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Food bloggers' charcuterie project goes viral
"Omigod, have you seen the duck-breast prosciutto banh mi recipe on the Butcher's Apprentice?" Foster asked on a recent rare day when the two were able to take a "meating" - their tongue-in-cheek terminology - and kibbitz in Barrow's kitchen.
"And the meatballs from Last Night's Dinner," Barrow added, where Providence, R.I., blogger Jennifer Hess comes close to breaking some kind of food-porn record in recapping her duck, duck goose. She rolls a mixture of minced duck confit, savory, shallot, egg and bread crumbs into cocktail-size balls; stuffs each with a nugget of foie gras; browns them in duck fat; glazes them with fig jam, white balsamic vinegar and mustard seeds; wraps them in pieces of her Charcutepalooza cured duck breast; broils them and inserts toothpicks.
Between Barrow's easy, husky chuckling and Foster's comic way with a story, it's a wonder they could stay on point. After a photographer left, the pair discovered they had left the peas out of the pasta dish made to showcase freshly cured pancetta. More to laugh about.
"The cool thing has been seeing all the great ways people are using the charcuterie," Barrow said. A collection of best recipes may fall into place when the 12 months are up.
The project's forums are not all show-and-tell. For February, the apprentice-level challenge is bacon, while more adventurous types can cure pork belly to make pancetta. Twitter followers who search on "#charcutepalooza" got to discuss the merits of pink salt and nitrates while Bob del Grosso, micropaleontologist, chef and former instructor at the Culinary Institute of America, held an hour-long advisory session. He offered to help once he had found out about Charcutepalooza.
"People in Italy have told us they don't use nitrates. People in France say they don't use cheesecloth. We're getting all perspectives," Barrow said. "Every time I check my e-mail, there are 50 to 75 of them about all this."
Frankly, the meat talk has worried a few blog followers of Foster and Barrow, who hope it will not overtake Foster's humorous insights about cooking with kids in tow and Barrow's canning, cookie- and pie-making exploits. Barrow has initiated Meatless Monday recipes in response, which helps balance her daily cooking; her husband, Dennis, is mostly vegetarian and Barrow prefers eating meat "in moderation."
In a way, Barrow's various careers and education all play a part in the satisfying role she has today, monitoring the project: a degree from Carnegie Mellon in organizational behavior; housewares buyer for a department store; owner of a fish market; a marketing consultant; garden coach and landscape designer.
She grew up in Pittsburgh and has cooked since "forever." She has lived in the District since 1985. Her participation in Food52.com's weekly recipe contests, started in August 2009, quickly upped her status as someone to watch. (Three of Barrow's cookie recipes were featured in the Food section's Dec. 8 all-cookie issue.) A month later, she took two days of charcuterie classes from chef Bonnie Moore at L'Academie de Cuisine in Bethesda, and that ignited her interest in charcuterie and augmented her preservation skills.
After the story about Barrow aired on NPR, she was contacted by Wendy Melvin, a farmer's wife in Pulaski, Tenn. They traded e-mails and phone calls, then Barrow got an offer. Melvin and her family were coming to see the sights in Washington; could she bring Cathy a bushel of pears and, say, 40 pounds of pork bellies from their Berkshire hogs?
"She is every bit as lovely in person as I could have hoped for," Melvin said in a phone interview. "She makes food fun and accessible and, to me, you read her blog and you want to cook."
Barrow canned the pears and froze the bellies.
She sent the last 10 pounds of raw bellies home with Foster, and the rest of whatever Barrow hasn't given away has been cured or smoked in some fashion and stored in her basement freezer, along with Stonyman Farm lamb, duck carcasses and cornmeal. Jars of whole fruit, pie filling, salsa, sauces, soups, sauerkraut, apple butter, tomatoes, pickles, relishes, chicken stock and grape juice fill the shelves nearby.
Under the stairs, two slender rolls of pancetta spiraled with juniper berries and black pepper hang in a compact wine cooler Barrow found through Craigslist. She was having trouble maintaining the proper humidity, then del Grosso suggested that she wick in heavily salted water through a clean cotton towel. That did it.
They will take their rightful place alongside hundreds of others from around the world, perhaps in the Flickr hall of fame. And then the next piece of meat will join the Charcutepalooza.