Montreal's Société-Orignal sells gourmet foraged and artisanal products to chefs throughout North America. It fills a gastronomic niche in Canada and the US, where chefs and diners are clambering for the best ingredients and their intriguing histories. It's hard to find a quality restaurant in Montreal that doesn't feature their elderflower, sea asparagus, or black trumpet mushrooms on its locavore menu.
Société-Orignal partners with more than 30 farmers, foragers, fishermen and families. It divides its extensive product list into animals, fish, dairy products, foraged plants, shoots, leaves, stems, fruits, vegetables, seaweeds and flowers. Some of its most exotic products, including sustainable, cured wild lumpfish caviar and pickled elderberries that taste like grapes, are available directly from their online boutique. Others, including wild cloudberries and yellow alpine strawberries, are more fragile, and are a luxury usually reserved for Montreal.
The company is partnered with fine dining establishments such as Daniel Boulud and Per Se as well as casual neighbourhood bistros. Here’s what you need to know about some of the company’s most unique ingredients and how some restaurants are using them:
1. IMMATURE ELDERBERRIES
These pickled young, green elderberries are coated in salt before they’re immersed in vinegar. The result smells like the sea and tastes like grapes. At Buca Restaurant in Toronto, chef Rob Gentile uses them in his apple-glazed, hand-stuffed agnolotti. The elderberries help cut through the richness of the dish’s fois gras and braised Quebec wild hare.
2. ICE PLANT
This plant is native to South Africa but grows wild in Quebec. It has thick leaves that release a gelatinous, thick juice when chewed and tastes like peppermint. Chef Jonathan Lapierre-Réhayem uses it at Laloux restaurant in Montreal in a beet and carrot salad with sea urchin mousse and orange peel purée.
3. SUNFLOWER SEED OIL AND CAMELINA OIL
Sunflower oil is a locally made, sustainable harvested, affordable and mildly nutty alternative to olive oil. The seeds are dried in cold air “in jute sacks on the roof of a barn,” according to the Société-Orignal website. In spring, the grains are cold-pressed in barrels where gravity naturally decants the oil. The leftover fibre is used to feed the goats from the nearby Petit family farm. M. Petit reduces the goat’s milk to a sweet, creamy jam—Quebec-made dulce de leche. Camelina oil is extracted from the seeds of an ancient plant that’s naturally resistant to genetic modification and natural hazards. The special press developed by the Busine family in the maritime region of Matane, Quebec keeps the temperature below 100F by slowly extracting about one litre of oil per hour. The almond-like flavour of the cold-pressed oil, however, survives at high cooking temperatures, and the oil has a 475F smoking point, making it suitable for high-heat cooking.
4. MARSHMALLOW ROOT
No, marshmallows don’t grow on trees. Neither do they grow in the ground like a potato. But they used to…almost. According to Société-Orignal’s co-founder Alex Cruz, “Marshmallow root mucilage extract was used as a thickener [for marshmallows], hence its name.” Nowadays the root can once again be used to make marshmallows, or to give a marshmallow flavour to sweet and savoury dishes.
These small berries look like orange raspberries and have the flavour of apricots born in the tropics. In eastern Quebec, where they actually grew up, they’re used in pies and jellies. They’re also common in Newfoundland, where they’re called bakeapples. But at Europea restaurant in Montreal the more-tart-than-sweet berry goes from rustic to upscale in a cannelé pastry that accompanies a dish of pan-seared fois gras stewed in maple bark. The fois gras caramelizes on a hot river stone as a drizzle of ice wine is poured over top for service.
6. CURED WILD LUMPFISH CAVIAR
Wild lumpfish, also called poule de mer and “hen of the sea,” is abundant near the sea beds of coastal Quebec and Newfoundland. This North Atlantic caviar is sustainably fished and is free of synthetic gums and colorants. Only salt and erythorbic acid are added to fix the pH level. The caviar is medium sized, its true colour is grey-yellow, and it has a strong, briny taste.