The Penokean Hills Story

We talk about crossbreeds regularly around Sanagan's, but a cross we haven't seen before is a financial planner with an agricultural engineer.  Peter, myself, and a few of our managers had the chance to see the results of this combination a couple of weeks ago when we visited Mike (the Engineer) and Chris (the Finance Guy) of Penokean Hills Farms, just outside of Sault Ste. Marie.

Though they may be the producer we work with that is farthest away from us, they may be one of the closest to us in terms of shared values. Penokean Hills is establishing the bulk of their sales in the GTA and Southern Ontario, but they are an intensely local company. They have essentially been born out of a need to utilise the resources around them in a combined effort to benefit the community at large. Not only do the principals raise their own animals, they also work with another 20+ farmers in the area to raise animals to their specifications. They share the best of their breeding stock, working to regenerate the herds with the most desirable traits (rib eye size, back fat/marbling, and feed efficiency). They've contracted farmers in the area to grow specific crops for them to be used as finishing feed for the animals (includes wheat, corn and dried peas). When the local abattoir was going out of business they took it over, preserving not just a half dozen jobs, but also the one location in the area farmers had to bring their animals to be processed. Though their own processing makes up the majority of the abattoir's week, they still process pigs, lambs and chickens for local farmers on a weekly basis. 

Their focus though is their own beef, and it is spectacular. As mentioned, they are using their own breeding stock throughout the area to produce consistent animals with the most desirable traits. Their cattle have a minimum of 50% Angus genetics, and are primarily crossed with other British breeds (Hereford, Galloway, Longhorn), though they have incorporated some other continental European breeds in the mix as well (Charolais, Limousin, Simmental). Calves are raised with their mothers, on milk and pasture (or haylage, as the season dictates) for the first 6-7 months. After that time, they are weaned off of milk and move to all pasture/haylage. Their finishing mix is constantly being monitored and slightly adjusted based on nutritional assessments and the needs of the cattle. Components of the feed (again, including corn, wheat and dried peas) are kept separately and mixed to recipe specifications twice daily, which is then provided to the cattle for them to graze at their leisure.

The attention to detail and their desire to have input and control on every aspect of the animal's life-cycle is what impressed me the most. It wasn't enough for them to ensure the animal was raised properly, but also to ensure it was fed properly, and slaughtered properly. It is now on us to ensure the product is butchered properly, and sold with the love, care and attention that it deserves.  

For the time being, you can find the Penokean Hills product with greater regularity at the Gerrard store, but as the Penokean Hills operation grows (they have a new processing plant in the works, with the hopes of being open by May 2020), you'll only see their expansion in Sanagan's as well.

Harvest Time at Sanagan’s

Just in case you haven’t noticed, Sanagan’s is starting to look like a produce market. It’s the harvest season and our baskets are bulging with ultra-fresh garlic, onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, heirloom tomatoes and corn all from local farmers.

Already this year, I’ve whipped up a couple of crowd pleasing grill dinners featuring Sanagan’s meat and a couple of those Southern Ontario favourites, corn and tomatoes. Allow me to set the scenes:

BACKYARD PARTY WITH BEEF COULOTTE AND CORN ON THE COB

 A bunch of friends are all gathered in the backyard. There’s lots of beer and sparkling wine and later, whisky. The play list is dodging between the raucous and the nostalgic.

My contribution is to stay sober long enough to work the grill and cook up about 5 pounds of coulotte. This is the muscle that caps the top sirloin and it’s great for a group. It features the affordable, medium tender, mild-flavoured, fine-grained properties of the top sirloin but it comes in big flat wedge-shaped slabs. I grill-roast these (direct and indirect heat), rest them, slice them thinly across the grain and fan them out onto a big platter. It looks great, people can help themselves and because of coulotte’s tapered thickness, it’s possible to serve them with varying degrees of doneness. Not everyone wants rare beef.  

Prior to grilling the coulotte, there was some debate about the corn. Oh yeah, of course it would be great to grill it. Did anybody pre-soak it? No. Well you can just throw it right on the grill. Yeah, you can. But you know what? I’m trying to cook three large irregular-shaped steaks to perfection, drink both wine and beer and keep up with the conversation. Now you want me to also grill, like, 20 cobs of corn? We boil it. It’s sweet tender fresh Ontario corn. It tastes freaking fantastic. People gobble it up like there’s no tomorrow.    

THOUSAND ISLANDS DINNER WITH PASTA IN FRESH TOMATO SAUCE AND ITALIAN SAUSAGE

Friends of ours usually rent a sprawling rustic cottage on a private island and this year, we were lucky enough to be invited. There were nine of us including kids, the weather was fantastic, the swimming glorious, all set in the splendor of St. Lawrence River.

When I was in my early twenties and decided to get serious about cooking, I bought a book called the New York Times 60-Minute Gourmet by Pierre Franey. When I was in my late twenties and decided to get serious about being happy, I got married. Ever since, my wife and I have made variations on two pasta recipes in this book that feature fresh, uncooked tomato sauces. It was this dish that we prepared for our designated dinner on Little Grenadier Island.

Full disclosure: we used tomatoes purchased at the Brockville Farmers Market but the heirloom tomatoes we sell at Sanagan’s will be every bit as delicious as those beautiful throwback varieties we bought in the country. And a great deal to boot!

This is the simplest most satisfying sauce but it demands fresh ripe in-season tomatoes at room temperature. You just chop them up as small as you please (or roughly food process if you prefer) add minced garlic, salt and pepper, chopped fresh basil and parsley and a glug of olive oil. Mix lightly and let the whole thing sit in a bowl on the counter to get all juicy. Boil the pasta, toss it with lots of olive oil, douse with the sauce and top with a snowcap of grated Parmagiano-Reggiano or Pecorino.

Normally that would be more than enough but not when you work at Sanagan’s, so it’s on with the Italian sausage. Our Italian sausage is made with our house ground pork, garlic, roasted fennel and salt and pepper; hot or mild. As I grilled these babies up I look out over the deck at roughly 10 out of the Thousand Islands, observe an osprey family nesting across the channel and keep the flame on low. Our sausages have natural casings that will burst if you hit them with the high heat. 

You take that fresh sweet juicy pasta and add the savoury sizzle of perfectly grilled Sanagan’s Italian sausage? Let’s put it this way, the nine-year-old asked for the recipe.