Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Nuffield Contemporary Scholars Conference - Thursday 'Evolving for and Urban Setting'

Thursday morning arrived way too soon.  Although the start was early everyone was up and ready to go.  We had to check out of the Guelph Delta hotel and board the bus by 8am.  Our first stop was Cranston Farms, a herd of 70 cows or so managed and owned by Doug and his wife.  The cows are housed all year round in a great light and airy barn. These buildings called 'Coverall's' a strong plastic type of material stretched over a aluminium or steel frame.  These were invented to withstand tornado's so that the fabric rips off in the wind.  A building this big can be re-roofed in a matter of hours!
The bedding was a unique mix of dry wall (I think the same sort of material as plasterboard) and dung. As the mixture builds up; being cultivated everyday, it composts down before being removed from the building.  The final 4' against the back wall is then spread out with a good supply of bacteria to start off the composting process again.  Housing cows all the time is a very contentious issue in the UK, but these cows were very happy and is standard practise here in Canada.  Everything the cows need is provided, including a vet, who happened to be on site, pregnancy testing the cows.  The ration was a complete TMR (total mixed ration) with maize, flax, soya and cotton, shown below.
After this we boarded to coach and headed down to VG Meats at Simco.  This was a very interested business taking cattle from their farm and taking them through the processing system themselves to the customer.  It is a family run business with all the brother being involved.  The cattle are mainly Angus crosses, calving in May.  The theory of the business is quality, it's not low cost at all, but it seems to work.  The meat is taste tested with the best tasting carcases being sold to high end restaurants in Toronto.  The counter cut meat is hung for 21 days, but there is a maturing cabinet in the shop where customers can custom age their own meat, there was some in the hanging for up to 90 days!
The business is split 50:50 between retail and wholesale beef, with some lamb, pork and poultry in the shop as well, although the quantity of these is very small.  No hormones are used in this beef as it affects the eating quality, making it less tender.  It was a very interesting system, being fully integrated from the cattle feed lots right through to the end user.
After lunch the group split, heading in two directions to tow different winery's.  We headed out to Megalomanic wines on the Niagara Peninsular.  there we were met buy the very inspirational Sue-Ann Staff, who acts as a consultant and the main wine maker.  Sue-Ann, a fifth generation wine maker and Ontario's wine maker of the year in 2002, she also has her own winery Staff Wines  The passion that Sue-Ann had for the subject was incredible.  It was a lovely afternoon so we headed out to look at some vines being pruned.
The scenery was warm and stunning with lines of vines criss-crossing the fields. The area has a unique climate caused by lake Ontario keeping the very cold weather at bay, (still gets to -20 degrees C) but critically not much colder so the vines can survive.  In fact there is a new wine launched a few years ago called 'Ice Wine' that is created from grapes that are harvested when frozen.  People are employed to harvest the frozen bunches of grapes, in temperatures as low as -10! Grape vines yield anywhere between 1.5t/ha - 4t/ha and you need about 2x2m of leaf to create 1kg of grapes.  The story continued underground, a great way to avoid all the planning issues (- note to self), where the fermentation and creation takes place.
We tasted three wines, just a little taster, which was a really great fun.  I learnt how to hold the glass (by the stem) then swirl the wine in the glass before inhaling the aroma.  Then take a mouthful, not too little (good news) and swash around the mouth exposing the sensors on the tongue to the very unique flavours, then swallow!
It really was a great visit, very well hosted.  What was inspiring was the passion, knowledge and drive that Sue-Ann has for the subject, it is something that the whole group was very impressed with.  We loaded up and headed to the honeymoon capital of the world - Niagara Falls

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