FARM 23 - Stephenson creates The Citizen, a sandwich for all of Huron County
BY SCOTT STEPHENSON
Whenever my wife and I make travel plans, we divide up the planning. I book the accommodations and organize transit, while my wife researches whether the place we’re going is home to a regional sandwich, and if the answer to that question is yes, where is the best place to get one.
In Chicago, we had hot dogs dragged through the garden from Portillo’s. In Pittsburgh, we enjoyed french fry laden hoagies from Primanti Brothers. In Montreal, it had to be smoked meat from Schwartz’s Deli.
So you can imagine my wife’s disappointment when we moved to the Huron County area and there was no regional sandwich to be had. Luckily, as a journalist, there is a platform that can be used to make real change in the world; sandwich-shaped change.
This month, for The Citizen, I visited different parts of the county to gather fun facts about farming and learn about agricultural styles, techniques and other such wizardry, so it seemed like the perfect time to stop by some of the area’s unique farms and local shops in a relentless, county-wide pursuit of the finest ingredients to make a sandwich worthy of a true citizen of Huron County. These days, more and more people are looking for alternatives to the grocery store and to artificially inflated prices. Creating a whole new regional sandwich is a big job, so it required the deputization of the aforementioned wife, Chelsea, to help achieve success in this important quest.
The initial concept for the sandwich was simple. It had to be practical, yet whimsical, like an Ontario beach town. It had to be playful, yet functional, like a young farm dog. Portable, yet substantial, like a Bluetooth speaker at a rented cottage. It had to be Huron County.
Inspiration for the contents are drawn from the New Orleans-born muffuletta sandwich; meat and cheese layered with olive tapenade. The plan: to go to different stops, collecting meats and cheeses for the various layers. Since olives don’t come from Huron County, the tapenade will be eschewed in favour of local vegetables prepared in some way, which would be determined as we went along. The construction is inspired by the classic picnic sandwich, a giant, crusty, hollow loaf of bread stuffed with ingredients. The day of a farmer is long and tiring, and meals are often communal, so it had to be a big sandwich. Preferably, the holy trinity of the barnyard (chicken, pork, beef) would all be represented, but we were willing to be flexible.
Nothing was off the table. The working-title name of the sandwich: The Citizen.
The quest began with a fuel-up at Blyth favourite, BRØD bread & pastry. We grabbed coffee and were lucky enough to snag breakfast biscuits, which are never guaranteed to be available, but always a harbinger of a good day when you arrive early enough to get one. We also got a loaf of BRØD’s orange-veined cheese bread, which, while also great for sandwiches, was purchased specifically to eat by tearing into its pillowy flesh, sans adornments, with our bare hands - the perfect fuel for driving around collecting the ingredients for The Citizen Sandwich.
From BRØD, it was just a four-minute drive to our first farm stop, Blyth Farm Cheese. Cheese being glue that will hold The Citizen Sandwich together, so it is an important ingredient to get right. Blyth Farm Cheese is owned by Paul Van Dorp and the Van Dorp family, and they make Gouda-style cheese on their farm in accordance with Dutch traditions. The one big difference - they make their Gouda with sheep’s milk, instead of cow’s milk, and so they call it “ewe-da”.
We navigated the long driveway, greeted by racks of colourful waxed wheels of cheese. Employee Effie, clad in a lab coat, quickly came out of the controlled environment of the cheese-making space to serve us. Effie, a Greek immigrant, came to the farm one day to check out the cheese-making process, saw a “help wanted” sign, and never left. There are a number of variations on the original ewe-da, and Effie offers samples and information on all of them. Unable to choose when presented with choices, we went with a little bit of all of them: the classic, the spiced cumin, the aged, and the slightly sweet Queen Bee. If you don’t have time to head out to Blyth Farm Cheese, several of their varieties are available at the grocery store in downtown Blyth.
Having acquired some sandwich innards, it was time to start considering the vessel of The Citizen Sandwich. This bread needed to be a hearty loaf, and since already on the way to Seaforth to interview a local pottery legend, it seemed only logical to check out The Sprouted Mill and Bakery, a tiny shop nestled in the Everspring Farms building in downtown Seaforth.
Everspring Farms was founded in 1985, when married farmers Dale and Marianne Donaldson began sprouting barley to feed their livestock. Over the years, they’ve taken this passion for whole foods and expanded into a full-out sprouted empire.
The bakery, specializing in bread made with locally-sourced, sprouted grain bread and baked goods, was a natural next step. The bakery’s front-of-house space is a tiny corner of the little bakery in a big mill. Stepping inside, we are instantly enveloped in the funky olfactory invitation of fresh sourdough. An enticing tray of double chocolate rye brownies, full when we arrived, was empty by the time we left.
We showed up late in the game, on Friday, and many varieties had already sold out. The charming front-of-house staff put their own bread back on the shelves for photos. Baker Michelle Riley (née Donaldson) was kind enough to show us around the space. The small, efficient bakery was full of clean equipment. A rack of pristine ovate bannetons, lined with unbleached cotton, wait for the next batch of dough, ready to help it rise. “If you see those in a bakery, you know they’re making sourdough,” she laughed. Their starter is young, and so is their crew, but they are all enthusiastic about their place in this tradition. Michelle admits that the good people of Seaforth have made their country white bread a best-seller, but she’s also encouraged by locals who are slowly starting to become more adventurous about their bread.
For The Citizen Sandwich, we selected a hefty loaf of sprouted multigrain sourdough, one hearty enough to house our all-day, shareable picnic loaf. Michelle handed over a warm and springy sourdough loaf, fresh from the oven, perfect for The Citizen Sandwich. Our job there was done. (The Sprouted Mill and Bakery is only open on Fridays, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.. If you have your heart set on a particular loaf, it is recommended to use their website to pre-order, or show up early.)
