A cuddle of black and white piglets under a heat lamp in a barn perched on the side of a mountain in the Pyrenees-
Meet the Porc Basque.
And this is where it ends- 3 years later.
A hall of ham in the same Pyrenees Mountains ageing with the help of the dry Foehn wind.
Meet the Kintoa Ham.
The journey our food takes from live animal to edible product is a long and precarious one. Even a simple carrot is a year of careful work and attention to a complex web of details from soil care and weather to weeding, harvesting and preserving. In the four weeks that our students spend here in Southwest France, on the Chapolard farm and in the markets, shops and kitchen at Camont, they also make that journey. From an idea of what pork is to the visceral understanding of making food from seed-to-sausage, I watch as the one by one, each butcher, cook, or want to be farmer takes the steps in his or her own way. On the way to the mountains we stop at Hasparren- home of the Louis Ospital workshop. Here, Ibaiona Pork Master Eric Ospital shares his little gourmet cult cut- lepoa, destined for the finest restaurants in Paris. I met Eric and the World of Ham a year ago here.
On the last trip to the Pyrenees Valley of Les Aldudes, the Spring ’13 gang of four (Kirsty, Adam, John and Analiesa) were joined by guest Welsh Pig Guru Illtud Llyr Dunsford. For a look at his own French Jaunt journey, check out his thoughtful blog here. Reading about his trip, inspired me to think about my own. Each small group I teach is different and although personalities do factor into learning and time spent together, I see a common pattern emerge. In the beginning, we all look for the similarities.
A pig is a pig is a pig until it becomes a PIG. While working at the Chapolard farm- Baradieu- all pigs are big- 400 lbs plus. Although housed in various European pig sheds just outside the meat cutting room door, they keep a rather low profile as our focus is on the final product- farmstead charcuterie. One of the reasons I whisk the group away from the cradle of a single farm focus is to shake our comfortable relationship with the family farm and introduce the idea that there are a hundred ways into the harbor*.
This is a very different harbor indeed. This is where the differences begin to tell. These fern-thatched nursery sheds are located just outside the Pierre Oteiza production facility and boutique in Aldudes. Mother sows and porcelets are kept here under a watchful eye until the piglets are weaned at 6-8 weeks when they are moved to mountain parks for the rest of their adult lives. It’s easy to spend a couple hours just watching the juvenile antics of the young within walking distance of the restaurant where we enjoyed a long and porky lunch- from prized Kinto jambon to stuffed pigs’ ear terrine served with pickled cherries and a good bottle of Irouleguy.
We talked a lot on the road.
About people’s expectations in buying high welfare meat. About how good animal husbandry isn’t always as pretty as consumers would like to see. Producing good quality meat is a lot of work and yes, there is mud and pig shit. Just ask Kiwi Kirsty as she completes a couple weeks of continuing education mucking around with pigs. Her Plog here is an insider’s few of Pig School here in Gascony.
Next, there are a myriad of small differences that begin to make themselves known. Here at the Chapolards, we make small boneless Noix de Jambon, like culatello but smaller cuts. But this high Basque valley area is famous for ham- on my own map of SW France I call it Ham Heaven. From these farms to this table, or in this case from those Basque piglets to this beautiful Kinto ham rubbed red with the Basque panacea Piment d’Espelette, there are a lot of small important steps: the careful tending and feeding of the animals who live most of their adult life outside until the age of 12-15 months; the slaughter and butchering of the carcasses; the salting, drying and ageing of the hams in this specially designed ‘sechoir’ or curing facility for another 12-18 months. A total of three years plus if add in the gestation period of the piglets.
