Tag Archives: kate hill

Ham Heaven

PyreneesSeven days ago I left Washington, D.C. to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. I arrived at Kate Hill’s gastronomic slice of heaven, Camont, and moved into the little gypsy caravan I have called home once before.


After five quiet days alongside the canal, eating well, drinking Gascon wines and visiting with friends, we left yesterday to trace the Ham Trail in Basque country. We drove through four styles of architecture and as many types of  agriculture until we reached a small, charming hotel at the base of the Pyrenees.

Basque country spreads out before me in the valley. Sheep and pigs and stocky horses roam the hillsides. There are hams hanging everywhere, even over last night’s dinner table. There is so much to say, but I ache to spend time in the fresh air, the breeze… to sit and eat and experience it all. So, for now, I’ll post some photos to show you what I’ve been doing for the last week so I can get right back to the world of the Basque, an entire universe it seems, unique in this world. I urge you to come to Basquelandia. And if you do, there is simply no better guide than Kate Hill.*


BasquePig BasqueFarm

BasqueWine CoopProducers PorkTongue Charcuterie
Truffles TroutFarm
Kate is offering a five day road trip into Basque country this fall. Sign up early — places are limited and fill fast.





mango coconut macadamia conserve

macademia nutsSo, did I mention I’m going to France?

I’ll be visiting Kate at Camont where I hope to putter in her beautiful gardens and go brocante-ing with her sister Stephanie (check out her Etsy shop of fabulous vintage French household goods). I’m going to  scritch Bacon the big dog and soak up Kate’s Gascony. It’s paradise.

When Elaine joins us next week, we’ll be heading to Basque country, south and towards the sea. Still France, almost Spain, a land all its own. (Elaine is continuing work on her project This Little Piggy. I’m tagging along.)

atulfo mangoWe’ll be on the seashore. The eastern shore of the Atlantic. I’ll wave! (You can follow my adventures on Instagram. I don’t know how much social media you can expect when I’m in paradise, but I’m pretty sure Instagram will happen.)

I’m so looking forward to this, although I will miss Dennis and those crazy terriers. But, finally, I’m going to take a post-book rest. After all of it — about three years now — proposal, writing, rewriting and rewriting again. The photo shoots. The edits, the copyedits, the first pass and before the second pass. (That’s publishing lingo. I’m starting to catch on.) Whatever it’s called… it’s tiring. My brain needs to breathe.

bound galleySaturday, I received a box of bound galleys and just about keeled over. Bound galleys are a paperback copy of the book, sort of a rough set, with the edits from the first pass yet to be incorporated. The bound galley is printed in black and white with a color cover. Sent out as a review copy, bound galleys look real and substantial enough, let me tell you! Jeepers, this book thing is happening.

Before that, though, I am going to France, and even though I had a list of pre-travel things to do and I wanted to bask in the whole bound galley-thing, I decided to start a preserving project. I know, crazy. But there are times when an idea is growing and taking up space and I can’t think about anything else but making some flavorful preserved food come together.

dicing mangoIn this case, it was a collision of mango and coconut and macadamia nuts. I wanted all those flavors together. I had visions of umbrella beach drinks served in Don Ho’s Hawaii.

So, I made it. It’s chewy and sweet and crunchy and absolutely wonderful stirred into plain yogurt, on toast, and spooned out of the jar.  Let me know what you think.

A bien tot! xoCathy

mango coconut macademia conserveMango Coconut Macadamia Conserve
Makes 6 half-pint jars
Active Time: 2 hours
Macerating Time: 2 hours

10 Atulfo mangos (7 1/2 lbs, 3.5 kg), peeled and diced (about 5 cups)
3 cups (21 oz) granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Juice of one lemon
2 cups (6 oz., 180 g) unsweetened flaked coconut, not toasted
1 cup (4 oz., 125 g) roasted and salted macadamia nuts, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon butter

In a large ceramic or glass bowl, combine the mango, sugar, nutmeg and lemon juice and stir. Cover and set aside on the counter for two hours.

Place a colander over a heavy, 5 quart or larger preserving pan. I use a Le Creuset. Pour the mixture into the colander, allowing the collected syrup to drain into the pot. Stir the fruit well to extract more syrup, then place the colander into a bowl to catch any additional syrup.

Bring the syrup to 220°F. Add back the fruit in the colander. Add the coconut and bring to a hard boil that will not stir down. Boil for five minutes. Add the macademia nuts, stir well.

