Yesterday I spent all day in the expert hands of the Chapolard family. The four brothers and their wives (and now a couple of kids) all work together on the farm that their father started, raising pigs and turning them into superb meat and superlative charcuterie that supports all of them with a dignified living: true sustainability. The two kids have started a dairy on the property, with about fifty head of cattle, and they produce raw milk, yogurt, and some cheese. The rest of the operation is all pork, all the time, and I was honored to don a work smock, apron, and boots and spend a day learning from their expertise, passion, and hard work.
For this month’s curing challenge, I took some of the knowledge I gained from making chorizo and fennel salami a couple of months ago and applied it to a more ambitious quantity and variety of salumi. Properly equipped, better skilled, and inspired to try a couple of unorthodox flavors, I ended up with about 20 pounds of five different types.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, centering as it does around food. I usually take a day or three off leading up to it and cook my ass off, often making ten or so courses for whoever comes to visit. It’s my chance to stretch out and try some ideas that require special ingredients or techniques, and to make the best food I possibly can, in sequential courses, using my own ceramics, and try to nail all the details and timing for each dish. It’s also a holiday that’s relatively free of crass commercialism–although that appears to be crumbling in the face of earlier and earlier riot-inducing sales–but these things are easily avoided by not having TV and choosing not to shop in the days that follow the big meal. I think it should be about the food and the company, period. The timing also neatly coincided with the last Charcutepalooza challenge, which was more of a dare: show off, using any and everything we’ve done so far.
So I did. Eight courses, each of which contained some quantity of homemade charcuterie.
So for this month’s pâté and terrine project, I vacillated back and forth between a few ideas and then decided to make all of them. I had invited over a bunch of food writer/blogger types, so I figured quantity and variety would both be desirable. I emailed Northwind Farm and placed an order for a duck, a rabbit, and a pork butt, and picked them up at the weekly market here in town. Over the course of a couple of days, I turned the three things into three different pâtés, using a couple of tricks I’ve learned in my couple of years of terrine making, and which really do improve the results dramatically.
So this month’s binding project got me thinking about the head terrine I made with Rich a couple of years ago, and how I wanted to try it again with my new knowledge and aim it at a specific goal: bánh mì entirely from scratch. It’s one of the great sandwiches of the world, and since it’s a bastard offspring of French colonialism with many established variants, it’s ideally suited to remixing and tinkering. Ironically, it was my new level of comfort with baking bread that actually spurred me to choose this project; head cheese by itself is not something I would make just to have around since it takes a fair amount of work to yield something that to me is less sensually delightful than a good pâté. But in combination with crusty bread, roast pork, mayo, and pickles, it attains greatness. And since I had all those things on hand–all lovingly homemade–I knew these were going to be winners.
The boy has been clamoring for ribs lately, but we were foiled in our attempt to procure them for him last week. This week, however, found the goddess Costa smiling upon us, so today I took a mid-afternoon break to get a slab and a half cosy in the oven so they’d be falling-apart by the time the dinner bell sounded.
This month’s Charcutepalooza task was stuffing, so I made sure to get a pork shoulder and a bunch of duck legs in addition to casings, and I froze all the meat so I could grind it in a semi-thawed state, which makes for the best results. I had a couple of ideas, and both were meant for hanging rather than fresh eating since the first batch of salami came out pretty well. I got them both ground and had the mixtures ready to go. Then, lo and behold, it was made known to me that a couple of damsels were distressed about the prospect of stuffing for the first time all by themselves. So, through the magic of Twitter, soon they both had lots of lurid pictures of my sausage.
Oh, and we arranged for them to come over and learn stuffing at the side of
a master someone who has totally done it a couple of times before.
So in anticipation of today’s big stuff-a-thon, yesterday I ground a couple kinds of sausage meant to hang and cure into salami. But of course all of that pungent meat, fragrant with garlic and spices and the like, was impossible to resist once it came time to shake the magic dinner 8-ball.
This month’s task was grinding sausage, which was exciting because the post announcing that fact came out just after I had ground and stuffed a bunch of sausage, and some salami meant for aging as well. The fresh sausage has made for some wonderful meals, but it was the salami that I was really excited about.