s much of the world came to a standstill during the early Covid months, Two Rivers Meats faced an additional and surprising challenge.
Nestled in an unassuming industrial section of North Vancouver, Two Rivers has been supplying artisanal meats from ethical, sustainable B.C. and Alberta farms to local restaurants since 2007, and eventually to retailers and the public, as well. While pandemic restrictions meant a sudden cessation to these usual outlets—a catastrophic sentence to most other operations—Two Rivers found itself having to increase production to meet unprecedented demand.
Vancouverites have a taste for artisanal food and drink, appreciating products that come from sustainable, non-mechanized sources. Artisan butchers, in particular, provide discerning consumers with an alternative to factory farming—which not only supports pasture-raised meats, but also encourages traditional butchery techniques that are far less wasteful because every part of the animal is used. These creative, versatile cuts—from nose to tail—are what many restaurants rely on over more common parts that are easily found in large chain supermarkets.
Recreating these restaurant experiences at home during lockdown is one of the main reasons that Darren Wilson, brand marketing director at Two Rivers, accounts for the sudden surge in demand for their products. “When Covid hit,” Wilson says, “we started working every single day, no days off, because demand went through the roof.” Instead of supplying to restaurants, focus quickly diverted to grocery and meal prep delivery services.
“There are two camps that emerged,” reflects Wilson. “Those that really embraced the idea of being a home chef and really got into their ingredients and got excited about local products, especially as the global supply chains all collapsed. And those that were forced to cook at home but wanted a prepared meal that was ready to go, but still restaurant-quality.” And Two Rivers has plenty of both, such as the little-known but delectable Zabuton steak, lamb, and bison; customers can also walk away from the onsite deli with dry-aged hamburger meat, a complete charcuterie board, and chicken wings.
Artisan butchery often prides itself on supporting small-scale, local farmers; it’s important for craft butchers to know where their meat comes from and how it was raised. Their partners might be local, but traditional butchery skills are often an old-school craft. At Oyama Sausage Co., John van der Lieck is a fifth-generation charcuterie craftsman from Europe. He and his wife founded their company over 30 years ago in Oyama, B.C. before moving operations to Vancouver. Working with equal parts artistry and technique, van der Lieck spent more than 10 years apprenticing across Europe, honing his sausage-making craft.
Lining up is to be expected at this Granville Island counter, but patience shall be rewarded; van der Lieck is known for his incredible selection of traditional and fusion charcuterie that spans over 400 products—from fresh sausages, terrines, and pâtés to cured hams, salamis, and saucisson sec. So vast is the selection, so exquisite is the quality, that The New York Times once called van der Lieck “the most gifted, and certainly the most diversely talented, meat man in North America.”
Also celebrating quality above all else is Richmond’s D’Original Sausage, where Drews Driessen puts his 35 years of experience as a sausage maker to work. It’s in his blood—his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were all sausage makers, and while he’s seen a lot change in this industry since he apprenticed in Germany, he still hand-selects his meats, which are all ethically and (when possible) locally raised.
Before setting up at the Steveston location, Driessen developed a loyal following of fans who sought out his artisanal air-cured and smoked sausages from a secretive basement workshop off Main Street in Vancouver. It’s now much easier to find his creations from the larger, brighter shop that showcases everything from the classic German bratwurst, to a smoked garlic coil, to an air-cured salame al tartufo (made with heritage Berkshire and Duroc pigs and seasoned with black truffle salt, minced black truffles, and black pepper). The Lower Mainland’s artisanal meat purveyors are keeping their craft alive—no matter how you slice it.