Neighbors to the North—A Porcine Quest
Written onNovember 15 , 2016
Over the years, we at Local Banquet have heard about Vermont farmers and food producers who have thriving professional relationships with growers and food manufacturers in Québec. So for this issue, we asked some of our writers to highlight a handful of these cross-border relationships. What follows are six vignettes about Vermont and Québec producers working together to strengthen our regional food system. —Caroline Abels
“Yeah. I don’t know if you still want to do an interview with me.” It had been a week of phone tag with Peter Colman, owner of Vermont Salumi, and after breathlessly rushing through an explanation of why I was reaching out for an interview, his response was matter of fact. “I almost never source from Québec right now.”
Vermont Salumi, a small company making fresh sausages and hand-tied salami in the Italian tradition, is based just outside Plainfield. Pete’s products often grace the plates of fine dining establishments in Vermont, as well as farther afield in Boston, Rhode Island, parts of New York, and New Hampshire and Maine. You can also find them at specialty food purveyors, local markets, food co-ops, and farm stands. Googling Vermont Salumi brings up dozens of articles and profiles, and Pete has been around long enough now to watch and experience the impacts of the local food movement as a small producer.
For the past year, Vermont Salumi has been able to successfully source its pork exclusively from Vermont producers for its fresh sausage line, but that hasn’t always been the case. Like many businesses in the Green Mountain State, Pete has faced the same needs that other specialty food producers and restaurant owners often face when seeking to bring a local product to the table: quality, quantity, and consistency. Pete initially used Vermont pork when he launched his business in 2010, but as demand for his products grew, he struggled not only with finding pork that was of the quality and consistency he needed for his handcrafted and high-end product, but with finding pork in the quantity he needed—thousands of pounds of specific cuts.
The lack of access threatened to be a major frost heave in the road toward growth. “But I drive two hours north of my house,” Pete told me, “and find hog houses dotting the back roads of Québec the way sugar shacks dot the back roads of Vermont. You should go up there sometime. It’s amazing.”
Indeed, the province of Québec, with its flat, fertile topography, has a deep and rich history of pork production. It goes hand in hand with its history of growing grain. The pigs are close to their grain-based food source and the result is high-quality consistency and less expensive cuts in great quantity. The large scale and skilled production attracts distributors like Du Breton, which works with multigenerational, family, owned farms that raise hogs on non-GMO grain and, in some cases, in Certified Humane operations that eschew the use of gestation crates for breeding sows. The company was Pete’s choice when he ventured into purchasing from Québec.
“Working with Du Breton was great,” he told me. “They have great products, service, and consistency. They were the first hog farmers we approached north of the border, and because everything went so well, I never looked for others.”
Pete likened his purchase of Québec pork to that of a growing Connecticut food producer deciding to source maple syrup from eight trees growing in the backyard versus sourcing syrup from Vermont, where maple production is efficient, family owned, and cutting edge. “It’s okay to admit that Vermont is not there yet,” he said, referring to the scale of local pork production.
With a couple of Vermont producers now producing enough pork to provide Vermont Salumi with what he needs, Pete was very clear. “Just being local isn’t enough. There has to be a real, inherent value associated with an elevated price point.”
“I like to buy Vermont,” he added, “but companies like mine need to get to a certain scale so we can absorb the costs of local ingredients without impeding our growth. Stay small and starving or are we going to grow?”