Last month I drove from Oklahoma to Maine with the French Butcher- Dominique Chapolard of the large moustaches and beret. Although not the first time in the USA, it was Dom’s first America Road Trip, a peek into my native habitat, and a key to understanding what lies at the heart of our craving for real food, real meat, real lives.
Seeing America from a road-side seat is an old tradition in my family. Long cross country jaunts in a big wood-paneled station wagon from California to Maine were part of my childhood. A childhood defined by yearly moves, new schools and family car vacations fueled by nomadic parents. My Mom crossed America 12 times before my older brother was a year old. She jumped in a car with a brand new driver’s license and a baby in a bassinet to set off across the States. She met my Dad’s ship as it moved from East Coast port to West Coast port. Dad was a Navy career man with a sinking ship tattoo, a ready laugh and giant hands. In between 6-month-long sea duty on an ocean-going tug, the Abenaki, he would drive my mother and us three kids from coast to coast stopping for date milkshakes in Indio, Ca or to take a Kodachrome photograph of us in front of a giant Tee-Pee Motel in Kingman, Az. He drove us along Route 66 like it was our personal family driveway stopping for gas, strawberry soda and souvenir gemstones. Long hours of car bingo and “I spy” were orchestrated by Mom and once my brother and sister dozed off, Dad would often drive all night. I sat up in the front, wedged between my two larger-than-life parents on the bench seat, waiting to spot deer, coyotes or other road animals in the headlights and to help keep my Dad awake. At 8 years old, I knew the dangers of late night driving from the Highway Patrol TV series, and it was my self-appointed job- long distance road trip chatty co-pilot. It must have driven Dad crazy.
Fifty years later, I was sharing co-pilot duties with my French colleague as we drove from workshop to workshop across America in a sort of French Pig Roadshow. Four workshops stretched between a brand new culinary institute in Oklahoma City (here) to Neal Foley’s family farm in mid-coast Maine (here). Along the way, we met pig farmers, butchers, cooks, teachers and home enthusiasts. We ate home-made burgers, diner fried chicken, bbq pork… and more pork. In just eight days, twenty-one pigs and a half were butchered- French style, transformed into farmstead charcuterie and then distributed to the forty+ participants. Days between workshops were spent driving in front of tornadoes, along big Rivers and through the green belt of the Appalachians. So we were off to see America and what grows between the big cities.
We left Lexington KY for the D.C. area workshop with a long stretch of beautiful Spring dogwoods ahead of us. My Appalachian Spring high was destroyed when I got a text informing me that the ordered pigs for tomorrow’s class were missing in action. A slip in communication? an email going astray? an administration mis-understanding? – it didn’t matter. It was 3:30 in the afternoon along Highway 64 in West Virginia and we were pigless.
This is where I started praying and punching buttons. Twitter. Facebook. Emails. Anyone got a bead on some pigs, any pigs, even one that I could beg for? Miles went by and time was running out. And then from the great internet ether came the answer-” Talk to EcoFriendly Foods. He’s got pigs.” I called. No one was home. It was getting dark in the little valleys. We stopped for gas along the road and there was a livestock auction going on next door. We raised an eyebrow but kept driving.
Then the great resource called social media delivered. Charcutepalooza Pal, Cathy Barrow made contact with Pam at Wagshal’s and new charcuteria buddy Jeffrey Weiss got through to Bev Eggleston. We’d have student pigs via Wagshal’s for the afternoon workshop but to get a big pig, the sort of XL-sized, mature 12 month old hog that Dominique and his brothers raise, we’d have to make a sidetrip to Moneta VA and pick up the pig from Bev’s plant in our rental car on our way to DC. I pulled over to talk to Bev himself. He was driving a load of pork to restaurant clients in North Carolina. He wanted to help us out. He’d make it happen. We were a couple hours away, but his crew would return to the plant- it was now after 8 pm and wrap up a pig to go- ice bags, plastic, and tarps. You gotta love a guy like that! So this roadshow took a detour in the middle of nowhere West Virginia and went off track in search of a pig. Some Pig!
By the time we got to Moneta, the half a hog weighing about 160 pounds, was ready for us and Jay Faucher and his 10 year old son were waiting to give us a guided tour of the USDA processing plant, and their own American charcuterie. It was nearly ten pm. As relieved as I was to get this beautiful pig for the demonstration, I was delighted to meet the people behind the commitment. Next time, I hope to meet Mr. Eggleston in person. We loaded the beast in the back sticking out of the trunk into the backseat determined to make it to our reserved hotel in Woodbridge VA.
