"Ay, there's the rub," said Hamlet in the famous soliloquy by William Shakespeare. And, indeed, pork does play a major role in a food festival at a place that prospers from the Bard's words.
Divine swine dishes step into the spotlight at the fifth annual Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival from Sept. 21-23 in this thespian town about three hours west of Buffalo in Ontario.
Whether slathered with savory barbecue sauce, rubbed with fine herbs and spices, or ground up into tasty sausage links, pork will be one of the major food groups featured in the long weekend of cuisine, music and arts.
Ribs, farmer's sausage and cured pork belly bacon are all on the menu at the three-day event in the Heritage Garden District along the Avon River.
"Pork is a staple of Ontario's economy," explained Cathy Rehberg, marketing manager of the Stratford Tourism Alliance. "And the culinary festival is a perfect blend of what Stratford does well – agriculture and cuisine."
"The festival has been awarded Ontario's Best Culinary Tourism Experience. It's all about regional food and celebrating Perth County's chefs, farmers and producers," she continued. "Our local food heritage spans over 150 years, and this year's theme is ‘Celebrating Our Culinary Roots.' "
The celebration will bring together 12 award-winning chefs, 30 tutored tastings, cooking shows and skills workshops led by cookbook authors and culinary artisans, plus many sampling events.
Free concerts are scheduled at the band shell on Veterans Drive and the City Centre Stage in front of City Hall. Free shows with clowns, jugglers, musicians and hand puppets are planned in a Kids Tent on Veterans Drive.
Art in the Park (www.artintheparkstratford.com), a free juried art show, takes place on Lakeside Drive. (More than 50 artisans display their work Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays through Sept. 30.)
A Farmers and Artisans' Market will offer local produce, prepared food and hand-crafted arts in stalls scattered along the banks of the river and in Market Square.
A $5 Savour Stratford Wristband gives access to cooking demonstrations at the Culinary Stage, talks by culinary experts at the Chefs Learning Centre and tasting events at the Craft Beer and Wine Pavilion. The wristbands are for sale at www.savourstratford.com, where other events and performances are listed.
> Latkes and live bands
The festival kicks off Sept. 21 with an eclectic village of street food stalls along the river. Beef short-rib sandwiches, potato latkes and crème brulee will be served by chefs and hospitality students of Fanshawe College, as live bands perform from 5 to 8 p.m. Charity donations can be exchanged for food item tickets.
Kansas City-style ribs and chicken washed down by five local craft beers highlight "BBQ Blues and Brews" at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in Market Square. Country rock and a sassy blues band will provide the soundtrack for the party, which costs $40.
Earlier in the day, Rundles Restaurant chef Mike Booth and farmer Jane Cox will chat about "Bacon and Eggs." The gourmet talk will focus on curing heritage pork and how free-range eggs express "terroir." Costing $25, the artisanal breakfast takes place at 10 a.m. at Market Square.
A "Breakfast With Culinary Champions" at 9 a.m. Sunday will be prepared by competitors from the "Top Chef Canada" TV show. The chefs also will take part in a Quick Fire cooking challenge. The event costs $30 and will be held at Stratford Country Club at 53 Romeo St. North.
Later in the afternoon, 30 local chefs will be paired with 30 farmers to create an array of seasonal morsels at a tent party in Market Square. A $75 ticket provides three hours of food, wine and beer and jazz/swing music.
> Culinary classes
In addition to doing festival workshops, many of the same food experts take part in year-round Stratford Tourism culinary packages (www.visitstratford.ca/package).
The packages include a choice of seven hotels and inns, breakfast and a $100 dinner-for-two restaurant certificate. Prices quoted are for the high season ending in October. The packages are cheaper from November to May.
Here is a sampling of culinary classes:
* Cheese maker Ruth Klahsen said, "My relationship with people is through cheese." The veteran chef leads a tour of Monforte Dairy (www.monfortedairy.com) at 49 Griffith Road. Her 90-minute workshop ($150) covers making and tasting artisanal cheeses and includes a take-home package of samples.
