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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Food for Thought with Alex Bielak- Love Me(at) Tender – Hamilton Company a World Leader

Morgan Van  Gronigen Launches Meat Mentor App
Love Me(at) Tender – Hamilton Company a World Leader

It may sound improbable, but VG Meats, a Stoney Creek butcher, may have begun a revolution in the way consumers anywhere will buy meat in the future. A family-owned business, VG Meats has been in operation since 1969 in Simcoe, and since 2011 in Hamilton. It’s now run by the four sons of the founding butcher, a man who clearly had a strong, positive influence in their lives.

I’m sure many readers, when faced with an array of cuts of beef on supermarket shelves - have wondered how to tell which cut will be the most tender. Now – if they’re shopping at Longo’s Supermarkets, and have VG Meats’ free “MeatMentor” mobile app on their smart phones, they can.


How that’s possible requires a little background.

According to studies, the quality consumers’ value most in meat is tenderness, something affected by many factors. To lesser or greater extent these include: genetics, what the cattle are fed; the age of the animal, the time the cut is aged, processing and cutting, marination, and perhaps principally, whether the animal is stressed prior to slaughter.

Scientists have established a predictor of meat tenderness, the Warner-Bratzler shear force test. In brief, a meat core from close to the 12th rib can help predict overall tenderness of the entire carcass. VG Meats has refined the formula, using six cores from each carcass. It allows them to precisely predict where each cut from an animal will fall on the tenderness scale. The scale runs 2 – 10 with the upper end being least tender. Kyle van Groningen, the youngest of the sons, and manager of the Stoney Creek store, illustrates their formula, “If the ribeye steak is a 4, then we can say the flat iron will be a 3.8, while the inside hip will be a 6.3. A tenderloin would run in the high 2s or low 3s.”

Morgan Van Groningen, Head of Marketing, said “A 2 would be like butter, and a 10 we call shoe leather… We don’t release anything above a 4.7 …because that is the threshold when there might be some possibility of consumers thinking it not tender, and we want to be known for tender beef.” In response to a question about flavour vs tenderness, she says flavour is a given with their meat, something demonstrated later, when a perfectly-seared, unseasoned steak was redolent with beefiness – a ‘2.5’ on my own taste scale.

The shear force test “kind of mimics your bite” said Morgan, who happens to be wife of “Meat Maker #4” as she referred to her husband Kevin, the youngest of the brothers – the food science one. She added one can buy a (subjectively visually-graded) AAA steak, but find it not tender, perhaps because the animal was stressed before slaughter. The shear force test will reliably indicate the tenderness of the cut.

Another part of the innovation VG Meats has brought to table is a “traceability packaging” system that ensures each part of an animal is tracked as the carcass is tenderness tested, butchered, and finally vacuum packed, with a QR code on the back of each package of meat destined for grocery store shelves. This system means that not only the tenderness score can be retrieved, but also addresses the increasing problem of “meat counterfeiting” where lesser quality cuts are being represented by unscrupulous parties as prime product.

Then, using the MeatMentor app to scan the QR code on a package of meat, a customer can now find the tenderness score associated with the specific cut they have in their hand. The app is “A tool for the customer…to know about their meat” noted Morgan. Various other features include information on the nearest location VG Meats’ products are available, the family, farm tours (they had Google come out and map the farms), recipes, and a shopping list and meat diary etc.

She also enthused, “We are the only ones in Canada doing it and possibly the only ones in the world… We are the first to bring it to consumers… Other plants could do this but we have the advantage as the process takes a lot of work, and some of the larger processors can’t easily do that. From the farm to the fork, all the processes along the way are what gets you a tender steak.”

Kevin Stemmler, co-owner of Stemmler Meats, a Heidelberg company that also espouses the importance of avoiding stress on cattle before they are slaughtered, told me “I have known Cory (the eldest brother who works at the Haldimand farm) at VG for about 20 years. Great family business. They are doing some interesting ground breaking work.”

Brother #3, Kyle, who oversees retail operations at the Stoney Creek store, told me all of VG Meats’ beef is dry-aged a minimum of 21 days. They will also custom age cuts for customers up to 60 days in a specialised cooler. The 60-day aged beef loses 21% of its weight during the process, but acquires a “Really robust beefy flavour” he added, noting his own preference was for beef aged 30 – 40 days.

VG meats is processing 40-45 ”well cared for” Ontario cattle per week on average, and has significant potential to expand said Kyle. Whether it is aged 21, 30, 40 or 60 days, the meat is sought-after by loyal customers including top restaurants. For instance, today’s online menu at the high-end Jacob’s Steakhouse in Toronto shows a 12 ounce 31-day ribeye steak for $65 on their menu.

I’d bet that it is wonderfully tender, and flavourful too, if the samples on offer at the app launch event were anything to go by. At the end of the launch I asked: “Does the system mean people are going to be rooting through the packages at Longos?”

“We want them to… we’d love to see that” is the definitive reply from the van Groningen team!


To see more pictures, click here. 

To see all past columns please see (and “like”) the Food for Thought Archives
Alex (Alex can be reached at fft@thehamiltonian.info or on twitter @AlexBielak)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Reports Relating to Complaints Against Lloyd Ferguson and Maria Pearson

To read the Integrity Commissioner's report on the Lloyd Ferguson issue, click here.
To read the Integrity Commissioner's report on the Maria Pearson issue, click here.


