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.
Gascony and foie gras go hand in hand, and La Ferme l’Auberge du Boué is a perfect example of that symbiosis. Set into the rolling hillside of the Lot et Garonne, the farm provided an experience Les Grrls will never forget.
A few kilometers from Camont, Jehanne Rignault, une femme d’un certain age, raises Muscovy ducks and Toulouse geese. She emigrated from her native Tunisia to Paris in 1968 and came to Gascony in 1981. During the ’80s, while France industrialized both the process and the product, Jehanne established her farm (just shy of 150 acres), her practices and her recipes.
The Moulard (corrected) duck is a cross between the Pekin — what Americans also call Long Island duck — and the redhead or turkey-headed duck. The breed is sterile, so the chicks are purchased at 1 day old and raised for 14 weeks. The males have no quack; a good thing when hundreds of them are en masse.
Every bit of these ducks is converted to deliciousness in Jehanne’s capable hands. The breasts are dried for magret seche, sold fresh at the market and served at her 80-100 seat Auberge restaurant on the farm. The legs become confit, preserved in jars and cans.
And then there are the rillettes.
Jehanne is rightfully proud of her two Medaille d’Or wins (an honor from the French National Academy of Cuisine) for what she calls rillettes d’or, a remarkable recipe she claims is a secret. Understandably proud of this creation, she then detailed precisely how to make the delicacy, her eyes twinkling and hands gesturing with purpose.
Using her fingers to show us the chachouiller, a Patois word for which there is no specific translation, she described the way in which the duck carcass, gonads and “pope’s nose” are boiled in stock. Then the meat is gingerly removed from the bone and shredded. By French law, rillettes must be delacerer et affiner a la main: pulled and shredded by hand. Never, ever ground. Jehanne insists that her particularly careful handiwork is why her rillettes are revered.
Over the course of the duck-and-goose processing season, which runs from March until October, more than 3,000 fortunate diners get to experience Jehanne’s cooking at Auberge. But on this night, she set the tables just for Les Grrls.
A few lucky people reserve rooms in the five gites on her property. They may look like cabins, but you’d be wrong to assume they’re rustic. We were shown to the picturesque patio overlooking a swimming pool, pond and a few grazing Blondes d’Aquitaine cows while Jehanne prepared our dinner.
As beautiful as the backdrop was, however, it failed to prepare us for what she served.
Aperitif de la maison. Peach leaf, white wine, black pepper, ginger and Armagnac.
“Les Peanuts.” Tiny cherry tomatoes and magret seche, cured duck breast.
Tourain d’ail, or “Honeymoon Soup.” A traditional Gascon soup of garlic, onion, egg, duck stock, vinegar, black pepper and tomato.
Magret seché fourré (corrected) en foie. Cured duck breast rolled around foie gras then cured (what Jehanne calls rich-man’s sausage).
Foie gras de canard mi-cuit. Half-cooked, half-cured, duck foie gras.
Foie gras d’oie en terrine. Fully cooked foie gras of goose.
Rillettes d’or, served with raw garlic that we rubbed on warm toasts before spreading the ducky goodness on thick.
Confit de canard with duck fat-roasted potatoes, carrots and courgettes in garlic and onion.
Crisp oak leaf lettuce with a sharp vinaigrette.
Fraises charlottes (an ever-bearing variety), with Chantilly cream.
We returned to Camont around midnight and it wasn’t long before Les Grrls were off to sleep, ready to welcome another day of foie gras, duck and pork. Gascony is a gastronomic wonder.