It starts here.
Fall. Autumn. L’Automne.
The season changes the minute the brochettes disappear and the crepinettes appear. It’s Autumn in Gascony, friends. Here, a complex seasonal shift of Gallic precision happens as the days shorten. The night markets stop abruptly, the kitchen gets serious again, and an army of tractors clog up the roads as they harvest the ripening orchards and vines- apples, pears, plums, and grapes.
Unperceived to the non-Gascon eye there is another sort of harvest afoot. I am never sure of the exact date. I just know that we must wait for the first fall rain. Then something magical and briny happens. The briny Atlantic and Mediterranean oysters that have been en vacances all summer, take a cold water shower and start to plump up again (it’s a sex thing). Next, the butcher’s cases are bare as the Butchers go en vacances themselves (adios Dominique & Christiane!). And then, when they return, and only then… do the seasonal packets of caul fat wrapped porky goodness called crepinettes appear.
Crepine is the French word for caul fat, that magical spider’s web of fat and transparent membrane that comes from the inside of a pig’s offal locker. Like an sturdy piece of lace, caul fat acts as a flexible barrier between the white offal and the red offal of our generous pig. Crepinettes are made as the fall season begins and are one of the first things we learn when first tackling the Fresh Charcuterie Section of Week One here.
Closer to the New Year, crepinettes may enclose a sliver of truffle as above. But here in the Lot-et-Garonne, where sweet-tart prunes serve as the perfect counterpoint to the sausage all year round, I’ll slide a pitted prune in the center of the packet. So what’s the deal with the oysters?
Raw Oysters and Crepinettes or grilled sausages are a classic tradition in the Bordeaux area of Aquitaine. I like the suggestion of a glass of Sauternes from Bill as a way to round out the flavor wheel- briny, honey, spicy, sharp, meaty and golden brown… pretty much sums up how I like to start my fall menus at Camont.
Someone said Crepinettes? I agree, now is the time, Elissa!
The white blackboard read: Project- “dans le cochon tout est bon” . And so it was.
This week, twenty-four French lycée students between 16-20 years old and their professors M. Franck LAPIERRE and M. Jean Marc BOUILLY allowed three American kitchen-crashers to look over their shoulders as Dominique Chapolard, artisan butcher and pork producer, demonstrated in the expansive school kitchen that “in the pig, all is good!”
The attentive white-clad chefs-in-training crowded around as M. Chapolard reconstructed the whole pig carcass, piece by piece, organ by organ. Silence reigned as Dominique, our master butcher mentor here at Camont, explained what goes into making good pork from field to table.
Only when he split the skull to reveal the tiny brain did squeamish teenage yelps erupt. Quickly silenced by Chef Lapierre, he teased them that they see more blood on the horror films they watch. After the initial hour of dissection, as the muscle groups began to resemble familiar meat cuts, this next generation of France’s good cooks began to chop and grind, season and taste, while the scent of Gascony’s prized pork filled the kitchen. A hind leg became a Jambon, a shoulder a Roti de Porc. The large rib cage transformed into ventreche, poitrine and travers. Legs broke down into jarret and pied de porc while the caul fat was washed and leaf lard rendered out before grattons were drained and pressed into a terrine.
This fine piggy day was a part of “Cooking at the Source-Gascony“, a collaboration between Robert Reynold’s Chef’s Studio in Portland, Oregon and my own Kitchen-at-Camont. We spent the morning with our good friend and farmer/butcher Dominique Chapolard as he did a day long demonstration for the students of the Lycee Jacques-de-Romas in neraby Nerac. For upcoming Duck workshops in the U.S. and France consult our program pages.
Driving to the Chateau St. Loup en Albret this morning was like flying between cloud and earth- rows of golden vines turning in sunshine alternated with blankets of fog concealing house and farm. Montagnac’s church spire floated above the mist.
First stop after gathering Melissa, Robert, Tag, Porter and Nick was the morning market at Lavardac- a good beginner’s guide to local good food.
What we bought and then cooked and ate this day:
- pâté de grand-mere- a black pepper-studded liver pâté from Patricia
- 2 magrets de Canard. 1 1/2 pintade
- pâté de langue- pork tongues en gelée
- 3 cheese from Bruno-a Pyrennes sheep cheese, a creamy goat cheese from the Perigord, a slice of perfectly ripe Brie de Meaux
- from the Chapolard’s charcuterie stall- saucisse de toulouse, boudin noir, an aire-cured noix de jambon, saucisse sèche
- black radishes, mustard greens, radicchio, spinach and sunchokes form Francoise’s organic garden
- mushrooms- cèpe and girolles from Paul
- wine, armagnac and little shot glasses with a pruneaux drowning in Armagnac in each one
We ate lunch, a picnic near the river at Vianne before driving to Camont.
Camont in sunshine on a November day- the kitchen warming to the fragrance of a richly perfumed Gateau Basque, a pintade braising in a short wine broth enriched with pruneaux, la cruchade cooked and steamed, and several bottles of Domaine la Galine.
Dinner was the rich and savoury terroir of Gascony on a plate. Fotos to follow.
When shopping the Le Passage d’Agen market on a Wednesday, I whisper to students and guests that “This man sells the best honey in Gascony!”. I get little patronizing nods, the cameras click away; they love his trim mustaches, the flowing gray locks, his black Stetson hat. He flirts and poses and sells a few more kilos of leeks, garlic, potatoes, persimmons, nefliers and pomegranates. But I wait. I wait patiently for the French ‘central casting’ call to diminish and then announce again.
“THIS MAN SELLS THE BEST HONEY IN GASCONY.”
Now that I have your attention, let me explain. I love honey. I use honey in many of my traditional recipes like pain d’épice, chevre, miel & armagnac tartine or a pan-seared foie gras aux 4-épice. Best of all, I love honey straight from the pot, drizzled over warm toasted bread that has been smeared with fresh salted butter. But I have never, ever had such delicious honey as that Miel de Ronces (bramble honey) from local beekeeper Narcisse Ferranoto.
This year I wished for a bee swarm and got one (see archives here), followed the #Tweehive happening on Twitter and have been planning to integrate more beekeeping in Camont’s resident programs. Only problem was WHO would be our King Bee?
While working on a chapter for my book of French food producers- “Butcher, Baker, Armagnac-maker’, I have long ‘stalked’ this honey man, this beekeeper, this sweet pillar of the market. This week Photographer Xtraordinaire Tim Clinch, fall intern Julia Leach, and I went across the Garonne River and through the woods to discover the sweet secret way of the beekeeper Narcisse Ferranoto at his Ferme de la Chateau Madaillan. After coffee with his smiling new bride, (they have lived together 30 years and just married 5 months ago!), Narcisse told me a few sweet secrets and, at last, I know the answer of just how he makes THE BEST HONEY IN GASCONY.
Want to know how? Then join us this spring in France for the inaugural Apiculture Internship at
La Ruche… outside the Kitchen-at-Camont.
Narcisse Ferranoto by Tim Clinch
French Beekeeper Teacher at Camont
The Agen market is full of surprises on a perfect fall morning.
Today, shopping for quince, cress, and cilantro I ran into a drove of pigs.
Free-range, pasture-raised French pigs.
Like a stage setting, simplicity itself- one knife, a cleaver, a wooden block,
& a smile.
of Tournon d’Agenais
No one was more surprised than me to meet the new butcher boy on the block
and discover some damn good looking charcuterie and fresh pork.
Merci, Julien for taking over the family farm.
See you next Wednesday for your andouillette-
my secret ingredient for an onctuous cassoulet.
Wednesdays- Agen Central Market