Ladle into sanitized half-pint jars, clean the rim of each jar well, place the lid and ring and process for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath.



greens ‘n’ eggs. or, have you seen my car key?

My mother – an English professor – would tell a story about her first year teaching. There was another young teacher with whom she shared an office. He taught three sections of Freshman English – the same workload as my mother. Each class had about twenty students, and every week the students had an exam, a Blue Book exam (remember those?)

So, there were about sixty blue books to grade Every. Single. Week. Somewhere in the middle of that first semester, that other teacher was carted away by the men in the white coats. Complete nervous breakdown. His briefcase was stuffed with blue books, not a single one graded. After that, my mother graded every paper immediately. No lingering or procrastinating. That was a life lesson for her, and I heard the story enough that it became a life lesson for me, too.

Do you have binders or folders or boxes that hold your recipes?
I made these 25 years ago, and have been filling them with favorites ever since.

So, without a moment to spare, the first deadline looming, I am knuckling down to work on the book. After two weeks, I have 16 recipes fully developed. That’s a long way from the 150 or so that I’ll need, but it’s a (small) dent. I’m learning so many new things. Writing a book has forced me to develop a very disciplined life. I’ve got a calendar with goals for every week and places to make check-marks signifying WRITTEN, TESTED, and READY.

Thanks to my cookbook-writing sister-wife, Stella, I’m using a program called Scrivener, which is pretty freaking genius for organizing a complicated task into little digestible tidbits. I told Stella it was like the Container Store for cookbook authors, with a perfectly sized box for every thought.

My schedule is disciplined but sensible. I write from very early in the morning until about lunchtime, when I emerge to cook for the afternoon. Some days I just write and write and write, and come blinking out of my office pale and hungry, hoping for a leftover in the fridge that will make an interesting omelet or salad or souffle. Evenings are short (up at 5:30 AM means night-night at 9:30 PM.) I am one hot date these days.

It’s easy to become completely obsessed with a project of this scope, but I’ve promised to leave it all behind one day a week so Dennis and I can hang out … a movie, a drive in the country, a walk in the woods…

Beyond the book, the recipes and the writing, the last two weeks have been momentous, to say the least. I spent a weekend outside Chicago at Grrls Meat Camp, a genius creation of my good friend Kate Hill. You may remember my posts from last year’s Meat Camp in Gascony. This year, Kate brought all her good meaty sensibilities from Gascony to the US, with help from Chicago-based Kari Underly and Kathy Skutecki. (Kombucha maker and Kitchen Assistant Ally also attended, and wrote about her experiences here.)

Kari Underly (l), an exceptional butcher, and an amazing teacher. She’s showing Ally (r) how to separate muscle with a sharp knife and a sure hand. Ally asked “Is that right” and Kari replied, “It’s right for today.” Encouraging, providing feedback. I hope Kari will realize her dream of starting a butchery school.

The weekend was ramping up in the most fabulous way when news of Hurricane Sandy reached us and signaled an early departure for the East Coast Grrls. I was sad to leave this gang of incredibly inspirational women, but know that the connections are strong, and we’ll all “meat” up again soon. If you want to get on the list for the next Meat Camp (January, 2014), or just want to be a part of this exciting group, check out Kate’s recent post. And for even more, listen to Chicago-based Nina Barrett, James Beard Award-winning radio raconteur, who came to visit Meat Camp and produced a fabulous piece for WBEZ.

Hurricane Sandy came whistling through our backyard. It was high pitched and violent and very frightening. The rain was so intense it sounded like hail and the huge branches hitting the roof made us gasp. But when all was said and done, we had not lost power and the kitchen was full of food cooked while I had anxiety attack after anxiety attack. Cooking seems to calm me down. We were fortunate. We were spared. But so many were not. The devastation in New Jersey and New York is staggering. If you are looking for ways to help those affected by this storm, Food52 has compiled a list of ways to pitch in.

After the hurricane came the election, and regardless of which side you favored, I think the entire country was relieved to see Tuesday come, and go. The rhetoric was exhausting and the television ads were interminable. Now, on to Inauguration Day Party planning!

So, the book, the weather, and politics have made quite a stew in the last few weeks, and I’ve been “in-my-head” which is what Dennis calls it when I wander through the house muttering to myself. I will admit to being overwhelmed most of the time. I’ve lost one of my car keys somewhere in the house. It was in my hand as I went down the stairs to the garage, got sidetracked in the laundry room, and then in the pantry, and now it’s gone. I’ve also lost my credit card and my Iphone, but found them both within a few (crazed) hours. I forget to eat. Some days, I’m in my pajamas until noon, because I wake up and have to start typing out whatever is banging around inside my head. This can’t be sustained…. but I expect it will all level out as the workflow becomes more a part of life and less something new to learn.

