Caveat Emptor.


Ontarians living in major cities seem to be looking more and more for fresh food, and most are willing to pay for perceived or advertised freshness.

First, allow me to point out that commonly used terms such as fresh, free-range, sushi-grade, grain-fed, cellar select, vintner’s select or grain-fed are not officially recognized, legislated, and defined terms, and there is no agency to control.

Fresh is a very abused term and depends very much on the imagination of retailers. Fresh fish by definition should be caught on the same day it is sold.

In Toronto, except for lake fish, this is impossible unless the fish is flown in from the Atlantic Provinces or Boston.

These days, fresh means pretty much not frozen! Sushi-grade tuna is another meaningless term, since the freshest fish that arrives is already reserved for top sushi restaurants. Then there is the so-called farmed and wild salmon. Wild Atlantic salmon tastes much better and has a firm texture and much more satisfying flavour, but most salmon sold as wild is actually farmed and no agency seems to control the veracity of claims by fishmongers.

Grain-fed and/or free-range chicken is both abused adjectives that rarely reflect the truth. Grain-fed should e the chicken was fed at least for a few weeks mainly on corn and/or other cereal, not a few grains here and there. Free-range chicken in winter is an anachronism, no consumer should believe. How much chicken would survive even 20 minutes at – 30 C in winter?

The term-dry aged for beef sirloin is bandied about at prices, which are too low to reflect that very fact. Dry-aged sirloin shrinks much more than cryovac-packed refrigeration-aged beef, and by definition must be significantly more expensive than the wet aged product. Dry-aged beef is dark in colour and smells more intense. Butcher shops use special lighting to make the meat look darker.

By law, eggs that 21 days old can still be called fresh. Anyone who has tasted a truly fresh egg that was just laid instantly recognizes the taste difference of a 21day old “fresh” egg.

There are restaurant menus that claim all kinds of geographical distinctions without adhering to them. If you see Atlantic wild salmon on any restaurant menu, just ask for the manager and insist that he/she produces the invoice for you. Similarly, a restaurant may claim dry-aged Albert Angus beef sirloin. Ask for the invoice. No manager will show you any invoice, since he/she will just say

“you don’t trust me”. This has nothing to do with trust, but simply with verification, as late American president R. Reagan famously claimed:”Trust but verify”.

In Europe special government inspectors walk in any restaurant and are entitled to ask for invoices of controlled appellations foods like Parmegiano-Reggiano, Brie from Meaux, Camembert from Normandy, Emental from Switzerland, chicken from Bresse, salmon from Scotland, butter form Normandy, asparagus from Lauris, or Belgium, just to name a few.

If the restaurateur cannot produce the invoice, the establishment is fined, may be closed for a few days, and worse, local press includes it in the news.

There are very few western European restaurants that would take chances with misrepresentation of food.

Yet many restaurants in Toronto claim to use authentic caviar; in reality they use white fish caviar at a fraction of the cost of the authentic product.

Many also advertise to serve champagne and orange juice for brunch. By the champagne is replaced with a sparkling wine from a country that simply produces sparkling wine at a much lower price.

Parmegiano-Reggiano is substituted with a similar cheese form New Zealand, or worse Wisconsin, Grana-Padano from Italy, but certainly not the authentic product. Occasionally pecorino Romano may be substituted for the original cheese from Parma in Emilia-Romagna.

The list goes on!

“Buyer beware”, is more apt term today than when Romans first invented it!

Hrayr Writer – Hrayr Berberoglu – E-mail – Read his books?
Professor B offers seminars to companies and interested parties on any category of wine, chocolates, chocolates and wine, olive oils, vinegars and dressings, at a reasonable cost.

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