by Troy Bishopp
Thurso, Québec, is the birthplace of legendary hockey player Guy Lafleur, who was named one of the 100 greatest NHL Players in history. It’s also the home of the century-old Maloney Homestead Farm, now known in the French-speaking province as Ferme Brylee. Most folks who visit gladly trade their poutine for a chance to savor grass-fed meat barbecued over the fourth-generation farm’s open-air Argentine-style parrilla. “It’s our farm’s expression to the people and planet,” said Brian Maloney.
Touted by many Northeast farmers and consumers as a premier grass farm in the region, it sits strategically between the Ottawa and Montreal customer base. For the husband and wife team of Brian Maloney and Lise Villeneuve (and their five children and two grandchildren), the farm’s profit is based on direct marketing their meat and commercially-made products, barn weddings, viewscapes and hosting events that complement their 300-acre grass-finishing and custom grazing operation.
“Our mission is to protect our land and the environment for the generations to come – to produce high quality meats and offer superior quality services in a healthy, natural way for people who respect what we do and to be well rewarded for our work and to have fun!” said Maloney.
The meadows and the soil underneath are sources of pride that have been carefully managed for over 40 years using the teachings of Andre Voisin, Ian Mitchell Innes and wise practitioners from around the world that Maloney has had the opportunity to engage with. The land has responded to this management with organic matter levels over 15% – and climbing. “It’s a legacy thing,” said Maloney, who thinks of himself as a “climate changing cowboy.” The cattle and small flock of sheep are moved multiple times per day to accentuate weigh gain, improve soil health and build a diverse, resilient sward of forage that yields a unique flavor characteristic (terroir) in the meat that customers appreciate.
“If grazing was easy, everyone would be doing it – well,” said the feisty prairie prophet. It’s a point of consternation as he wonders why people aren’t adopting this model and striving for the economic, environmental and social benefits a well-managed grazing system can provide. This wonderment and his desire to mentor others has led to many calling Maloney the official pasture walk educator for eastern Canada. His charismatic charm helps others see the nuances of the land and all its subtle signs, whether counting dung beetles, teaching grazing behavior or hunting for mushrooms.
“Anything that doesn’t enhance the capture of free solar energy (sun) or doesn’t increase the harvest of energy (grass) is an expense that costs us time, energy and money,” said Maloney. “I’m committed to a legacy of land stewardship and learning. In an era of climate change, I hope one day we’ll be paid for returning carbon back to the soil using our regenerative grazing practices. I’m still passionate that the best piece equipment on the farm is one’s footsteps.”
The meat is the flavorful expression of the grass, with beef being the centerpiece enterprise and lamb, veal, pork and poultry filling in the niches. The meat is sold in their country-style store which used to be the milk-house and dairy manger area below the family’s hand-hewed bank barn. Walk-in freezers and glass see-through coolers give it a retail meat case feel. It is a popular venue. Adjacent to the store is Villeneuve’s commercial kitchen where she creates delectable homemade meals, marinades, stews, soups, pies and seasonal items for sale.
The former nurse of 29 years made the decision in 2012 to pursue her passion for cooking and offering meals at the farm while preserving and serving her grandmother’s recipes. The Canadian “Master Chef” contender regularly partners with many of the finest chefs around the province to share recipes and collaborate on food events. Her cooking prowess and beautiful plates of food are great marketing tools for the farm and its enterprises.
She is known for her grilling skills over the open-air parrilla made out of a water trough and an old furnace door fashioned with an adjustable corrugated metal grill top so the meat cooks from indirect heat and keeps the smoke from overwhelming the natural flavor of the grass-fed meat. The “grilling porch” made use of an old pig barn and is a place for authentic, rustic Argentinean cuisine that allows guests to savor a unique local dining experience.
The feast-like BYOB dinners at Ferme Brylee range in price and include two appetizers such as lamb merguez served with old-fashioned mustard or beef sausage bites served with chimichurri (Argentine salsa), two side dishes, and either ground beef kebobs, sirloin brochettes, marinated bavette steaks or the ample gaucho platter. For dessert (if there’s room), there’s homemade raisin pie, apple crisp with whipped cream or maple Bavarian cream cake.
Matrimony has brought new life to the centuries-old Maloney dairy barn and with it another successful enterprise. The tastefully decorated timber frame beams and seasoned barn siding make for a cozy, beautiful country wedding venue. Because the commercial kitchen and store are literally under the old hay mow and can cater the wedding with a unique menu directly from the farm and local area, it makes for a one-stop shop for busy brides. Villeneuve and her conscientious staff prep, make and serve the food while Maloney parks cars, greets guests and provides logistical support.
The barn wedding business has been popular enough to have the farm booked every weekend throughout the spring, summer and autumn. The barn also serves as a dining area for farm and civic groups that visit. With the store so close, many guests buy directly what they have enjoyed. “It’s a win-win for us and our loyal customers,” said Villeneuve.
November ushers in the custom-grazed cattle being sent back to their owners; the grass-finished beeves are processed; customer orders are filled; and the store is stocked for the holiday season. The intensely busy farm is a planned seasonal business that is conducive to having time off in the winter to recharge the family’s physical and emotional batteries. After the New Year, the farm store operates by appointment only and the farm has minimal chores.
To learn more about Ferme Brylee visit fermebrylee.ca.