One thing I have realized, and it is hard to admit, is that I simply cannot do everything anymore. Consequently, for the next year, I will not be teaching regular classes. Something had to give. I know I will miss my students and the superb interaction that has helped me understand teaching and writing about the craft of preserving. Sadly, I’m going to have to put the teaching on hiatus for the near term. My apologies. Know that I will miss you, my wonderful students, and I’ll be back and ready to go in 2014.

And now we get to the point in the blog when I give you a recipe. Except that cooking has been a little haphazard of late. But here’s one healthy quick supper that filled our tummies after a long day of writing. I was first exposed to this idea when I met Kate McDermott, the Pie Whisperer, earlier this year. When I stumbled into my kitchen last Monday, it seemed like a perfect option. Do I have a photo? No.

But here’s a picture of my first home-grown Meyer lemon instead. Awesome, isn’t it? There are two little citrus trees currently residing in Dennis’ office. There are two more Meyers ready to pick and two Eurekas gaining a marvelous pale shade of yellow. What an encouraging burst of sunshine in the midst of early winter.

Greens ‘n’ Eggs
Serves 2

3 Tablespoons good olive oil

2 medium shallots, sliced thin

3 shiitake mushrooms, sliced thin

1 bunch of kale, chard, or a mix of stir-fry greens, stemmed, rough chopped and rinsed

4 large, very fresh eggs

1/2 lemon

Salt & Pepper

In a 10″ cast iron, or other heavy, skillet, heat the oil until it shimmers.

Add the shallots and cook until translucent, then add the mushrooms and leave the pan alone until the mushrooms release from the bottom of the pan without a tug. Once the mushrooms are no longer sticking to the bottom of the pan, give it all a good stir.

Pile in all the greens on top of the shallots and mushrooms, then form four indentations around the pan and crack an egg in each one.

Now cover the pan and leave it be for about three minutes. Lift the lid and take a peek. Are the eggs done? If the yolk is nearly done and the white is not, tip the pan to grab some of the hot cooking liquid (made up of the oil you start with and the bits of water sticking to the greens after rinsing) and spoon it over the egg to help the cooking along. Uncover and raise the heat to boil off all the liquid.

Squeeze lemon juice over the whole thing, then good salt – Maldon or fleur de sel – and fresh cracked pepper, to your own taste.

Serve the greens and eggs in wedges with buttered toast or, if you have been to the store…. hunks of baguette and a lovely, runny cheese.

And the winner is….

The Year of Meat has come to a close. We have a winner, and his name is Peter Barrett.

Peter writes the visually stunning and always wry and clever A Cook Blog. From the very beginning, everyone noticed his spectacular, extravagent and enviable way of answering the challenges. I’d Like to Be Alone with the Sandwich for Awhile, My Salami Brings All the Goyim to the Yard, and the Charcutepalooza winning post Gratitude is the Attitude are three of my personal favorites, but any of Peter’s writings combine charm, insouciance, and knowledge, garnished with stunning photography that reveals his artistic training.

Peter is first an artist. Trained at RISD and the Art Institute, he pursues his art in many ways, and of late, cooking and food writing have become part of an already broad portfolio ranging from gallery shows of large CAD-assisted art to exceptionally fine lined, Asian-ish ceramics in food friendly colors and shapes. You’ll find his writing in Edible Hudson Valley and Chronogram, where he is food and drink editor.

Well before Charcutepalooza, Peter had been messing around with Polcyn & Ruhlman’s Charcuterie. He made bacon, pancetta and guanciale and all the other gateway meats. Following is his grandfather’s tradition, he bought a “dirt cheap Home Depot smoker” and began to regularly smoke chickens and other meats. He perfected the smoked meats, and then, for whatever reason, stopped his progression along the meaty path. He was happy with bacon and smoked chicken. When he moved from Brooklyn to Woodstock, NY, he hauled the smoker with him, but then began to think about his Grandfather’s pickles. And from there, vinegars, and cheesemaking, and bread. When Charcutepalooza came along, he turned his gaze again to meat.

