What’s for dinner? It’s the question (and often the lament) uttered in households around the world nearly every single night. Chicken, pork, beef. Chicken, pork, beef. Don’t get us wrong, we love these protein options, and there is so much you can do with them. But if you’re looking for something different, something new and exciting yet wholesome and versatile… why not give duck a try?
Now, we say “new and exciting,” but let’s not forget that duck has been a traditional meat choice for centuries. Even here in York Durham Headwaters, King Cole Ducks in Whitchurch-Stouffville has been raising ducks for the better part of a century. “This is our 70th year, so we are celebrating seven decades of duck farming,” says Patti Thompson, Vice President, Sales and Marketing. “We now have a fourth generation involved in the business, so it’s quite a large family operation.” When she says family, Patti is including all the men and women who work at King Cole Ducks. “They might not be blood relatives,” she says, “but we consider them family because they’ve been working with us for such a long time. My sister and I figured out that we’ve got 1,967 years of experience working here on the farm collectively! We’re pretty lucky to have such a great staff to work with us from the farm to fork.”
The pandemic, it’s turned out, has been an interesting time in terms of how people’s priorities have shifted. This is something that Patti and her team have seen at King Cole Ducks. She finds that, increasingly, consumers are more interested in looking at where their food comes from. “How great is that?” she states. “I think that, for many of us who have tried to encourage folks to look at food, and particularly local food in your own backyard and what we have here available, that is really quite amazing.” At King Cole’s farm fresh store, staff have seen a lot more people come out looking for food, asking insightful questions, and showing interest in asking the “hows” and “whys” of the farm’s operations, as well as generally what they’re getting in the products they’re buying. “These were all the kinds of things that, for years and years, we hoped people would pay attention to, and we’re now seeing a change in focus on those kinds of things,” Patti says.
For those that ask the questions, they will find surprising and amazing answers. You see, what makes King Cole Ducks unique is its commitment to environmental responsibility and sustainability. Believe it or not, the farm produces zero product waste! Every part of the duck is used in food, clothing and/or agricultural products. “We always joke that everything is used but the ‘quack’,” Patti laughs. “The feathers are washed and dried for use in duvets and clothing. The bedding from our barns is composted into a rich soil enhancement for gardeners and landscapers. We also recycle two-thirds of our water which is used in the barn for washing and cleaning. And every piece of the duck is consumed.”
“We’re lucky here in Ontario,” she adds. “We have got this giant food basket at our fingertips. I think people needed to have a place to go out to, or at least to drive around and get out during covid and have a little bit of a break. That need opened up a lot of opportunities for those of us who are on country roads, because we saw some new consumers who, for our protein in particular, had never even thought about serving duck. It gave us a chance to show them what they can do.”
Although King Cole Ducks doesn’t offer any farm tours, staff do encourage you to come out to their farm fresh store to see the wide variety of products available. These products are not sold just to the general public—they are sold to professionals in the food service world, too. You know your meat is a quality product when it’s being purchased by top-class chefs and restaurants! “Our visitors will find things that they would never find in a traditional retailer,” Patti says. “And there are a lot of things that we bring in to experiment with, and let folks try something unique. So, for example, coming into fall we think of comfort food and cozy dinners. For that, we have things like duck meatloaf, duck balls, and all kinds of appetizers like duck spring rolls and wontons.”
If you’re visiting on the weekends, King Cole Duck has a food truck serving gourmet fine dining options like crispy duck wings, duck tacos, and Thai bowls featuring smoked duck.
This year has been a bit bumpy with the COVID-19 pandemic, and like all similar businesses, King Cole Ducks has had to put a hold on the events they normally celebrate. The fall duck festival, for example, was not able to be held this year. However, keep it in mind for when things open back up again, because you’ll want to check it out. “In previous years, we invited 25 local restaurants to our duck festival, where they served their favourite duck dish,” Patty explains. “It was free to the public, and it gave people the chance to try all kinds of interesting things from duck heart yakitoris to a duck tart—just a real wide variety and some interesting things. And it allowed the local restaurants and chefs to showcase the great stuff that they do. It was a fantastic way to connect with the community and support the folks in food service around us. We will do it again next year if things open up—and it looks like we’re headed in that direction, so we’re hopeful.”
For more info on King Cole Ducks, visit them online at www.kingcoleducks.com, or at their farm fresh store, located 15351 Warden Ave., Whitchurch-Stouffville.
Story by Katherine Ryalen
To learn about King Cole Ducks cooking classes, see article below