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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Two Cowboys on a Journey: Swiss Family Making Prosciutto in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta at Valbella Gourmet Foods in Canmore

Valbella Gourmet Foods 

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The business was established in 1978 by Walter and Leonie von Rotz in beautiful downtown Canmore, Alberta, Canada.

What began as a small 1,000 square foot plant has progressed over the last 30 years into a 25,000 square feet production plant overlooking Canmore’s Three Sister Mountains. The European style sausages, hams and air dried meats quickly found their way into Banff’s famous Hotels and Restaurants, and can now be found at gourmet dining establishments, fine hotels and first rate food markets throughout Alberta.

My experience with Valbella started in 2008 when I arrived in Canmore as a new immigrant in Canada. It is my favourite place to get an outstanding pork belly for a special barbecue. Valbella's beef jerky is an all time favourite with my sons. The bacon... well you have to come and taste it to know what I am talking about.

What I didn't know, was just how good their grilled cheese sandwiches are. You will see it in the video below. We are closing with the scene where I am enjoying it with a bowl of tomato cream soup. It is simply outstanding!  It is a sought after hearty lunchtime meal for locals in the industrial area of Canmore.  (A little secret not shared with many tourists.)


The von Rotz family family story in Canmore is a typical, and not so typical story of new immigrants landing in a country, seeing an opportunity, and setting out to build a future for themselves and their children. Inevitably over 30 years, they've also materially contributed to the community and character of the town of Canmore. It is a successful business that stands out.

Valbella's next generation is starting to take over. Daughter, Chantal (featured in the video) and Son, Jeff (still to come in our training videos) both pursued other interests at first, only to return to the familiar tables and counters of the family's business a short while ago. They've grown up up working side by side with their parents, and today is preparing to continue the legacy with similar values and commitment to make outstanding products. The business is clearly a family affair. Not just blood family, but people that's been part of the business for decades. This includes people in the community, and those that followed from their home country of Switzerland.

Young people have the opportunity to learn the old ways and traditions of butchery, cured meats and timeless delicacies. Valbella's doors are open to show you what they do, and the invitation is there to also learn from them, how it used to be, and still is done.

It is fitting that we made this video as Walter is stepping back from day-to-day involvement in the business, and slowly letting the new blood run with it. The video is a short look back at what was achieved by a family as landed immigrants, makers, entrepreneurs, parents, mentors, and masters of their trade. It is also a look forward as Chantal and Jeff recruit new "family" into the business and grow it with new ideas such as their food truck at the Canmore Mountain Market.

Several elements stood out for me during the visit with Valbella. Walter's passion for the trade, the products and the people. The young butcher from Quebec that is using his skills to travel from country to country. The role family plays in continuing a tradition and building a legacy. The authentic and outstanding products that are amazing. Who would have known that Valbella is the only large scale prosciutto maker in Western Canada?

The thing that stood out most: Every person we've met was making something. They were working hard and long hours, but they were all proud of their achievements and eager to share their passion. The values of producer clearly drives the business.

It was therefore no surprise to see the phenomenal staff lunch everyone enjoyed. What else can you expect from Felix the resident red seal chef!! More about this later...

We will be back. There is a lot more to tell about Valbella and its people.

Hendrik van Wyk

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Valbella is the first of a new beginning for us Cowboys. This picture says it all. 
Hanging on... 
Six Millimetres of pork fat heaven.
I'm a bad-cher!
My place...

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