305 - Chew the fat at Vatra

By Lauren Gosnell

Culture is a vibrant, living, breathing thing. From the foods of our homelands to traditional music and dance, there are many ways people celebrate their heritages.

Owner of Vatra Cheese and Deli - and a musician - Yuri Blizniuk has made a life out of celebrating his Ukrainian culture.

Vatra specializes in imported foods from the Ukraine and traditional deli products. The standout Ukrainian deli meat is salo. It is 100% animal fat treated to a healthy dose of garlic and has a chewy texture. It is served on a piece of black bread - rye bread infused with molasses.

Vatra head cheeseA similar deli favourite is headcheese. Pork, in fact meat boiled down from the entire head of a pig, are held together in a jelly. Like the salo, headcheese is liberally seasoned with garlic and enjoyed on rye.

Yuri decided to open up Vatra in 1999 when he realized that there were not enough stores catering to the large Ukrainian community in Toronto.

Yuri carries a variety of pickled items including tomatoes and even mushrooms. Kasha or buckwheat groats grows abundantly in the Ukraine. Vatra sells it by the bag and in honey form.

Birch tree juice is also a specialty. It is tapped from the birch tree, like maple syrup, and tastes a bit like apple juice. These are only a few of the authentic Ukrainian products to be found at Vatra.

Yuri was born in Kosiv, Ukraine. He came to Canada in 1993 after touring with his band Zahrava a couple of years earlier. Zahrava, meaning "beautiful sunset sky," plays all traditional Ukrainian music.

Yuri still plays in Zahrava but also manages Klooch – a modern pop rock band that sounds like a Ukrainian Green Day.

A connoisseur of Ukrainian culture, Yuri brings the foods and sounds of Ukraine to Canada. No, 100% animal fat may not be everyone’s thing, but with Vatra’s extensive selection of unique and interesting Ukrainian items like birch tree juice and pickled mushrooms Vatra has something for everyone.

Vatra Cheese and Deli
1092 Islington Ave.