Most often we eat the salty fruit of all these labors with barely a thought of the day-to-day work that goes into making our basic food. But I trust that after 4 weeks of up front and personal contact with the French farmers, butchers and charcutiers that grow, tend, slaughter, butcher and transform, this well-dressed group, including me, will spend an extra little moment of reflection on the people who make the food we eat. Thanks to all our welcoming hosts-charcutiers Eric Ospital, Catherine Oteiza, and farmers Josette Arrayat and Gerard Bordagaray!
at the Sechoir Collective de la Valle des Aldudes
* ‘Cannibal Ed’ Boden (1981-USVI)
Dominique Chapolard and I are excited to announce a series of two-day workshops in the USA in late April 2013. With two days to explore the French charcuterie pig- we can devote time to both hands-on seam butchery and making charcuterie a la . How does the Chapoalrds run their 100-acre farm and support 5 families with just 30 sows? Dominique calls it the Short Circuit- I call it Full Circle farming. However you call it, the trick is in working not just nose-to-tail but seed-to-sausage. Come learn how and why the Chapolard Family chose to butcher and transform into added value charcuterie all their pigs- 8 to 10 every week- selling them retail at local markets. Workshops are limited in size by venue to no more than 20 participants.
Camont is a bit of a revolving door these February days. Students in and students out as we begin our Spring Butchery & Charcuterie sessions. This week was a full stretch and limbering up as four students and I made a five-day dash through elements of French Farmstead Charcuterie- farm to cutting room to kitchen to market.
Notice in the first photographs, a normal sized pig- 6 months and the XL pig next to it. It’s a given that first timers here are stunned by the size of the 12 month old, 400 lb pigs- the XL Cochons. Then the color of the meat- deep red and sturdy. The pigs are lean and the fat ratio is moderated by their diet from 6 to 12 months. But what happens next that shocks students is flavor.
Sitting at lunch in Christiane and Dominique’s house, the surprise of the week might just have been the simple, straight forward shoulder roast studded with garlic and roasted at 200′ C or 390′ F- in other words- a very hot oven for 1+hour plus per kilo. the meat was tender, falling apart and full of flavor. A bowl of buttery potato puree absorbed the pan juices–perfectly simple. Amazing flavor.
I start to get into a groove of shopping, butchering, salting, and smoking as we reel off the a list of French Basix- charcuterie style.
- noix de jambon- those little one kilo+ boneless hams made from the seamed out muscles; peppered, smoked and hung for 4 weeks.
- Lamb hams as above
- pork tenderloin stuffed with foie gras
- duck breasts stuffed with foie gras
- magret de canard- fat duck breasts stuffed with foie gras and au nature.
- ventreche- fat slab of belly bacon and rolled like pancetta
- hocks & heart – brined
- poitrine de boeuf roulee-spiced & hot smoked for pastrami
- flank steak- butterflied and rolled, salted, peppered and hot smoked
- Fricandeaux- paté de campagne
- Paté and terrines en croûte: veal, pork, rabbit, prunes
- Rillettes de canard
- Full on Cassoulet Chapolard featuring confited pork cheeks, rind sausage, ventreche et al.
- Pork Shoulder a la Chapolard
- Paupiettes brasied with winter vegetables
Five days isn’t very long for a , but I dare say I think it changed a few lives- at least in one restaurant kitchen in St. Louis, MO and a butcher shop in Australia. I can only imagine what the 4 new students arriving today for 4 weeks are going to discover! For more information about booking a one or 4-week Butchery & Charcuterie-at-Camont course, just click HERE.
And look for some workshops coming your way in April!
A tale of many jars begins and ends in a round robin of preserving and Canning-at-Camont.
Last September, we made our first batch of Confit de Canard for the 2012 season.
60 Years ago there was water above the stove. That’s the flood mark on the left.
When the Confit de Canard was cooked, processed and labeled, there was enough fat left over for a bonus- Confit de Foie Gras.
The Foie Gras was salted lightly for a couple hours (while the rest of the duck cooked) then wrapped in a net cloth and tied.
When the fat was just beginning to simmer- 82°C, I lowered the foie gras into my vintage le Creuset pot. I rolled it around for a few minutes then started taking it’s core temperature. Once it reached 65°C (about 30 min) I removed it from the the pot and the cloth, placed it in a terrine, pressed it, and let it sit overnight. Confit de foie gras mi-cuit ((rosey inside) will taste best when left to rest a few days at refrigerated temperature- 4°C.
This was September’s Charcuterie-at-Camont crew- Felix, Michael and Mick, the Confit Kings of Camont. Interested in learning how to make confit? Come for a special February weekend – Confit 101 or meet me at a French Pig Workshop in April in the U.S..