* Candy maker Derek Barr shares recipes and crafting techniques in the kitchen of Chocolate Barr's Candies (www.chocolatebarrs.com) at 136 Ontario St. "No licking the spoon," joked Barr, who leads the 90-minute candy-making workshop. The package ($208) includes take-home treats.
* Certified tea sommelier Karen Hartwick offers more than 100 loose-leaf teas at her Tea Leaves Tea Tasting Bar (www.stratfordtealeaves.com) at 433 Erie St. She pairs five or six with sweet treats – chocolate or honey – in two different seminars. The 60-minute tea-and-honey tasting ($170) matches exotic brews with several types of Perth County honey. She urges tea drinkers to "compare different flavors, textures and sensations."
Hartwick's second package ($189) is a 60-minute workshop on sampling chocolate with a flight of teas. The outing also includes a 60-minute chocolate-making tour "from bean to bar" by Rheo Thompson Candies (www.rheothompson.com) at 55 Albert St.
* Coffee barista Anne Campion offers a "Bean to Brew With Sweet Eats" tour at Revel Caffe (www.revelcaffe.com) at 50 Wellington St. She talks about how bean varietals, roast profiles and various brews enhance the flavor of pastries. The 90-minute workshop ($183) includes tasting blends of coffees with sweets, a pound of coffee and dessert recipes.
* Executive chef David Callan's two-hour class is filled with culinary philosophies, cooking techniques and chef secrets. Students prepare a three-course dinner in the kitchen of the Stewart House Inn (www.stewarthouseinn.com), a restored 1870 estate at 62 John St. North. The package ($270) includes a room at the inn, beverages and a culinary gift.
> Great garlic
One other culinary event not to be missed is the sixth annual Garlic Festival (www.stratfordgarlicfestival.com) Sept. 8-9 at the Old Stratford Fairgrounds at 20 Glastonbury Drive.
Highlights include cooking demonstrations, chef competitions, gardening tips, food book authors, garlic wine, fudge, pickles, sausage, and 100 vendors of other garlic-related goodies.
Regular admission of $5 per day includes parking (children under 5 get in free). Separate tickets are required for a gourmet dinner dance and garlic-braiding workshop. The festival's motto is "because there's no such thing as too much garlic." The gathering was inspired by founder Warren Ham's visit to a Kiwanis Club garlic festival in Saugerties, N.Y.
> Bacon and ale
One final oink-out to the folks at Stratford Tourism. Not only have they created self-guided Chocolate Trail, Swan Walk and Justin Bieber tours, they recently added the "Bacon and Ale Trail."
The tour ticket allows five tasting stops at any of 11 places with bacon-and-ale-inspired items. For example, Foster's Inn at 111 Downie St. provides a pork terrine wrapped in smoked bacon with a Tankhouse microbrew.
Small-Mart General Mercantile at 121 Ontario St. offers bacon-flavored candy, soap or toothpaste. Mercer Hall Inn boasts four kinds of bacon – herb, maple, jerk and natural.
Molly Bloom's Irish Pub at 26 Brunswick St. serves "Loaded Baked Potato Soup" with double-smoked bacon and a sample of Mill Street Brewery's Organic Lager.
The $28.25 pass, which can be used for three days from date of purchase, is sold at the Stratford Tourism Centre at 47 Downie St. or online at www.visitstratford.ca/bacon-tickets.
> Places to stay
Best Western The Parlour Historic Inn and Suites, 100 Wellington St. (www.theparlour.ca). The downtown boutique inn was built in 1871 and has a 240-seat dining room. The gastropub is part of a walking tour of haunted inns called the "Pubs, Pilsner and Spirits Tour."Stratford Whitehouse, 265 St. David St. (www.stratfordwhitehouse.com). The Southern-style mansion was built in 1865 with a massive portico, 18 columns extending the 125-foot wrap-around porch and beautiful gardens. The guest house has three suites with kitchen, sitting room and second-floor balconies.