Food bloggers' charcuterie project goes viral

Twitter and food blogger pals Cathy Barrow and Kim Foster kick off their year-of-meat project with a pasta-and-pancetta "meating" in Barrow's kitchen.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 25, 2011; 11:01 AM

Charcutepalooza! Shar-coo-teh-pah-LOOZ-ah. The name practically rolls off the tongue while you consider all it might entail. Cured meat and good times. A group meat-and-greet. A concert to salute salumi.

Twitter and food blogger pals Cathy Barrow and Kim Foster are not sure about that last concept, but it's early yet. Their "year of meat" project is less than six weeks old, and developments are unfolding daily. But it's already a prime example of new culinary education where pros don't lead the pack, newbies aren't afraid to join in and no classroom time is required.

As of press time, 180 people with blogs, including some halfway around the world, had signed on to tackle a recipe each month, or as often as they feel like sharing, from Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn's 2005 "Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing." Barrow chose the book as a reference guide for methodology and technique. She and Foster will be available on Twitter and via e-mail for support the whole way through, with, as it turns out, plenty of chefs and experts who know their rillettes and mortadella.

"We feel like we're curating," Foster says. "And Twitter is an amazing social vehicle for this."

"It started out as fun, and it's going to continue that way," Barrow says. "But this has instantly become a powerful online community, with an enormous array of experience."

Plus a porky logo to post on bloggers' Web sites, possible Charcutepalooza butchers' aprons, temporary tattoos and an out-of-the-blue offer of a grand-prize week at a cooking school in Gascony.

The meat wagon is rolling.

Early on, Northwest Washington landscape designer Barrow (pronounced "BAR-o"), 53, and New York ghostwriter Foster, 45 (The Yummy Mummy), contacted Ruhlman, a Cleveland food writer and cookbook author, to fill him in. Fine, he said. Now he's stoked.

"In an era of fast and easy food barraging us from page and screen, why is Charcutepalooza such a compelling idea?" he asked by e-mail. "This is a book devoted to animal fat and salt - star bugaboos in American food paranoia; and, as Amazon noted in its review, some recipes take days, even months to complete. And if you don't do them right, they could even kill you."

The project is about taking the scare factor out of preserving meat at home, the women say. It's a logical next step for DIYer Barrow, whose Mrs Wheelbarrow's Kitchen blog snagged thousands of new visitors after her canning prowess was featured on NPR last September. She and Foster have long been committed to sourcing local, humanely raised meat for their respective households: Barrow and her husband; Foster, her husband and two young children.

Charcutepalooza, along the lines of yet different from cookbook meetups such as Daring Bakers and French Fridays With Dorie, sprang from a simple conversation. Foster offhandedly said the cellar of her weekend "shack" was cold and humid enough to cure meat in; Barrow said, well, that's easy enough to do. "Do you? . . . Can you?" turned into "We should," and they did. Foster came up with the goofy, intriguing name. Now they can take credit for at least one vegetarian changing her ways (the blogger at Eat Drink Man Woman Dogs Cat) and a young mother/apartment dweller temporarily repurposing her baby's room, hanging wrapped duck breasts from the mobile over the crib (Saint TigerLily).

To keep things manageable, Barrow won't add any more names to the official blogroll after Tuesday. But participants don't have to have blogs of their own to join in; they can follow the happenings and post comments on Charcutepalooza's Facebook page and the related blogs or post photos on Flickr, where the 'loozers already have amassed a gallery of cured duck breasts from the first challenge and creations that use the featured ingredient.

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