The rest of the night we drove, dodging deer gangs on the shoulders of the lonely roads, and talked about the strong movement for good food we were experiencing (and being a part of!) all across America. Even an over-eager sheriff pulling me over for speeding 62 in a 60 mile an hour zone couldn’t tarnish my good mood. I thought of my Dad, Broderick Crawford and all the CSI shows I’ve watched. I was just grateful the young Sheriff didn’t ask to see what was hidden under the big blue tarp protruding into the backseat from the trunk. That and the Frenchman sitting next to me with a suitcase full of butcher’s knives. Oh, and the salt- kilos of salt.
By the time we got to D.C., unpacked the car and got a short night’s sleep, I knew that the drive across America, now called the French Pig Road Show, would have to include meeting more of the farmers and small processing plants that keep our good charcuterie workshops alive. That Eco-Friendly Farm half a pig was by far the best of the 43 half hogs we butchered. Solid red meat, good fat cap, and slaughtered with respect and care. Thanks for making it happen Jeff, Jay and especially- Bev. Next time on a French Porc Road Trip, call in for some Gascon Pork Love.
My Dad, Walter Elmo Hill was born in Cushing, OK on May 17 1922; died April 9 1964. Memories are forever…
Big spirals of meaty sausages grilled over fire, slipped onto cassoulets, eaten with purée de pomme de terre (mashed potatoes) and much gusto. That’s what comes to mind when someone says “Saucisse de Toulouse”. Over the years spent haunting the butcher shops of Southwest France, I have just one thing to say to you- “It’s all about the pig”.
All these pictures were taken in the Marché Victor Hugo in Toulouse or my kitchen at Camont. This is how Saucisse de Toulouse is sold, always in long casings, coiled into spirals and selling for the price of good meat…because it is just that, all good meat. In France, Saucisse de Toulouse is recognized as a fundamental element of many recipes. It replaces a shoulder roast, a chop or slice of ham when preparing a family dinner. It is just good meat.
The better the pork, the better the sausage. There are no spices, additives or coloring to make it look or taste better. It is good pork, ground coarsely, seasoned only with salt & pepper and stuffed into natural casings. For the first recipe I ever wrote about making Saucisse de Toulouse, click here.
I love working at home.
Not far to go for lunch at the best joint in town.
Plenty of hammock space for naps.
You get the idea why I call this 2+ acres of canal-side French paradise, my own Gascon ranch, a ‘culinary retreat’?
Yet behind the idyllic scrim, Camont also has to double as my office, canal-side neighborhood WiFi cafe, web hub, writer’s hideout, restaurant, campground, grrls clubhouse, charcuterie training center, cooking school and ever morphing photo studio. What’s it going to be today?
Think meat. Think caul fat. Think French Farmstead Charcuterie.
The day started with a conference call about how we are going to make the new book. Where do we start, how to publish it, who wants to read it, what will people think? Navigating new waters as ‘artisan publishers’, maybe I should say ‘farmstead publishing’ instead, looks like it’s going to be fun! Daunting, confusing, scary…but ultimately a F.U.N. ride.
So after a session of setting up the bones of this long creative collaboration called Clinch-Hill, I set out to the market with a list of errands to do. After all, Saturday we do chores, right? The morning led from market (duck sausage, paté grand-mere, & a jambonneau from Patricia, tomatoes, eggs and the most amazing slab of melting Gorgonzola from Bernard) to café (un pression & un galopin of Stella from Thierry). Then from café to farm to pick up a few things left from the last crop of butchery students at the Chapolard’s. Read More
The Foire au Jambon in the colorful Basque port of Bayonne.
A memory of a Bayonne surfaces from a long ago road trip looking for marine goods along the Atlantic coast for my barge, the Julia Hoyt. Rope, cord, and lines I was searching. I drove along the river port of the Adour outside of Bayonne in the very southwest of Southwest France looking for some fishermen, a working boat or chandlery. The newly fitted nose of wooden fishing boat peeked out of an over-sized hanger; I braked for a quick look inside. Yes. Men working with wood and fiber glass, paint and canvas. Ocean going small fishing boats. Sturdy, serious and hard-working. The boats and the men. I knew they would know. I have a nose for these things.
I thanked them for the directions to the Co-op Maritime in St. Jean de Luz, I turned to say au revoir and stopped dead in my foodie tracks. Although the Captain in me was looking for cord, the Cook in me spotted a treasure trove of maturing hams hanging from every square foot of rafter space. A boat yard/charcuterie shed? Welcome to Baiona!