, as well as jarred soups and stews kits — all you have to do is add water and boil the contents. Also found along that wall, packaged deli meats and cheese and various goodies you’d find in a classic European delicatessen.
After perusing the entire store, I decided that I would buy a whole chicken and some of their delicious-looking boneless short ribs. The chicken looked perfectly plump and meaty and the ribs were screaming out to be covered in a sticky, Asian-style marinade and pan-fried to juicy perfection. At check out, I took the opportunity to ask the butcher a couple questions about Cumbrae’s and she obliged with some company history about their humble beginnings as a small, family business that has now expanded to 4 different stores. With a philosophy of “forging partnerships with traditional family farms which raise livestock to (their) exacting standards,” (http://www.cumbraes.com/our-story/) their sourcing is entirely local and they even displayed images near the store entrance of their suppliers’ farms and flocks (image above). Perhaps most obvious was her passion for working at Cumbrae’s and the quality of their meat. She even directed me to their spice blend wall which features various mixes crafted by the company’s in-house chef to ease their customer in preparing exquisite meals using the meat they bought at the store (image below). Unfortunately she declined my request to take her photo as she stated they have a company policy against it. Of course, I respected that but was thankful when she said I could still take photos of the store and counters for my blog post.
Once I got home, I decided to get my meat marinating because I wanted to cook it at optimal freshness. After all, I’d paid a good amount for it! I decided that I would do a quick marinade on the ribs and cook them for dinner the same day, and leave the chicken overnight for a roast the following evening. The ribs were marinated in soy sauce, honey, minced garlic, hoisin sauce and sriracha for a quick and flavourful glaze that would get sticky in the frying pan. For sides I made some creamy and cheesy mashed potatoes and some quick, sauteed kale. Dinner was delicious!
As for the chicken, I was fortunate to have a jar of a green curry paste we’d made in Foods of The World earlier in the week and I was excited to pour the whole thing on and in that chicken to leave overnight. I’m not much of a fan of chicken skin, especially when it’s not fried crisp, but it’s a particular waste when a lovely marinade is used. So I decided to take the skin off and then massage the bird with the paste. The next day I baked the chicken in a dutch oven with the remaining paste and ate it with some fluffy white rice and sauteed vegetables. It was divine!
All in all, I’m not sure if I can say that my palate found any discernible difference in taste between this chicken and any other whole chicken I may have bought from Loblaws, but I certainly liked knowing where it had come from and understanding better the life it lived before it ended up in my kitchen. One marked difference was the lack of excess fat on the chicken and how little water came out of it after it cooked. This was a clear sign of the quality of the meat because I have witnessed the washy drippings from a conventional chicken and the remnants of the water that is injected into them to make the birds appear plumper. At the end of the day, I would shop at Cumbrae’s more regularly if I had the income to support it, but for now I will focus on eating more fruits and vegetables, and buying meat from a healthy and sustainable source that is within my budget.