Charcutepalooza Project #12 – The Grand Finale
Charcutepalooza – The Year of Meat – has been one helluva journey. Even as I sit down and write this post, I can barely believe that (a) it’s been a year (oh how the time flies as you get older!) and (b) that this amazing project of salting, curing, drying, grinding, stretching, and brining meat is coming to a close.
As the brainchild of Mrs. Wheelbarrow (Cathy) and The Yummy Mummy (Kim), a community of foodies came together from all over the world to do one charcuterie project once a month for a year. Some members have done charcuterie for quite some time and were looking to develop their skills further. There were chefs, butchers, and farmers who had tons of experience and were thrilled that other people were interested in this age old craft. Then, there were the amateurs – like me. My biggest exposure to charcuterie was pepperoni, bacon, and sausage pizza – ubiquitously known was “meat lovers” in my house. But handmade, artisanal charcuterie? I didn’t know anything about it. I had no idea what a rillette or a pate or a mousseline was. A galantine sounded like a weapon used in the French Revolution. Coming from a largely vegetarian family, I was considered a “weirdo” because a few years ago, I learned how to butcher a whole chicken. My mom and sister would kindly excuse themselves from the chicken if I ever popped a whole bird out of the grocery bag. And they wouldn’t come in until all the work was done, and all the counters cleaned. I’m sure they also would’ve preferred that I pressure wash the whole house down.
So, you can imagine their surprise when I told them about this little task (suckers!)
I found out about Charcutepalooza by reading my friend, Nicki Wood’s post on the Nashville Scene Blog, Bites. Immediately, I was interested. I had just recently started this blog and was, quite honestly, looking for some people who would read my incessant ramblings and follow my adventures in all epicurean endeavors. I was also, unemployed at the time, and literally had nothing to do. And it struck me – what better to do than these crazy a$$ meat projects that can take up to a few weeks to complete. BRILLIANT! I quickly signed up on Cathy’s website and I saw that there were about 100 other participants. Within 3 days, that number almost tripled. This was going to be fun…a lot of fun. And I couldn’t wait to get started.
Throughout this year, we have done some incredible projects. Just look at this list. Each month had its own story and a lesson learned. This was, after all, a journey, an adventure.
January Project: Salting – Duck Proscuitto
February Project: Curing – Homemade Bacon
March Project: Brining – Homemade Corned Beef
*FEATURED ON FOOD52 by The Yummy Mummy as one of the best blog posts. Click here to check it out!
April Project: Smoking – Canadian Bacon
May Project: Grinding – Merguez Sausage Lettuce Wraps
June Project: Stuffing – Tandoori Chicken Sausage
July Project: Blending – Mortadella
August Project: Binding – Shrimp and Salmon Mousseline
September Project: Packing – Indian Style Pork Pie
October Project: Stretching – Confit Pork Cheek Rillettes
November Project: Curing – Pepperoni and Whole Pig Butchering
*FEATURED ON FOOD 52 by The Yummy Mummy as one of the best blog posts. Click here to check it out!
December Project: Showing Off – This is the one you’re reading 🙂
Our project for this month was to make a feast that showed off all of our mad charcuterie skills. I was extremely happy to invite some close friends over and we really went to town on some awesome food. We ate:
Chicken Liver Pate with Bourbon Gelee – a delicious dish that got DEVOURED before I could even take a picture! The chicken liver pate was extremely creamy and well seasoned. The bourbon gelee was made with a little bit of apple juice and had great acidity to cut through the richness of the pate.
Homemade Bratwursts with Dijon Cheddar Fondue and Caramelized Onions – I made this dish for the Superbowl last year with store bought brats. The dish was so good, that I had to make it with my homemade brats. It’s a spectacular dish that can be made into a cute appetizer like this, or just served in a great bun, covered in cheese sauce and onions. Oh, baby!
Porchetta – brined pork loin, wrapped in cured pork belly, which was hot smoked for an hour and then finished off in the oven. I was so proud of this dish. I cured the pork belly in salt, sugar, fennel seed, and garlic for two days. The pork loin was brined for about 4 hours. I made a paste of herbs with tons of rosemary, garlic, lemon zest, black pepper, and red chile flakes, which I rubbed all over the pork loin. I wrapped the pork loin (almost) all the way around with the cured pork belly. The whole thing was roasted in the oven with lemon, onions, and the potatoes that ended up being cooked in the rendered fat of the porchetta. This was truly one of the best dishes I have ever made.