Peter’s cooking, which he gamely admits might be a bit obsessive, is the result of many years of practice and who knows how many cookbooks studied. During his years at RISD, he spent time in Rome, cooking and eating and taking in the world. Graduate school brought dinner parties with the similarly gastronomically inclined, and from there a most serendipitous and unlikely job as a private chef.

Now, years later, at home in Woodstock with wife Christine and son Milo, 7, Peter has complete control over the newly renovated kitchen, admitting to a bearish growl ready for anyone who messes with his space. A “functional stove”, tons of counter space, an enviable antique farm table that seats many, his mother’s KitchenAid mixer (with original metal grinding attachments… green with envy here) and a MacGyver’d sous vide acquired through barter with a fellow blogger pretty much makes up his arsenal. You might think he’s a gadget guy, but he’s not.

Peter, a self-proclaimed curmudgeon, says he’s not a joiner. But the irreverence of Charcutepalooza appealed to him from the beginning, and the prize was never far from his mind. One thing he didn’t expect? How Charcutepalooza has brought so many new friends into his life. Sure, there is an active online community, but in real life, Peter’s son and Kim Foster‘s daughters are becoming fast friends.

Peter is off to France, thanks to Trufflepig Travel. He’ll spend a few days with Kate Hill, Stephanie, Bacon, the Chapolards and all the other wonderful people of Gascony, then on to Paris for a trip to the Ham Market with The Antiques Diva and a celebratory cocktail party. We’re all very happy for you, Peter, and wish you bon voyage.

And since I have your attention, this is a perfect opportunity for me to remind you of all the people who helped make Charcutepalooza such a rousing success.

Trufflepig Travel is a gem of a company. They’re putting together Travel Experiences in the most clever, modern, eye opening ways. And they’re taking care of Peter’s travel and lodging. Thank you thank you thank you.

Kate Hill. Well, I’ve already gushed here and here… so you know how I feel about the Duchess of Camont. Kate, thank you for such a rich education all year long.

D’Artagnan. Ariane Daguin who has been at the forefront of honest, properly farmed meat. Thank you, Ariane, for providing the community the opportunity to source meats at remarkable prices. And a big shout out to Lily Hodge, who was such a pleasure to work with, even when I gave her no forewarning.

Armagnac Casterede. I cannot wait to meet Florence in Paris, where they will be providing Armagnac for the party. We will raise a glass to the art of Armagnac then.

The Antiques Diva. Toma, I still laugh when I remember our whirlwind trip around Paris. One of the best days EVER. Thrilled that a Diva will be our guide around the Ham Market.

Food52, Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, who were so encouraging early on. Thank you for hosting the challenges all year, and particularly all the attention you provided the final challenge, bringing the Charcutepalooza fun to a big wide audience. Thank you so much. And Kristen Miglore – I have no idea how you keep all those balls in the air. And also write the most elegant Genius Recipe columns? I’ll have some of whatever she’s having.

Barb Kiebel and Kinetic Web Solutions, thank you for helping me navigate technology all year long, from the large issues to those you managed in 140 characters.

And of course to Kim Foster. A terrific partner in meat. Your irreverence, your tales of sausage encounters, and all the humorous ways you’ve used meat in a sentence – it’s absolutely set the perfect tone all year long.

And to every single one of you who participated and those who followed along on the adventure. Thank you.

So, what’s next?

Everyone has been asking. There will not be a Charcutepalooza 2012, but the posts will be here, so you could actually do the whole year by starting with the first challenge and working through to December. The community is still active on Twitter, so if you have a question, just hashtag #Charcutepalooza and see what happens.

I will be writing about more meaty adventures, along with other preserving projects. There is jam to be made, pickles to brine, and tomatoes to put in jars. I am learning to make fresh cheeses and will soon be writing about it, and I’m working on other projects here and there. The list of posts half started and the ideas jotted down will finally get attention.

I have been called a serial careerist, and I’ll admit, that’s true. Once again, my life is in transition. 2012 holds so much promise already.

I have closed down my landscape design business. The economy was changing the nature of the work, it was less satisfying and the lure of the kitchen was just too much. Today it occured to me that my cooking process is no different than the way a landscape design forms. My mind so filled with ideas that Dennis says he misses me. Covering the walls of my studio with inspiring photos and more sketches, piles of books joining eraser dust on the floor. Sketch madly, scraps of trace with pavement patterns and tree placement and driveway curves littering the drafting table. The final product, weeks in the making, hand drawn, carefully colored with pencils and markers and water colors. Models constructed of paper maché, balsa wood and copper wire, twisted to resemble tiny trees.

