Bernadette’s Take on
Walter and Leonie von Rotz from Canmore, AB
A Swiss family in Sausage Fairyland
The importance of sausages as a cultural force is greatly underrated. It is only thanks to people like Walter and Leonie von Rotz that Swiss immigrants do not feel abandoned in a world without “Cervelats”, “Landjäger”, “Schüblig” or
It would be a desolate world indeed.
Walter understands the reason why for some Swiss there is no joy in life with-out their favourite sausage. He is a passionate butcher, and sausage making is his life. His and Leonie`s company Valbella Gourmet Foods in Canmore has expanded rapidly over the 35 years of its existence. Growing tourism helped a lot. Today Valbella employs around 30 people.
Walter is 62 now but he will go on and on because he is afraid to disappoint his clients if he stops, he says.
This is called devotion.
Walter originally comes from Kerns in the Swiss canton Obwalden. He was 22 years old when he saw an ad in the local newspaper for a job in Prince George, British Columbia. He moved there but stayed only one year. “It was too remote and I could not ski”, he says. So he went to Banff in Alberta where he worked as a meat cutter in a Steak House.
He met his Swiss wife Leonie who worked as a waitress in Banff (originally she is from Grindelwald) and together, they moved to Canmore in the Bow Valley and opened a meat store. Leonie was behind the counter and Walter made sausages in plain sight of the costumers. He also started with smoked meat. “Initially I had to fight for costumers”, Walter says, “and I had to educate them how to cook.” That is why he began to make pan-ready cordon bleu, piccata, schnitzel and shish kebabs. Yummy.
They also produce prosciutto ham and double-smoked bacon (Rohessspeck). Yum-my, yummy.
It developed from there: “Today we offer cordon bleu that is filled with risotto”, Walter says. Sooooooo yummy!
And they sell Chicken Apple Sausage.
Chicken Apple Sausage???
It is time for an Urgent Phone Call (UPC) to Walter von Rotz!
Walter, who on earth would eat a Chicken Apple Sausage?
People who are on-and-off vegetarians and those who prefer a lighter sausage. You have to be innovative and offer new products all the time. Like our Leek and Cabbage Sausage.
Are you kidding me?
No, this is our bestseller. It is like a Swiss “saucisson”, in the size of a “schüblig” but not as juicy, and with a touch of Swiss Chasselas wine. Nobody makes this sausage in North America but us.
We also have a bison sausage with whiskey flavour.
Are the bison happy with this alcoholic aberration?
They are certainly happy bison before we make sausages out of them. The bison are raised by the Swiss rancher Armin Mueller in Bentley AB. We need a lot of bison meat, two tons every week. We also sell smoked bison meat, sliced and sealed in a tray, ready to eat. We use meat from farmed elk, lamb, Alberta beef and pork from a company called Sunterra.
Some Swiss come even from Saskatchewan to buy our products.
Swiss love their sausage, for sure – what about Canadians?
Oh, we have no trouble selling sausages to them. We supply stores in Calgary, actually all the foodie places of distinction there. And hotels in Lake Louise like the Post Hotel, the Chateau Lake Louise or the Banff Springs Hotel. Roughly 70 per cent of our revenue is wholesale business with clients in Calgary and Edmonton.
Honestly, do you still like eating sausages after making them for 35 years?
Oh yes, I would eat them all the time! But I have to watch my waist line. Butchers have the reputation to compensate the meat with sweets.
So you cannot expand your waistline, but how much have you expanded your production?
We started with less than 50 kilograms per week. Today we produce 12 to 14 tons a week.
Is the sky the limit?
Well, maybe the next generation will take the company global, who knows.
My daughter Chantal and son Jeffrey are working here, too, and are getting ready to manage the company one day.
Will they still know how to make Swiss sausages?
Definitely! Both have been trained in Switzerland. Chantal worked in catering and the food industry. Jeffrey graduated after 5 years from the Hotelfachschule (university of hotel management) in Lausanne and worked in the large Swiss meat company Angst.
How do you keep up with Swiss traditions?
Leonie and I go to Switzerland twice a year. We have family there and I have lots of butcher buddies.
And every week, I drive two hours to Calgary and back for our practice in the Swiss Yodel Club.