Yukon Gold and Sweet Potatoes Confit (cooked in pork fat)
It was just one of those special meals, eaten throughout the day while watching our hometown Tennessee Titans. We ate the pate and the brats as the game started. We drank a few beers. We cheered (mostly) and cried (on a few really bad plays). And as we sat back enjoying everyone’s company, the smell of that amazing porchetta started drifting through the house. The intoxicating aroma of roasted pork belly, fennel, rosemary, thyme, garlic, and lemon zest was slowly taking up all the real estate in those olfactory glands. And soon, everyone started drifting back to the kitchen. As the porchetta roasted, mouths were salivating. As the first piece was sliced, everyone’s hands went towards it. The meat came apart easily because it was so tender.
And then, there was silence. Slices of porchetta put on plates. A few “mmms” and a lot of “wows”. And one guy saying “this is so good, you could slap ya mama!” But rest assured, I didn’t. It’s one of our Southern sayings that means “really, really good”.
After we finished eating, we sat back, drank a few more beers, and just watched football. As night fell and the afternoon games ended, people started leaving one by one. Most of them just needed a nap after a food filled afternoon. And to be honest, I layed down on the couch for quite some time before I started cleaning up.
But as I started cleaning everything up, I couldn’t help but take time to reflect. From when I started on this adventure to when I finished, I have literally changed as a home cook and as a person. I have opted to understand where my food comes from, by participating in a community supported agriculture program as opposed to finding everything at the grocery store. I have overcome almost every single dining fear I’ve ever had – eating whole animal, including liver, kidneys, hearts, brains, headcheese, belly, collars, intestines, and tongues among others. I cook with these ingredients and embrace them because of the respect I want to show to the animals giving their lives for food. And lastly, I have developed incredible relationships with some really special people. In January, there were places I went to buy things from other people. In December, I walk into the same store or a stand, and I share stories with my friends.
For my entire life, we have always shopped at a grocery megamart and an Indian grocery story. Sometimes during the summer, we would go to the farmer’s market, but that was about it. My parents did, however, always grow a lot of Indian vegetables during the summer in our backyard. But come January, I signed us up for our first ever full CSA season. It wasn’t open until the middle of May, but we started making a commitment to eating more local and seasonal food. It was quite the transformation. I went from sleeping in late on Saturday mornings, to waking up at 8 AM and getting ready to go several different markets. I had a chance to talk to farmers who sold me what they grew and harvested with their own hands. I could sense the passion in my farmer, Eric’s voice when he talked about the delicious carrots he grew – his favorite vegetable! When put to my taste test, I was blown away. I never had a carrot which tasted so…carrott-y? Is that even a word?
As I walked through the market, you could just see community being built. Patrons talking to their farmers. A few sprinkled musicians. Children running around. And people walking their dogs, who you could tell just wanted to dig into some great food or just take a nap.
With Charcutepalooza, finding out where my meat came from was always very important to me. I was able, throughout this year, to try so many different meats from a variety of farms. That is the game you play – try everything, then figure out what you like. You will find something really special. (If you’re in Nashville, that means get your hands on some Wedge Oak Farm chickens, Emerald Glen’s thick cut pork chops, or Triple L Farms beef). Please, thank me later.
These great producers helped me make amazing, delicious food. And that taste could never be replicated in factory farm raised animals.
I started this whole experience never really knowing where my food came from or the people that produced it. Making the food was amazing, but it was difficult, challenging, and frustrating at times. But what kept me going, even through my duck prosciutto disaster or the utter failure of the pepperoni, was that I didn’t want to let the people who had raised this animal down. Producing food for us is their livelihood – they work harder and longer than anyone else either you or I know. They are remarkable people, with their own stories to share. And I am proud to call them friends.
