Flip me over

Ed­i­tor Beth Thomp­son trav­elled to Italy for a be­hind-the-scenes look at how Parmi­giano-Reg­giano is crafted and how it finds its way to Canada

Best Health - - CONTENTS - pho­tog­ra­phy by DONNA GRIF­FITH food styling by ASH­LEY DEN­TON | prop styling by LAURA BRAN­SON

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MIND BLOWN: That was the state I was in af­ter bit­ing into a piece of Parmi­giano-Reg­giano cheese while on a farm-to-fork tour in Italy last year. I could barely speak, but I man­aged to eek out, rhetor­i­cally, “This is what Parm is sup­posed to taste like?”

When I was a kid, we sprin­kled “parme­san” from a plas­tic bot­tle on our Tues­day night pasta. It was dirt dry and smelled like old socks. As a re­sult, it never made the gro­cery list in my adult years.

But that taste mem­ory didn’t align with what I was cur­rently de­vour­ing. Was it the Ital­ian wine or the starry Parma sky that was se­duc­ing me? No, I was just eat­ing the real deal: a crumbly, salty wedge of cheese hand­made us­ing tech­niques de­vel­oped dur­ing the Mid­dle Ages and now rig­or­ously mon­i­tored by a lo­cal con­sor­tium that stamps each wheel of cheese pro­duced in the re­gion. To re­ceive this stamp of au­then­tic­ity, ex­act­ing stan­dards must be ad­hered to, start­ing with what the re­gion’s cows graze on and end­ing with a 24-month aging process un­der spe­cific con­di­tions.

I share this food mem­ory not to brag about that once-in-al­ife­time trip but to in­spire you. See, you don’t have to travel to Italy or drop a bun­dle of dough to sink your teeth into a beau­ti­ful, au­then­tic piece of Parmi­giano-Reg­giano. In fact, you don’t have to go far­ther than the cheese aisle at your lo­cal Pres­i­dent’s Choice gro­cer.

We sat down with Kath­lyne Ross, vice-pres­i­dent of prod­uct de­vel­op­ment and in­no­va­tion at Loblaw Com­pa­nies Lim­ited, to get the scoop on how they travel the world to find the trendi­est and most au­then­tic food of­fer­ings – like Parmi­giano-Reg­giano – so that you can en­joy them at your own fam­ily gath­er­ings.

What drives the com­pany’s de­sire to find new items?

Pres­i­dent’s Choice has al­ways been about dis­cov­ery. We’re al­ways trav­el­ling to taste new cuisines and flavours and bring them back to share with our con­sumers. No one has been able to do that the way we do.

How many global trips do you take in a year?

Our prod­uct de­vel­op­ment teams travel the world quite a lot. I of­ten take one big in­ter­na­tional trip a year to a coun­try where we want to ex­plore new food trends. Last year’s ex­plo­ration was in In­dia. I also ex­plore dif­fer­ent cities across Canada and the United States to see what is hap­pen­ing. Port­land, New York and Min­neapo­lis have been my re­cent travel des­ti­na­tions.

Sounds like a dream job! How long have you been do­ing this?

I’ve been the vice-pres­i­dent of prod­uct de­vel­op­ment and in­no­va­tion for three years. What makes this job in­cred­i­bly unique is that no day is the same. It in­volves pro­vid­ing strate­gic di­rec­tion for the in­no­va­tion be­hind PC prod­ucts, en­sur­ing that prod­uct stan­dards and con­sis­tent qual­ity are al­ways met and trav­el­ling the world to find what’s new and next for our cus­tomers.

How deep do you dive to find “what’s new and next”?

When we travel for in­spi­ra­tion and ideas, it’s re­ally about get­ting to the restau­rants, unique food shops and re­tail stores to un­der­stand and eval­u­ate what’s trend­ing. We may go to a restau­rant be­cause we know it has amaz­ing ve­gan of­fer­ings and we want to be in­spired for new plant-pro­tein prod­ucts. It’s also about de­ter­min­ing what trends are re­ally vi­able to de­velop into prod­ucts for our con­sumers and what trends are sim­ply fads.

We also iden­tify themes through travel and re­search. If we see a par­tic­u­lar flavour in mul­ti­ple places, we de­ter­mine if there is an op­por­tu­nity to bring that flavour pro­file into some of our PC prod­ucts. Sriracha was a very good ex­am­ple of that.

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