Although globalisation has turned the world into one huge marketplace, there are still many benefits to using local produce when cooking. Many Gozitan restaurant owners know this, and their commitment to using locally-sourced foodstuffs is safeguarding the environment, helping the country’s economy flourish, and resulting in a much better final product.
Chances are that your fridge or pantry holds many items that have come from various parts of the globe. Indeed, it has become commonplace that the foods we consume on a daily basis have travelled many miles to reach us, and from Argentinian beef to Dutch potatoes and German beer to Scottish oats, we’re so used to this multinational array that we barely notice it.
Even so, many people, including restaurant owners, are now choosing to go back to using locally-sourced products from farmers and producers they know and trust. This shift is helping our agriculture experience a renaissance, and it’s also proving to be a great step towards offering even more delectable and authentic food that allow patrons to savour the true taste of our sun-kissed, Mediterranean island.
Why is it important?
Using local produce has a number of pros that benefit many of the links that form part of the chain, including the farmer, the restaurant owner and you. On top of that, using local ingredients helps the local economy to grow, and aids in safeguarding the environment and reducing your dish’s carbon footprint.
“Many people talk about ‘safeguarding local products’ but, in order to do that, you must first invest in it,” says Philip Spiteri, who took over the running of il-Kartell restaurant in Zebbug, Gozo, 11 years ago. “When you buy local produce, you help the farmer and sustain the economy, you do your bit for the environment by using a zero-mile product, and you give visitors and locals the chance to sample the foods of the region.”
“Gozo is also an island with a rich tradition in agriculture that survives to this very day,” adds Mary Grace Attard, the owner of the Ta’ Frenc restaurant, which is also in Zebbug. “So, when we choose local, we showcase our country’s traditions and present a product that’s genuine and straight from land that’s been sowed and reaped by local farmers.”
Is 100 per cent local possible?
Although going 100 per cent local is technically possible, the reality is that this would hinder restaurants to a certain extent. After all, ‘local’ often means sticking to seasons and using produce that can sometimes only be available for two weeks. Nevertheless, many restaurants in Gozo are doing their best to use locally-sourced foodstuff whenever it is possible.
“80 per cent of the products we use at Il-Kartell are local,” says Philip. “Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to take that to 100 per cent, but if it’s pork, lamb, olive oil, beef, chicken, eggs, fish, salt or vegetables, we use local and fresh. One thing on our menu which is never local are our chips, because it simply takes too long to cut potatoes on demand when the restaurant is so busy. In fact, I’m quite surprised that no one’s tapped into this market locally!”
“Whenever we can, we use local. And not just that, whenever we can, we grow our own,” Mary Grace continues. “In fact, we produce our own olive oil from our own olive groves, harvest salt from our own saltpans, and grow a wide variety of herbs in our own back garden. In order to strike the right balance, however, we have different menus: The Market Menu is seasonal and changes according to what is available, while the à la carte has our specials which never change.”
How does this benefit food lovers?
Many restaurant owners who use local produce know the producers and farmers personally – some are even related! – and they also inquire about the origin of the produce and the conditions it was in prior to harvesting. They know what the chickens were fed before they laid that egg, the type of water (from a spring, from a borehole, rainwater from a well) was used to water the strawberries, and whether the olive oil is really extra virgin or not. And this makes all the difference.
“Local produce means fresher food,” says Mary Grace. “Food that’s been transported here from other countries often experiences changes in temperature and is handled by many different people and machinery, which usually affects its taste or texture. In my opinion, seasonal is always better than frozen, and that is something that clients can taste at Ta’ Frenc.”
Philip also agrees: “Nothing can be fresher than local produce, trust me. I was raised as a farmer and my family still produce many traditional products that people come from far and wide to purchase. I believe in this so much, that Il-Kartell is completely committed sticking with the use of authentic local produce. On top of that, we also do our best to recycle the waste that’s derived from using local produce (an average of 50kg a day!) by feeding it to our animals to help sustain the food chain.”