Winter rolls through Gascony like a fast train: whistling in through December, screeching to a quick stop for January, and then on the rails again by end of February. That’s how I like my winters- short and sweet as a TGV (Train Grande Vitesse).
Winter forces Camont to calm down and take a nap as gardens get raggedy and the chickens get eaten (yes, foxes got them all). All is quiet on the Gascon ranch; the fair weather ‘Franco-Carpetbaggers’ have yet to arrive and even Cinderella, my sister, jumped ship this winter so I could work and write in peace. I am writing, plotting and producing next year on paper, but I am also a master at distracting myself. As much as I crave a bit of real down time- no schedule, no planning, just everyday what comes next- the Gascon winter clock is ticking and that tic-toc, tic-toc is starting to drive me mad. Soon I will rush to prune the orchard, and plot the potager, and finish the plans for the barn being built as we speak.
But the real ticking time bomb at Camont has feathers. Fall migration has passed. Spring is just down the flyway. I am, of course, thinking about confit de canard. Yes, I know Fall is the traditional preserving time, but we are just going into the post-holiday, serious confit season. The foie gras madness at Christmas and New Years (along with truffle hijacking) is past, prices come down and even a premier grade AAA foie gras entier can be had for a reasonable 26 euros a kilo. I even saw frozen foie gras for the first time in the supermarket today. So this is the season to be thinking about how to put up, preserve and store duck- beak to tail.
Meat is as seasonal as fruit in rural France. Lambs are Spring only- the rest of the year it’s hogget/yearling or mutton. Family farm hogs are slaughtered for charcuterie in the Winter months, like now. Beef and veal even have their own rhythms as we move from daubes and blanquettes to grilling. To each purpose, a season.
I begin to look at my pantry shelves, nicely filled with last summer’s fruits, jeweled jars of confitures and tins of salty Spanish fish. However the poultry section, with the exception of two whole confited mallards in tins that I scored in the Basque country, is dangerously low on duck: confit de canard, pate de foie gras, cou farci, gesiers, etc.. How many jars will I need to get through the year of festive summer nights? Welcomed visitors? And school lunches for my students? I start counting weeks figuring that once a week at least, from May through October, I use confit from my pantry. Confit de canard makes a fast supper of green lentils and crispy duck legs, a mountain of duck fat fried potatoes to accompany a grilled magret, a Salade Gasconne with slices of confit gesiers, stuffed neck sausage, and a few generous slabs of foie gras. There would be no Fall soups like garbure without confit.
Oh, and cassoulet. Don’t forget each Winter there is cassoulet and that’s a great way to use the wings, or bone a couple legs to add to the saucisse de Toulouse. (I have a feeling I’ll be making it a lot of cassoulet this year). When I’ve cooked and eaten enough French food, there are also rice paper wraps and dumplings to make and tamales with prunes… all with duck confit. Shepherd’s pie or tarte de gaveuse is a perfect picnic meat pie. Confit de Canard is that blast of uber-umami flavor, silky satisfying texture and chic convenience food all wrapped into one.
How many jars? How many ducks? Two jars a week, spread over 6 months (25 weeks) = 50 jars put in the pantry. I count on getting 5-6 jars of confit, legs, breasts, wings, gizzards and necks per fat duck. So butchering and making charcuterie with 10 ducks, weighing around 5-7 kilos, means I’ll also have 50+ jars of rillettes, some pate and a few jars of smooth pain d’epice foie flan- last year’s favorite. Over the next two months as charcuterie students come and go, we’ll be making confit and more confit. Each student tackles a fat duck and passes it on to the next group. Now, that’s passing the charcuterie love forward.
You can also confit old hens, roosters and other birds. But it is at this season, when the distance memory of early spring migration thrills the Muscovy and Mulard duck farms of Gascony that I start thinking about wrapping up winter. By next month, I know I’ll have access to the best fat ducks from one of the several local Marche au Gras. As an added feature on our new cassoulet iPad app- (Available soon at an iTunes store near you), I am including an introduction to making confit de canard. After all, it is the season… and I am thinking about confit de canard.
For more of these beautiful pictures by Tim Clinch check out our new publishing site-