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.
Rising early to Hank’s cock-a-doodle-doo at Camont, Les Grrls packed up and sped across the Gascon countryside to the workshop of the Chapolard butchers. Of all of us, the two culinary students seemed most excited about the opportunity to learn that family’s professional secrets.
Rachael Gordon will enter the fourth of six semesters at Seattle Culinary Academy next week and Beth Gilliam has just graduated. They both have experience with whole-animal butchery, but less with charcuterie, a skill they intend to bring back from Gascony.
The Chapolard workshop looked like a typical rustic stone farmhouse as we rode down its long driveway. But inside, the place is a modern, gleaming workshop. Four brothers, ages 44 to 56, and two wives work at the butchery: Dominique, Jacques, Bruno, Marc, Christiane and Cecile. For three generations, the Chapolards have been Gascon butchers. Their enlightened approach to creating and maintaining a family business is at the heart of their continuing success. In fact, when the brothers took over from their parents in the mid-1990s, they sought the assistance of an industrial psychologist to help them communicate effectively and work productively.
Whatever they are doing, it’s working.
Decked out in butcher’s coats, shoe coverings and hair nets, we entered the Chapolards’ very chilly, magical world.
First, Christiane detailed the steps from meat hanging, butchery, sausagemaking, curing chamber to bain-marie and oven. While the equipment and appliances used are certainly larger than one would find in a home kitchen, the Chapolards make only the amount of goods that will be sold at the next day’s farmers markets nearby. Nevertheless, this one family of butchers and charcutieres processes more than 500 pigs each year. Nothing goes to waste.
Christiane shared her recipe for pate, which she forms into fricandeaux. These pates are machine-ground, formed into baseball-size globes, then manipulated by hand to ensure a moist interior. The pates are wrapped in caul fat and tucked into baking pans; a snug fit keeps the pate from drying out during the 90-minute cooking time. Rachael and Beth were at ease with the instruction and soon produced their own beautiful examples.
Another specialty, the paupiettes, are tidy packages of thin slabs of pork loin filled with about half a cup of ground pork, fatback, parsley and onion. Each package is snugly wrapped in bacon then tied. Market customers purchase the paupillettes (generally one per serving) for braising with seasonal sauces (cream or wine-based) or perhaps with mushrooms, leeks or carrots. Kate was quick to sing the praises of these tasty specialties, noting that only the early bird to the market can be assured of going home with paupillettes; they are that popular.
Each of us took our turn forming, wrapping, turning and tying until we had each made at least one of these charming packets.
Dominique then demonstrated his butchery technique on a side of pork, removing all the traditional cuts sold in Gascony and reserving quite a bit of the meat for charcuterie. Of each pig, about half is sold fresh and the balance used to make the saucisse (fresh sausage), saucisson (trimmed pork and pork fat that is cured and dried), saucisse seche (dried sausage) and noix de jambon, the small cured ham specific to the Chapolards’ atelier.
Our heads filled with new knowledge, we were ready to fill our bellies with lunch. Christiane and Dominique welcomed us to their home a few miles away, where a long table was set outside the kitchen door, in the shadow of their pigionierre.
Naturally, we started with a plate of exquisite charcuterie: saucisse seche, blood sausage, fricandeaux and noix de jambon. Dom grilled on a small portable gas cook surface: slabs of pork loin; brochettes of fresh ham and ventreche (lightly smoked bacon); merguez (pork sausage, seasoned like the traditional North African lamb sausage); and saucisse.
A bright, simply dressed green salad and quartered tomatoes rounded out what seemed to us the perfect meal. As is the custom, the food was served family-style — and, of course, the wine flowed freely.
Over the course of two hours, we were treated to the couple’s stories about how they met and how they work together. They spoke of their four grown children and what they hope for their future. What was obvious was how much Dom and Christiane, married 35 years, adore one another. When Christiane said, in lilting French, “I would go with Dominique to the end of the world,” all Les Grrls got a little verklempt. Nice to see a sweet, happy couple doing what they love best.
Tomorrow: A bonus weekend post, as Cathy wraps up her Gascon adventure with a story about Sarah King and more butchery lessons.