We have fun trying different tastes here at the European Pantry. Today, we offered customers a chance to compare two different ways of using feta. We started with “kajmak” style feta. This is a smooth creamy feta that is very amenable to making spreads with. First, we added pesto for an antipasto option. We served this on whole wheat Paris toasts but this spread can hold its own on any savoury cracker that brings its own flavour to the table, too. Next, we mixed wild lingonberries to the feta. The tart berries compliment the salty tones of the feta but offer a totally different taste experience than the pesto option. We served this with Nairn’s roughly milled Scottish oat crackers. But it would be great on a bagel! Of course, you don’t need to add anything to feta which is a versatile cheese with so many uses…you can find both the creamy “kajmak” style or a Balkan style crumbly feta here at the European Pantry.
“KEEPER OF THE KEYS” HINT: Your jar of pesto will keep in your fridge longer it you scrape the pesto down off the sides with a spoon and then pour a thin layer of olive oil to cover. The olive oil will congeal in the fridge and seal off the pesto. The oil will also take on the pesto flavour and can be used to season a salad or can be brushed on bread. Just remember to add more oil as you use some.
Yesterday, a customer came in confessing that he was twenty minutes down the road home to Toronto when he realized he had forgotten to stop by our store before leaving. He turned around. Last weekend we had a group of Torontonians come by. Immigrants from Russia, they were in town to see the historic Welland Canal. We also have people coming in regularly for family in Toronto because they can’t find products at home. These incidents got me thinking about this shift. I grew up just outside of Toronto. In those days, we often traveled to “the city” to purchase products not available in our moderately large city. Now people travel to outside the city to shop. Why? Most certainly, internet has changed the environment. Well maintained websites allow businesses in smaller communities to connect with customers on a provincial and even broader level. But I think there are also other factors at work. Welland is representative of many post-industrial towns. As factories closed we were left with more brown fields than green fields. The children of the post-war immigrants who had settled here left for those greener fields that we no longer could offer. Frequently, that meant Toronto and other larger centers. There are those who love the hustle and bustle of city life but there are also those who yearn for the simpler, stronger roots they remember in communities like Welland. People are coming home to visit and even retire.
But not everyone I meet once lived in Welland. Those of us who have remained here often take for granted the attractions that Welland possesses. We have a rich resource in the recreational canal. People come to trace the history of the Welland Canal commemorated in many ways like above. Others come for the water sports hosted here. This summer we will host racing events for the Dragon Boat races and Pan Am games. The walking and biking trails on Merrit Island draw many visitors every year. This summer our outdoor waterside amphitheatre will stage musical events again. These visitors shop in Welland. People tell me that Welland has the best farmer’s market in Niagara. People travel to shop there. We benefit from The European Pantry’s location adjacent to that market. Proximity is important, so let’s not forget that Welland is next door to many wineries. There are also huge advantages to shopping in smaller communities like Welland. Yes, there are ethnic delis in Toronto but unless you live in the neighbourhood one has to battle traffic and find parking to shop there.
High land values necessitate squeezing product into much smaller stores to keep prices competitive. I thought our store was tiny until I visited Toronto stores like the one pictured above. These stores do a good business but the shopping experience is much different. People who grew up in Europe tell us that stepping into our store is like going home. We brag that we have Niagara-on-the-Lake atmosphere with Welland prices. In Welland we can create an iconic store atmosphere and offer low prices. And that is the crux of why Toronto shops in Welland. We offer a break from the city: cultural, historical and recreational opportunities; a relaxed environment where people wave you into the parking spot they were about to take; a milieu where shop keepers have time to talk about food not just sell it to you. We need to stop apologizing for what we no longer are. We need to catch the vision of what we can become. There in will be the salvation of post-industrial towns like Welland.
At The European Pantry, we keep a container of leftover cheese pieces from our sampling sessions. I try to label them but sometimes I pick up a piece neatly wrapped but with no label. I like all the cheeses we sell so I don’t mind these surprises when I am making myself a snack or something for lunch as I work. Today though, I have to admit that the horseradish cheddar on my lunch bagel came as a bit of a shock after the first half bagel slathered with European peanut butter.
It reminded me of the stories of a friend whose parents had trouble making ends meet when he was growing up in the 1960’s. Some nights they had dented can surprise. In those days it wasn’t uncommon for stores to clear out cans that had lost their labels and also experienced the hard knocks of life at discount prices. Russ told me that for some reason cans of peaches and fruit salad seemed to show up a lot. Not a bad dessert for the 60’s but hard to make a meal out of. Other nights when his mother was asked about that night’s menu they were told it was something that would stick to their ribs. That meant only porridge was left in the larder. Dented can surprise would have seemed like a luxury on porridge nights!
Labels are important but we tend to take them for granted if we don’t live with visual impairments. My horseradish surprise was well timed because I had just read an article about how braille ended up on wine bottles. It took one person who began to imagine life in someone else’s shoes… click here to read “The Story of How Braille Wound up on Wine Bottles.”.
Do you associate food with music? One of our many special cheeses, Bellavitano Espresso Cheddar conjures up dark notes of jazz for me! This is a reserve cheddar that has been rubbed in espresso for a rich taste that lingers on the palate. In contrast, Bellavitano Raspberry Cheddar has a fresh fruity finish that brings Chopin to mind. Come in, taste our cheese every Saturday. Tell us what you are hearing!