No matter which province or territory you grew up in over the last 43 years, chances are you will have come across an iconic bit of our country’s culinary history. Every year the Milk Calendar makes its way into Canadian homes (in my home, last year’s calendar is tacked to the wall next to our cookbook hutch). And though the recipes and photographs are new each year, the calendar has but one purpose—year after year: to celebrate Canadian food and people.
The Milk Calendar has become somewhat of a collector’s item. When looked at all together, the entire collection of annual milk calendars serves as a fascinating chronicle of our culinary history, for both home chefs and professional chefs alike. What does the upcoming 2020 Milk Calendar bring to Canadian kitchens? The ideas and creations of some of Canada’s most revered culinary personalities—their recipes and dishes provide a lens through which we can understand their unique and fully immersive view of who Canadians are, what we want and how we eat. 2020 is the year of celebrating our identity as a people, the multiculturalism and diversity which defines us, the vastness of our geography and terroir and the leadership of people who have dedicated their lives to feeding Canadians.
The Collaborators: Vikram Vij and Afrim Pristine
Vikram Vij and Afrim Pristine hosted the official Milk Calendar launch dinner in October at The Loft in Toronto, collaborating on dishes for a six-course tasting menu inspired by the Milk Calendar and drawn from their distinctive experiences spanning multiple countries and regional culinary styles, but resolutely grounded in Canada.
Vikram Vij is one of Canada’s most celebrated chefs. Vij’s culinary expressions are rooted in India, but his professional evolution comes out of cooking in Austria and then Western Canada, celebrating the land and constructing his highly creative and innovative processes. Collaborating with Meeru Dhalwala on a menu that would “change the landscape of Indian cuisine in Canada.”
Vikram opened Vij’s in 1994. Now one of the best-known and most beloved Indian restaurants in North America, the menu uses traditional Indian methods, spices and culinary influences, and pairs them with sustainable, local produce from British Columbia. Vikram puts it plainly: “Why would I bring a beer from India when I have beautiful breweries here? Why would I buy milk from somewhere else when I have beautiful, sustainable farmers that are producing great milk right here? I didn’t do things for marketing reasons. I did things because it logically made sense to me.”
Over the years, they went on to open Rangoli, which offers a more casual dining experience, and then My Shanti, Vikram’s first solo restaurant in South Surrey that pays homage to his travels around India. The serial restaurateur, author and the first Indo-Canadian “Dragon” adorns the January 2020 pages of the calendar, featuring Vikram’s Favourite Snack, which—as it encourages home cooks to experiment with the flavours of the leftovers found in anyone’s fridge—is an exquisite lesson in sustainable gastronomy.
Afrim Pristine is the world’s youngest Maître Fromager, and Ontario Cheese Ambassador. “I’m really excited to be the Ontario Cheese Ambassador. I’ve already been working directly with all these producers for so many years and now to really be their guy and be their guide to kind of wave their flag and to showcase their passion—I see it as a job and almost as a duty, actually, because for me, I’m a very proud Canadian and for me just to put their cheese on a pedestal, it’s easy, it’s easy cause we’re making phenomenal cheeses.”
The eclectic entrepreneur is the third-generation owner of Cheese Boutique in Toronto. Now boasting 500 hotel/restaurant deliveries per week; it’s still a family business through and through. “My brother and I are the third generation. My niece and nephew are on the floor and in deliveries, so they are the fourth generation. We also have families within our families, people who have worked with us for decades and decades and their family members work with us too. That’s very special to us. I think to our customers as well,” says Pristine. Of Cheese Boutique’s success, Pristine says their strength is treating every customer like an individual, without exception and no matter the scale.
The first month in the 2020 calendar, December 2019, features a Canadian cheese board crafted by Pristine. He is the perfect example of a diversified approach to business, using multiple skills and platforms to connect with consumers from television to events, to presenting the product as art.
On education, not just marketing, for foodservice and consumer alike
One of the modern challenges facing both the agriculture and foodservice industries is reaching the emergent consumer class. There has been a palpable shift in the industry driven by the bold positioning of culinary brands rooted in value-based experiences for the passionate and epicurious. To address this challenge and connect directly with Canadian consumers, Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO), who publish The Milk Calendar on behalf of dairy farmers across the country, has invested heavily in an upcoming culinary lifestyle brand—Savour Ontario.
DFO’s new content brand is designed to bring in Canadian food culture luminaries for the purposes of educating and informing consumers and supporting local agri-businesses and foodservice operators. Savour Ontario is all about offering a dynamic, factual, informative and balanced knowledge base delivered through exquisite but simple local food recipes and signature regional culinary experiences that elevate local food, restaurants, chefs and experiences by:
- Working with like-minded partners (like Restaurants Canada, Taste Canada, culinary tourism groups, etc.) to surface, share and celebrate local food businesses and experiences.
- Working with a roster of culinary, institutional and restaurant contributors to collectively define a local food lifestyle focused on a balance of accessibility, food literacy and engagement with food experiences at the local community level.
- And defining and developing awareness around local cuisine as a ‘moveable feast,’ affording a polycultural and creative benefit to owners/operators/chefs and consumers.
The integration of local restaurants
As part of the 2019 Milk Calendar community engagement and distribution program, DFO partnered with the Culinary Tourism Alliance to launch the first Milk & Honey Menus in 15 Feast On-certified restaurants across Ontario. Milk & Honey Menus are unique to each chef and restaurant and celebrate locally sourced and sustainable food, highlighting local dairy, cheeses and other foods crafted in each region. The program will expand in January 2020 and will offer community distribution of Milk Calendars at participating restaurants and venues.
The integration of restaurant experiences, local food, sustainable food shopping behaviours and efficiency around meal planning continues to inform the design of the 2020 Milk Calendar launch and promotional strategy, drawing in an eclectic group of chefs, professional home economists and restaurateurs.
The emotional response to The Milk Calendar continues to surprise and delight its creators. Last year alone, Dairy Farmers of Ontario received 20,000 unsolicited emails and calls about the milk calendar. It is a beloved Canadian tradition and a unique little corner of food centric Canadiana.
For more information or to receive your copy of the 2020 Milk Calendar, please visit calendar.milk.org.