Integrity Comissioner Fails to Reprimand Councillor for Assaulting Independent Reporter, and excuses another.

On the heels of two recent long overdue reports from Integrity Commissioner Earl Basse, that clears both Clrs. Lloyd Ferguson and Maria Pearson in separate matters, Hamiltonians may be left to wonder if it is time that the model for an Integrity Commissioner be completely rehauled.

In the matter of Clr. Ferguson having pushed independent journalist Joey Coleman (an undisputed fact), Basse did not bother to issue any form of reprimand against Ferguson. Astonishingly, he also failed to interview the Mr. Coleman who since, has stated that Basse got some of the facts wrong and that his report unfairly questions Coleman's motives.

In a separate matter, Basse appears to excuse Maria Pearson's reliance on what Basse refers to as a "very informal and unscientific survey" that had no standard script or consistent manner of recording. Basse reports that Pearson " informed the Committee that she had made a diligent attempt to follow up with all residents that had attended the public meeting in May 2012 to determine their stance on the new amendment to the re-zoning application, which was the lowering of the density from ten (10) maisonettes to six (6) townhouses."

Basse concludes " The Councilor’s phone canvas was informal and did not provide a true picture of what the residents contacted wanted regarding the development of #2 Oceanic Drive" And despite having concluded that Pearson's methodology was flawed to the point of failure, Basse excuses the councillor despite her being a long time councillor who presumably ought to know better.

The messages sent by Basse's reports are troubling. Being able to physically assault a journalist without reprimand, is a disturbing message. Had it been a non-councillor employee of the City of Hamilton who acted as Clr. Ferguson did, it would be very unlikely that some form of reprimand would not follow.

Some might say that it is abundantly clear that having council have any kind of oversight, control or authority over the position of Integrity Commissioner, a position that is to query their conduct as it relates to allegations of Code of Conduct violations, is a conflict in of itself. A better model may be a reportingship to an independent consortium made up of citizens, picked randomly subject to meeting certain requirements to serve.

Do you believe it is time to reconfigure this role and position so that ordinary Hamiltonians have oversight? Is Basse holding people to  account, or is he coming across as an apologist?

RedHill Parkway Lawsuit $3,008,062.00 and Counting

The mounting legal costs of the city's lawsuit against the Feds over the Redhill Parkway continues to reach new heights.

Thus far, the City was ordered to pay $309,885.00 in court costs to the Feds. In addition, legal fees have climbed to $2,665,313.00. Add the cost of non recoverable HST in the sum of $32,864.00, and the total costs to date have ballooned to $3,008,062.00

Apparently lawyers working on the Federal Government side have been working at a discounted rate, presumably to save the taxpayers some money. We asked the City what the hourly rate is of the lawyers being used by the city, to which they have not answered. If we receive an answer, we will post it.

However, at a cost of $3,008,062.00 and presumably climbing, and in its unprecedented form as a government lawsuit against another level of government, it is clear that the costs to the taxpayer (of which there is one), is staggering.

Your thoughts?



Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Picture of the Moment

Ward 3 Trustee Larry Pattison celebrates the unanimous vote to support Parkview programs. Trustees are looking at making the special education program the Cadillac of programs. Staff to report back to the board in April where they Trustees will look at the best options for grade 9,10 & 11 enrolment.
Mountain Secondary school is not off the table to accept new enrolment but the board awaits the staff report.


Enrolment is a priority concern for Trustees and they were emphasizing the need to have a decision made sooner rather than later.


Photo and write up submitted by Joanna St. Jacques

Pan Am Update Presentation

Click here to see up update provided at the  Pan Am Stadium Precinct Sub-Committee meeting this morning. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Checking in with Transportation Director, Dave Dixon

Mr Dixon:

Assuming that increasing transit ridership continues to be a pre-requisite for a successful install of LRT, can you advise as to what transit enhancements are called for, for outlying regions such as Stoney Creek, Glanbrook, Dundas, Ancaster and the like? What budget asks have been set against these?


Most of the improvements in 2015 and 16 are in the urban areas due to overcrowding or insufficient runtime (see page 25 of the presentation). The improvements in 2017 with respect to the implementation of service standard (frequency) tend to be spread wider (see page 36 of the presentation). The growth component adds for 2017 and beyond have not been identified at present and will be based on emerging needs/trends. The modal split adds that begin in 2018 are focused on adding express service on all BLAST lines of at least 10 minutes or better.

Hope this helps.

David Dixon
Director of Transit
City of Hamilton – Public Works Department
Transit Division


See the presentation (10 Year Local Transit Strategy) Mr. Dixon is referring to by clicking here.

Your  thoughts. Is the city doing enough for the outlying areas? 

Our Own Alex Bielak to be a SoupFest Judge

Click on pic for larger image
The Hamiltonian’s own Food for Thought Columnist has been asked to be a judge at this major event taking place next Tues, February 24th. More than 25 area restaurants will compete for Best Soup, Most Creative Soup, Best Display and the Best Grow Local category. Local celebrities and politicians come out to serve soup and help with the event. There is a Toonie Auction & live entertainment.

There is still time to get Soupfest 2015 Tickets.  Tickets are available via the Living Rock website or by calling 905-528-7625 ext 250. All funds raised will support the Ministries’ efforts in responding to youth-at-risk. The event will be held at the Hamilton Convention Centre.

Congrats Alex. And congrats to SoupFest for rallying in favour of a great cause!