In cooking, there are many good reasons to build in time – think of how a soup or chili tastes so much better the second day. How wild fermented yeast ripens and elevates (in every meaning of the word) your bread. How, overnight, a jar of fresh cream with a little buttermilk added becomes creme fraiche. Or the way one week of salting will change that pork belly to bacon. I’m not saying it’s water into wine, but it’s pretty miraculous, nevertheless.
The week spent at Camont, surrounded by brilliant women, is much the same. I’ve had a few days to reflect, to edit photographs, zip emails back and forth with my new friends, all the while incorporating the myriad of lessons learned into my every day.
Gascony is a food lovers paradise and the perfect guide is surely Kate Hill, known as @KatedeCamont on Twitter. I first became aware of Kate through David Lebovitz’ blog. I started to stalk her – she had such fabulous recipes on her site, and her life was so darn enviable. Lo and behold, when Charcutepalooza started, she contacted me and offered up a week at Camont for the grand prize winner.
Never in a million years would I have guessed how this year would progress, and that I would find myself living for a week in a caravan at Camont. Barbara Ostmann, Kari Underly, Camas Davis, Sarah King, Melora Koepke, Stephanie Hill, Beth Gilliam and Rachael Gordon – Les Grrls – (and Dylan, we must not forget Dylan) spent a week at Meat Camp and came away so much richer.
I learned about pig butchery, once again, from Dominique Chapolard – and let me tell you, the second time is the charm. I’ve done some fancy knife work in the days since coming home. And an afternoon in the sunshine, eating beautiful brochettes, drinking wine, and listening to Christiane Chapolard talk of Dom and their life and love was inspired and inspirational.
Kate’s tutorial in duck butchery, confit and grilling has made me a master with the knife, and the bird. I’ll be cooking up duck breasts stuffed with prunes and duck hearts with shallot and sherry vinegar soon. I simply can’t be without these treats now.
More than anything, I came eye to eye with my food. There’s been plenty of talk about nose to tail, farm to table, whole beast cooking and eating… but every day in Gascony, every market, put the food out for the consumers with evidence of their recent life. Livers, red and plump, rested in the bellies of skinned rabbits. Ducks, chickens, partridge and every other bird imaginable came with feet and head attached. Ducks were cut open, revealing glistening foies, as well as intestines, gonads and bile ducts.
I watched geese being fed corn with the gavage to promote gorgeous foie gras. I understand this process now in an entirely new way. Did you know that migrating birds, like geese and ducks, put on extra weight – as much as 30% – to help them survive migration? So, the annual late summer fattening of geese and ducks is in keeping with their natural rhythm. And in non-commercial facilities, like La Ferme Auberge de Boué, if a bird has an injury, they are taken off the fattening regimen and returned to the flock, where they drop excess weight and heal before starting the two week fattening process again.
There was no denying where food came from – and why would you want to?
I am forever grateful to Kate. I don’t have to stalk her anymore. I call her friend. If ever you have thought to take a cooking class overseas, if ever you have wanted to get a sense of what French kitchen life is all about, I encourage you to get yourself to Gascony and Camont. It’s life changing.
In case you missed it, here are the pieces I wrote for the Washington Post food blog – All We Can Eat.
A French connection: MrsWheelbarrow goes to Grrl’s Meat Camp
A French connection: Hank and Les Grrls
A French connection: Boucher meets bouchere
A French connection: Duck, duck, goose
A French connection: Fricandeaux and paupiettes
A French connection: Meat the future
Kate’s Rustic Pear Tart
This recipe is rather vague. Because when you cook with Kate, she does things so naturally, there isn’t a measuring cup anywhere to be found.
2-1/2 – 3 c all purpose flour
4 oz duck fat
4 oz unsalted butter, the best you can find
1/4 c (about) ice water
8 firm, ripe pears, peeled and sliced thick into 8 pieces each
3-4 T sugar
1-1/2-2 c creme fraiche, beaten to loosen it up
Preheat oven to 400°
Mix the flour, duck fat and butter together with your fingertips or quickly pulsing in the food processor. Add the egg and pulse 10 times. Add 1/4 c ice water and pulse again about 10 times.
Dump the crust out onto a board or countertop and swiftly gather it together into a ball. Press it into a disk and chill for an hour or two.
Roll out the crust to a large rectangle. Sprinkle the sugar over the crust.
Decoratively place the pear slices over the bottom of the crust, leaving a 1-1/2″ – 2″ border.
Fold the edges over the pears. Crimp the corners.
Pour in the creme fraiche to cover the pears.
Bake for about an hour, until it’s all bubbly and gorgeous.
Let it rest for a few minutes before slicing and serving.