Now, cookbooks pile up, counters are flour dusted, sinks full of dishes, bowls of food in various stages tucked here and there around the kitchen. And a camera at hand. The final product, the post, the essay, the recipe carries with it all of that experience.

Beyond the creative satisfaction of cooking and developing recipes, there is an unmistakable need to write. To get words on the page. To corral my busy mind by editing and crafting and moving phrases here and there. I’m edgy and anxious when too much time has passed between blog posts, when I feel that gnawing sense of words piling up in my head.

So, in 2012, I am pursuing the life of a food writer. I have three assignments already, which both thrills and terrifies every cell in my body.

The first step is to redesign this site a bit. With any luck (and with the able help of Barb Kiebel, a renovated Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen will be revealed in the next ten days. In the meantime, if you come to visit and things are wonky, please be patient.

Here’s to 2012. It’s going to be an exciting year, I just know it.


charcutepalooza december challenge. showing off.

This is it. The last challenge. It’s time to show us what you’ve learned. You’ve had a year of experimenting and practice. You’ve had the benefit of this exceptionally creative and daring Charcutepalooza community. And ‘tis the season.

What better reason to gather your friends and family than a celebration of all things charcuterie? It’s exciting to serve up these homemade lovelies. No reason not to crow a little. You’ve earned it.

Cassoulet is a natural. Choucroute garnie, as well. Perhaps Schweinshaxe? Or a long simmered Italian “Sunday Gravy?” A tapas offering? What about dim sum? We’ve looked cross culturally for so much of the year, the possibilities seem endless with a little internet research and a dollop of imagination.

Create a menu, a meal, a dish, a platter. We challenge you to create a celebration.

Use at least three items (Apprentice Challenge) or four items (Charcutiere Challenge) from the following list.

•Smoke, cure, or brine a whole cut of meat, poultry or fish (for instance, ham, duck proscuitto, roulades, pastrami, smoked salmon)
•Dried, cured sausage (for instance, soppresata, saucisson sec, salami, landjager, chorizo)
•Pork belly, any preparation (for instance, bacon, pancetta, ventreche, red cooked, braised)
•Sausage (for instance, bulk, in casings, smoked, emulsified)
•Pate, terrine, or mousseline, en croute, if you wish
•Rillettes or confit

Your deadline is December 6, 2011. Yes, this is different than the date first announced, for a very good reason – the details are revealed at the end of this post.

Good luck and have fun. We can’t wait to see what you do.

It’s just a fancy name for franks and beans.

I love my friend Katrin. She has been my BFF for many many years. She’s witty and warm, with a huge heart. Her Martha’s Vineyard home, circa 1680, the second oldest home on the island, sports low hanging doorways and wonky windows. This wonderland has been the site for a gathering of ‘girls’ for the last fourteen years. Some years there are over a dozen of us, and some years, it’s just six. But every year, this weekend recharges my spirit.

So when I set about planning the final challenge for this extraordinary Year of Meat, Martha’s Vineyard seemed the perfect spot. I wanted to share a Camont recipe for cassoulet and all the new knowledge from Girls Meat Camp with these dear friends. Katrin’s response? “Cassoulet? I’m not a fan. It’s just a fancy name for franks and beans.” I was determined to change her mind.

Start with the Best

To prepare, I engaged in some crazy suitcase packing, again. Noix de jambon, rillettes, fresh saucisse de Toulouse, ventreche and couenne snuggled in next to garlic, thyme from the garden, and some kitchen tools. I secured it all in ziplock bags, and tucked the bags in between my clothes. Hello, TSA!

Our friends at D’Artagnan had everything, shipping the remainder of what was needed for the perfect cassoulet, duck legs and duck fat, and a real treat – prunes stuffed with foie. (They’re called French Kisses. Rhapsodically good.)

D’Artagnan also carries the official bean of cassoulet – the Tarbais. This bean is like no other, and sports a great back story. It cooks perfectly, with some beans shedding their skins and softening to create a thick backdrop for the meats, and other beans magically remaining whole, but meltingly tender. A perfect texture for cassoulet.

(I also ordered a good sized roasting chicken, air chilled. This bird was delicious and chicken-y. I stuffed D’Artagnan’s outrageous truffle butter under the skin of the breast and legs, then served it with duck fat roasted potatoes and green beans.)