Tom Lazzaro holding up a hefty piece of pancetta
Tom Lazzaro makes the best pasta I’ve ever eaten. His Italian shop – Lazzaroli Pasta – is a welcoming place where one can get all manner of Italian foods – from his freshly prepared ravioli and pasta, to homemade sauces, cheeses, oils, vinegars, and of course, salumi! It was through Tom that I had a taste of what great salami should be, as he sources from Armandino Batali of Salumi Artisan Meats in Seattle. Everyone who goes into this shop is one of Tom’s friends and you feel like family when you are there. You can always spot Tom’s wife, Debbie, at the cash register on the weekends and Debbie’s mom in the back, helping Tom make ravioli. Besides the incredulous sight of seeing a man and his mother in law get along, the atmosphere here just makes you feel good. I’ve shared many charcuterie items with Tom and he is always quick to let me know once new items, like Lardo or Guanciale, become available at the shop. Tom even tipped me off to try City House, which is about a half block from his shop. It has since become my favorite restaurant in town.
That’s me getting a slab of spareribs from Weldon Hawkins of Emerald Glen Farm. (His PETA shirt says: People Eating Tasting Animals)
This is Weldon Hawkins – a 8th generation farmer. His family has owned Emerald Glen Farm for over 204 years! Weldon is one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met in my life. Besides being an amazing farmer that grows some of the best pork, chicken, and beef I’ve ever had, he’s also very active in the fight for sustainable, organic farming. And I love that in his biweekly emails, he shares stories of life on the farm and even gives us a few recommendations on books to read! Sometimes things at the farm are great (at one point, Weldon gave me 6 dozen eggs because he had too many). And sometimes, predators kill the turkey that I was gonna have for Thanksgiving. But, alas, such is the life. Weldon and his wife, Ariana, make their work seem effortless.
In fact, at this moment, every single piece of meat I have in my fridge or freezer is from them. And I’m proud to say that if I can buy from them, I do and I try to choose their products over anything in the grocery store as much as I can. Most recently, Weldon hooked me up with 30 lbs of pork belly. Most of that became bacon, but you’ll also recognize that some of the belly was used in the porchetta for the last supper!
Chris Moran is a Cajun boy – straight from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He started coming to Nashville during the summer, wanting to provide our very meager seafood supply with some fresh caught fish and shellfish straight from the gulf. Chris travels from Louisiana to Nashville every single week and operates out of the farmer’s market Thursday-Sunday. We rarely ate seafood, because it just wasn’t available here. Every now and then we would have shrimp. But thanks to Chris, we have seafood at least once and usually twice a week! I loved using his shrimp when making the shrimp-salmon mousseline.
Sometimes, you need something be an accessory to all of your cured meats. And nothing is better than Kathleen Cotter’s cheese stand, The Bloomy Rind. She sources great artisanal cheese from around the US, with a stunning inventory from the southeastern US. Her collection of cheese is always varied and no one knows cheese better than Kathleen.
And let’s be honest. What goes better with great cured meat products than some curdled milk products! Well, maybe fermented grape products…but curdled milk creations are always welcome!
Food, on its surface, is always about the taste of flavor of a dish. But food is also inextricably tied to people. The people who produce it, the people who cook it, and the people who use food as a vehicle to build communities and relationships with others. The journey of charcutepalooza elucidated that simple concept to me more than anything – it’s about real food and real people.
It’s learning to try something new, and not being afraid of it.
It’s accepting your failures, and learning from them.
It’s celebrating your triumphs, and sharing it with the world.
I will forever be grateful to Cathy and Kim for allowing me to be a part of this amazing adventure. I have to thank Michael Ruhlman for providing us with the knowledge and advice in his book, Charcuterie. He was also always available for any of us through twitter, which was simply impressive. You all have shown me things that I never dreamed of and for that I will always be grateful.
And to you, the reader, who has been on this journey with me, what a ride it has been. Although charcutepalooza comes to an end, the things I have learned will be with me forever. The skills and techniques are now part of my repertoire, just like how sauteing, braising, grilling, or roasting are. The relationships with the people who produce my food is one that I hope to grow and continue for a long, long time. And even though the challenge ends, I have no doubt that I will continue this Epicurean Adventure. As one door closes, another opens. And I, for one, can’t wait to see where next year will take me! Hopefully, it won’t run my family out of the kitchen 🙂