Saturday, April 8, 2017

Food for Thought with Alex Bielak - A Slice Off the Old Block

A slice off the old Block

A month or so ago, a cooking buddy gave me the heads up about a new place in Burlington I had to visit. Thanks Chris!

Barely into its third month of business, the Block Company’s website is as full of promise as the newish John Street store. The brainchild of restaurant business veteran, Troy Smith, the narrow shop features a refrigerated case containing an enticing array of cured meats and premium cheese.

Smith’s friend, Chef Joshua Ross, is lending a helping hand to get the business off the ground. He says “It’s all about the best of the best, so the public can have access to restaurant quality charcuterie and special cheeses.” The latter are mainly local artisanal offerings, including great ones from the Upper Canada Cheese Company in Lincoln, New Hamburg’s Mountainoak and Gunn’s Hill in Woodstock. There are also international gems like the sumptuous – and mortgage-worthy – Truffle Sottocenere from Italy, among others.

Smith says “My charcuterie and cheese is forever changing, hence why I don’t have an online menu. We have a community board here at the shop where locals make a list of things they would like to

see, and I source it out.”

The current selection of artisanal cured meats comes predominantly from local suppliers like the amazing Mario Pingue in Niagara: his sweet, certified-organic prosciutto is aged at least 18 months, and the Brasala tenderloin is darkly redolent of the red wine it was marinated in. I love the imported French rosette salami, and the Seed to Sausage chorizo from Ottawa is nicely piquant. Ross also proudly shares a slice of his own Manhattan-poached foie gras. It was truly sublime with a pinch of sea salt.

Various live-edge wood products, from charcuterie boards to walnut slabs retailing for thousands of dollars, warm the space which can be re-configured to host events like pop-up dinners. The boards and furniture are hand crafted from local wood by woodworker Norm Denault. Selected pickles and preserves, and duck eggs, round out the current product offering, which may soon be supplemented by some high-end kitchen equipment.

The Block Company set up shop in Burlington for the “homey feel: people say hello when you walk down the street. The response from downtown Burlington has been excellent. Everyone supports everyone else here.” While the store allows for walk in sales, they’ll also simply assemble a great charcuterie plate for folks – using the clients own boards if they prefer – to enjoy at home or cater a full dinner party.

I ask Smith what distinguishes his business from the late-lamented Brant Street Butcher and Market at the corner of Brant and Lakeshore: they closed not that long after opening and the space remains empty 18 months on. “I’m not a butcher shop, I’m focussed on elite cheese you might find on your travels, and charcuterie boards. Our stock is small so we can change things up quickly. It is something the locals really wanted. They can drop off a board and we can dress it up for them, or they can rent the space after hours to host a dinner party. We’re booked up for two months. Think of us as more as an interactive social cheese shop than a grocery store.”

I wish the Block Company much success, and look forward to a particular green hazelnut salami I recall from a visit to France and that Smith is looking to source for me.

And Ps. in an upcoming column watch for the scoop on some exciting culinary developments in Hamilton, direct from a source who knows…

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

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