Going to Camp: Grown-up Style

Yesterday was pretty rad. Charcuterie Camp was our Monday, and I think my husband has discovered the true meaning of hog heaven. Here’s a bit on our day, with lots of photos at the end…

With Dan’s participation in the Portland Meat Collective, we JUMPED at the chance to spend the day with legendary French/American cook & author  Kate Hill and French farmer & charcutier Dominique Chapolard. We both spent the first half of the session watching Dominique demonstrate how he breaks down a half hog at his family farm in Gascony, where they not only raise the pigs but grow their feed as well. It was great to see not only what my husband is passionate about but to learn about how the pig goes from “seed to sausage”, as they term it – and do so in a sustainable, humane way.

Kate’s partnership with Dominique and his family is decades-long, and with Dominique’s health in severe decline, this was his last visit to the US to meet with students. It was really, really cool. After an amazing lunch put on by Sarah & Co of The Nightwood, where it was hosted, I took off and my husband stayed for the hands-on portion of the day, where a dozen or so local farmers, butchers and overall meat lovers stayed to transform the subprimals into charcuterie, including crepinettes, fricandeau and paupiettes…much of which – along with the half head, Dan got to take home. SCORE!

I have never seen a pig broken down and yes, for those newbies like me, it’s definitely a trip but also pretty damn cool. They didn’t just show technique but also how they raise the animals, the rules around selling “local” (farmers can’t sell out of their region, for example, but chefs can drive down to their region to buy from them, preserving the uniqueness of each region’s food), how they are humanely slaughtered (never hung by their feet, required to be stunned before slaughter, and more), and so much more. I got to hold the leaf lard (best thing ever for pastry making) in my hands after he cut it out of the pig, and see that the term “to butcher” has been given a bad rap by those who don’t take the time to skillfully and gently work with the pig. It was more like watching a painter at his canvas than anything else, he was so smooth and respectful of the animal…and of course, clearly passionate about his craft. Both Kate and Dom spoke often of the relationships with their customers and the French culture around buying meat that is so different than it is here in the US (for example, people don’t buy ribs for eating but for soup – the meat from the ribs is left intact on the belly instead as there’s no such thing as “St Louis Ribs” for example and the belly is of course lovely for making ventreche (French bacon) and other delicious things. My back was killing me by the end of 3 hours but the lunch we were treated to (imagine more charcuterie than the eye could see, and way, way better than anything you could get at your local grocer…and of course, lots of wine) was phenomenal, and so I left Dan to play with the meat and get a good amount of time with Dominique to learn, perfect his technique, and so much more. It made me so happy to hear his stories of the afternoon’s lesson, and it wasn’t bad that he came home with a big bag of goodies that he made (not to mention this crazy pig’s head that we are going to figure out what to do with…).

Note: The pig Dom broke down was raised at Payne Family Farms in Carlton, Oregon, and slaughtered at Revel Meats, owned by Ben Meyer.

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