EDITOR’S NOTE Attention, Francophiles and lovers of meat: Each day this week, Washington food blogger Cathy Barrow is posting from Kate Hill’s Kitchen at Camont in Gascony, France, where a select and fortunate group of women will meet farmers and butchers, observe daily life, collaborate at workshops, cook lots of great meals and eat very, very well. As the days unfold, she’ll introduce you to the other women on the trip.
Cathy writes Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen, sharing recipes, food preservation techniques and stories. She is the co-founder of Charcutepalooza, the year-long program that challenges 400 bloggers to learn to make charcuterie. She has been featured in The Washington Post Food section, on Food52.com and on National Public Radio.
The Camont Grrls entered the Agen Market, and heads turned. Apparently it’s not common to see 10 women wander into the brightly lit space — and even less common to hear them chattering in English and pointing at the meats, obviously enthused about European butcher cuts and the Blondes of Aquitaine, a highly muscled Gascon cattle breed.
The indoor market and runs daily from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. On this day, the butcher counter was busy with six men working behind the counter. Two were breaking down large cuts; two were clearly apprentices, wearing different clothing and working on small cuts, trimming and placing product in the cases; and the last two, clearly the most senior and most probably the owners, were working the counter.
Enormous carcasses hung in the glass-front refrigerator case. There were cuts we Grrls had never seen, although lots were familiar. All the beef was deep red, and we soon learned that one reason for this is because it’s kept on the hoof for four to six years — much longer than in America. This maturation process contributes to additional marbling, or intramuscular fat, that adds flavor all around. I found the displays especially appealing, but then again, that should be no surprise to my fellow Charcutepaloozers. Prices were similar to what we pay for good, aged meat in the States; a good-size roast at about 50 euros.
Kate efficiently translated for those who were non-French speakers, and one of the butchers was particularly engaging and happy to respond. His eyebrows did shoot straight up, however, when he was introduced to Kari Underly, a Grrl butcher. As in female.
You could see him warm up, though, as her technical questions must have proved she was no hobbyist. (Did that cut come from the fifth-to-sixth rib area? Were the muscle structure and taste affected by the fact that the cows are old enough to often have given birth to two or three calves before they are slaughtered?)
Kate and Kari acquired a large piece of beef, similar to a side of pork, containing the inside plate and flank, to be used in the afternoon’s butchery demonstration back at Camont. The rest of us explored the other suppliers, gazing at whole rabbits, beautiful fresh fish and seafood and the very freshest seasonal vegetables, including Tarbais, the classic bean for cassoulet.
Several of us wandered to a gorgeous display of French cheeses. Small, contented sighs all around. It took very little discussion to fill a bag with at least a dozen varieties. There are benefits to buying for a crowd.
After an exquisite lunch under the grape arbor, we set up a long wooden countertop across two tall sawhorses. This would be the stage for Kari’s butchery demonstration. Here’s a glimpse of why she is a butchery rock star. I was mesmerized.