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)
What happens in the Pyrenees doesn’t always stay in the mountains.
Like the kiss and tell excitement of new love- discovering a new place, great food and the nicest people in the world- I can’t wait to share a few souvenirs from my most recent trip to the Pays Basque and the high valleys of the Pyrenees.
Snow on rocks. Being a born and bred island grrl, I am more salty sea then lofty peaks. But something about these Pyrenees peaks touch me. Maybe it’s the way the snowy high pasture melt into grass green slopes. The early spring warm winds create the Foehn effect sending warm dry air swooping down the leeward side of the mountains creating a perfect micro climate for curing hams. And hams we found in all shapes, sizes and pig breeds. But sometimes the unexpected is what makes you happiest. Looking for hams and black-bottomed pigs, we discovered friendship.
Meet my new best friends- Josette and Gerard.
Josette Arrayat and Gerard Bordagaray raise pigs- black bottomed, lop-eared, and meaty Basque pigs that are destined to become some of the finest hams in France. When I found out that Josette was the former head of the Filière de Porc Basque and knew all about the birth of this association, the breed and raised the breed, I was more than willing to make the trip across the mountains to find her. When I found out that Josette was Basque-American and graduated from UC Davis with an Animal Science degree, I was overjoyed. I could ask her all the questions I had without worrying about my BFA (Bad French Accent) and in-delicate curiosity. So after a quick phone call in which Josette insisted on meeting us in the supermarket parking lot at Lasse, off we flew along the snowy peaks and cleared roads for this rendezvous. A rendezvous with passion…
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!
1. Crack 3 eggs into a large bowl and whisk like crazy until smooth.
2. Put 1 cup of flour (125 gr) + 1/4 cup sugar (75 gr) + a pinch of salt into bowl and whisk again.
3. Add 1.5 cups of Milk (375 ml) + 1 tablespoon melted butter + 1 tablespoon rum, armagnac or crêpe arôme. Now, whisk again until the batter is smooth and just thick enough to coat a spoon and thin enough to pour easily.
That’s it. French crepes as easy as 1,2 & 3. The batter is always better if you let it rest a while- an hour or two. But if the very idea of these light and lacy crepes drizzled with honey or some of your homemade jam is driving you crazy, then put on the water for tea- now. Heat up a wide flat pan, a skillet or crêpe pan until a drop of water skittles across the surface.
I melt some butter in the pan and keep it on a high. I make the crepes as fast as I can by ladling the thin batter into the pan, giving it a swirl and letting it set. Then a quick flip to dry the top surface once I see a little golden color and that’s it. Layer them on a plate and keep making them warm under a tea towel until you are done. Serve with a bowl of butter and honey, creme fraiche or jam. This recipe makes about a dozen crepes and a lot of friends. It’s pancake time for: Candlemas, Chandeleur , Shrove Tuesday, and Mardi Gras.