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A Meaty Empire

With a wealth of experience as a butcher, Walter von Rotz knows how to size up a side of beef. Now, his vision for Valbella Gourmet Foods includes taking it national.
by John Gilchrist

Walter von Rotz likes to press the flesh, both literally and figuratively. As the president and head sausage maker of Valbella Gourmet Foods, he's responsible for transforming slabs of raw meat into double-smoked bacon, juicy hams, air-dried beef and link after link after link of sausage. With over 150 products in the Valbella stable, there's a lot of flesh to be pressed.

A Meaty Empire - Swerve

published in Swerve Magazine - May 14, 2010

25 years and counting…

25 years and counting… Calgary’s foodie pioneers who have been on the scene for a quarter century…or more.

1978 Valbella Gourmet Foods

It’s almost impossible to imagine a picnic lunch or pre-dinner nibbles without the pates, terrines and cured meats produced by Valbella Meats. But in 1978, when Walter von Rotz arrived from Switzerland, few local stores sold anything other than bland, middle-of-the-road bologna and ham. Von Rotz brought with him the charcuterie traditions of the Swiss, and soon began making sausages, which he and his wife Leonie sold at their small deli in Canmore.

Nearly 30 years later, their company sells 140 different products – everything from smokehouse hams and turducken to boar and venison pates – and supplies many of the Sunterra Markets and Co-op stores. Indeed, over the past three decades, the Valbella name has become synonymous with some of the region’s finest delicacies.

Come for the Mountains, Stay for the Food

[...] My first stop is Valbella Gourmet Foods, a 25,000-square foot facility that creates some of the tastiest meat products around. An easy two-kilometre cycle from the town's core, it's situated off Highway 1A at 104 Elk Run Boulevard.

Celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2008, Valbella was established by Walter and Leonie and daughter Chantal manages the office, while Walter, a master butcher and sausage maker, takes care of the day-to-day operations. Originally from a small town near Lucerne, Switzerland, Walter has captured gold medals at European food shows for his sausage making.

Recalling the early days when his dream was only to introduce the very best products to Alberta's consumers, he says, "One day, our sales were $38. We had real doubts about what we were doing." Today Valbella offers a roster of more than 140 products, all made with loving care at the company's Canmore headquarters. Valbella supplies hotels, restaurants, retailers and sells directly to consumers.

And the best part of heading over to Valbella is a chance to visit the deli and store where rows of garlic sausage, duck pate (circ aigue) and bison patties compete for attention. There's still plenty of Alberta beef available at Valbella, but this carnivore's dream has staked out a special place for sausage lovers.

The leek and cabbage sausage, with some red wine added for good measure, or the Tuscany version, which has ingredients that include Parmesan and Monterey Jack cheeses, are just two of the lip-smacking sausages available.

"There are lots of travellers coming into the deli," says Walter. "Some people show up with a cooler and fill it up." [...]

Story by Wes Lafortune, Food For Thought Magazine, Fall 2008