Checking the map, we realized how close we were to 5 Chicks and a Farmer, a charming upstart farm run by the Moylan family, using ethical farming techniques. This farm, located on Beechwood Line on the outskirts of Seaforth, has been on our radar from the very beginning of this sandwich story, when we checked out the photos of mouthwatering meats on their website, specifically a photo of back bacon, elegantly fanned out like pork sashimi.
Pulling into the driveway, we were observed by a field of grazing Red Angus cattle, unperturbed by a developing winter storm. 5 Chicks’ set-up is a simple one - customers order online, the farm packs up your order for you and you pick up the order (or have it delivered).
We came for the back bacon from their heritage hogs, but, after chatting with John Moylan about their pasture-raised White Rock chickens, decided to get a plump chicken breast as well. The chickens graze on grass, alfalfa, and forage for insects. This succulent slab of meat, graduate of the Artisanal Chicken Program, immediately became the crown jewel of The Citizen Sandwich. An added bonus is they sell great merchandise! We left the farm with chicken, bacon and hats!
Since pigs and chickens were already invited to the sandwich party, it seemed only fitting that cattle also be represented. Thoughts turned immediately to a Huron County mainstay: summer sausage. Summer sausage, typically made from beef mixed with pork, is named for its stability during warm weather, and is persevered through fermentation, giving it a distinctive funky flavour. Luckily, we were already on our way to Meeting Place Organic Farm, just outside of Lucknow. They have a lot of great products, one of which is thick slices of summer sausage made from a blend of their organic beef and pork. The summer sausage became the anchor meat of the sandwich, creating a strong foundation for all the other ingredients.
Next, we went to an alternative grocery store, Homegrown Food Basket, in Wingham, hoping to find some wild magic. The store, located on Josephine Street in downtown Wingham, is a bit of a depot for local products. We arrived in search of farm-fresh eggs and yellow mustard (both of which we found), but ended up with all kinds of information from store manager, Shelley. Shelley runs Homegrown’s front-of-house, and vets farms and producers with whom they are thinking about working. She is an absolute font of knowledge, as is owner David Scherpenzeel. While we were there, David was busy packing and moving monthly subscription boxes, available on their website. We opted for yellow mustard from Backwoods Preserves, eggs from the Homegrown Farm, and winter produce for our sandwich (onions, carrots, and garlic). We also stocked up on locally-sourced cereal and other pantry essentials, and because our total exceeded $50, we received a free pound of ground beef. Bonus!
The end of the road for the sandwich search is the end of the road for a lot of area animals - Green’s Meat Market in Wingham. Green’s is the Studio 54 of Huron County’s abattoir scene, in that any animal that’s any animal makes an appearance here before becoming your dinner. Except poultry, of course, which legally must be processed in a separate, licensed facility. (Gorrie-based Schefter is king of the local poultry-slaughter scene.) We had a quick chat with heir apparent Shae Green about their operation and its benefits - a location central to farms that cuts down on animal transport time, increasing animal welfare in a way you can taste in the meat. We picked up some pork side bacon from their meat counter that looked too good to pass up.
Once we got home, all we had to do was make The Citizen Sandwich. First we prepared the onions - caramelizing some, making spicy pickles with others. We fried the side bacon, adding it to the caramelized onions and to make a sweet and savoury jam. We also pickled the carrots. Beets from Belgrave were roasted and turned into relish. The eggs from Homegrown had two jobs - half were hard-boiled and pickled in the beet liquid, the other half were emulsified into mayonnaise. We cooked the back bacon from 5 Chicks and a Farmer, and roasted the chicken breast with garlic, onion, and rosemary from our garden. After cooking, we shredded the chicken and chopped the bacon. We also shredded all four cheeses and mixed them up into flavour confetti.
Next, assembly. First, we took the sourdough loaf from Seaforth’s Sprouted Mill and Bakery, cut the top off and hollowed it out (don’t worry, the insides became delicious gourmet croutons). We coated the entire interior cavity with caramelized onion and bacon jam and mayo. On the bottom, a layer of Meeting Place’s funky summer sausage. Then a thin layer of Backwoods Preserves mustard. Then the cheese mix, pickled onions and carrots, and back bacon, that glorious chicken, pickled eggs, more cheese, beet relish, and another layer of summer sausage. Then we put the bread lid back on top and wrapped the whole thing up in cheesecloth and foil. The next step is essential to making this a portable sandwich - we compressed the sandwich overnight by weighing it down with several dictionaries. The final product looks like a flattened, hefty football.
Next came the moment of truth - cutting into the sandwich. If all went according to plan, the interior would be cool-looking layers of journalistic integrity, changing the regional sandwich world forever. Decide for yourself if it deserves the Pulitzer Prize for Sandwiches, but the answer is yes, yes it does.
Flavour-wise, The Citizen Sandwich is a complete success. The chicken, moist. The back bacon, delightfully smoky. The sweetness of the bacon onion jam played well with the pickles and relish. The mix of cheese was decadent, and the mustard keeps you on your toes. The pickled eggs, originally meant as a nod to the classic plowman’s lunch, ended up offering an acidic brightness that brought everything together, and the summer sausage brought the funk. Welcome to the pantheon of regional sandwiches, The Citizen.
To make your own, personal-sized The Citizen Sandwich, you need: Sliced sourdough bread, Gouda, summer sausage, bacon, chicken, seasonal pickles, mustard, pickled or hard-boiled eggs, caramelized onion jam, and mayo. Layer it up, press it flat, and get your Citizen Sandwich on!