Take note. This month, for our last Charcutepalooza challenge, D’Artagnan will offer a remarkable discount on their entire product line. Watch your email for the code. You must call to get this discount, and talk to the sales reps. They are so knowledgable and will steer you in the right direction every single time. It’s a rare opportunity for this access – imagine, game birds, wild mushrooms, every cut of pork and lamb, wagyu beef and foie gras.

Constructing the Cassoulet

The beauty of cooking something like cassoulet is the minimal hands on time.

Soak the beans the night before. Sauté the ventreche and couenne, and the aromatics, then cook the beans for an hour or so in plenty of water. Just do this in the morning while the rest of the household wanders in and out of the kitchen for coffee and bagels imported from Brooklyn.

There was more than enough time for a walk through Edgartown, unearthing a new charcuterie shop as well as the divine baker, Rickard’s.

In mid afternoon, with the help of one able assistant (thank you, Jessie!) we added the browned duck confit and rope of saucisse de Toulouse. This concoction cooked for three plus hours. Occasionally, I would reach into the oven and stir everything around a bit. It was dinner time when a nice crust had formed on the top and the smells were so intoxicating we simply had to dig in.

I was a little sad that I couldn’t bring the traditional cassoulet pot Kate gave me, but the suitcase was already absurd. In the Vineyard kitchen, we unearthed an enameled cast iron dutch oven from the back of a kitchen cabinet and it was perfect.

The divine recipe and some tips from Kate:

The couenne, or rolled, tied, pork skin, adds a silky, delicious feel to the simmering beans. Add it with the ventreche, at the start.

Later, when adding the meat, untie and unroll the couenne, dice it the same size as the beans, and add it to the pot. These little pieces of goodness will rise to the surface and add a crispy je-ne-sais-quoi to the cassoulet crust.

The ventreche, carrots, and onions should be diced the same size as the beans.

Cook the beans in a full two quarts of water per pound. Don’t panic if there is a lot of liquid left when the beans are soft. Just add the browned meats and sausages and get the mixture simmering and hot. It will all work out.

Cook the cassoulet in a 325° oven, uncovered, and make sure it keeps the simmer. The cassoulet will develop a rich brown crust in good time. Be patient.

Serve with a very acidic, crunchy salad and a rough, earthy red wine.

Celebrating Charcutepalooza

While waiting for the cassoulet to finish, we enjoyed bourbon manhattans and a charcuterie board of jambon de Camont, pork rillettes, duck rillettes, cornichons and pickled asparagus. It should come as no surprise that we watched Bridesmaids.

And oh, it was a marvelous cassoulet, with duck confit, saucisse de Toulouse, ventreche, couenne and Tarbais beans. As authentic as it could be, from this side of the pond. Kate, I hope you approve!

Cassoulet is a food made for celebrations, and sharing it with good friends feels like a great big hug.

Charcutepalooza, Food52 and The Grand Prize

The Grand Prize will be awarded in just a few weeks. Kate Hill, Trufflepig, and The Antiques Diva have been dreaming up amazing fun for our lucky winner.

The dates are now firm – the winner will fly to Paris on March 2nd and fly back on March 10th, 2011.

There will be one night of fun in Paris, then off you go on a fast train to Agen, the Lot-et-Garonne town near Kate’s Camont.

You’ll spend four days in Gascony experiencing charcuterie at the source, then you’ll hop back on the train to Paris, where you’ll have an afternoon to explore the city. Friday, March 9th will be packed with fun: start your Paris day with a visit to the historic Ham Market with The Antiques Diva and then wrap it all up at Friday night’s blogger cocktail party. A true Charcute-folie!

Eligibility and Entries

We’re beyond thrilled that FOOD52 has agreed to host the Charcutepalooza final competition. Watch the FOOD52 site for details about the Charcutepalooza contest that will close up the year. That’s right, from December 29th and ending January 4th, 2012, the two finalist’s entries will be featured on FOOD52. Are you ready for your close up?

For now, this is a good time to review the eligibility requirements for your entry, and to begin to gather your thoughts.

We’ll be looking for quality writing, beautiful photography, and an original recipe, so scan your posts for the best example(s) of your charcuterie skills.

Your entry, due no later than Midnight EST, December 6th, 2011, must include

•your name, blog URL and email address
•a profile photo (jpg format)
•50 words describing your Charcutepalooza experience
•links to the 12 Charcutepalooza monthly challenge posts on your blog
•links to no more than two of your Charcutepalooza blog posts that you wish to nominate for the grand prize competition

Send this information in an email to Charcutepalooza at gmail dot com by 12/6/2011.

Kim and I will review all the entries. It’s up to us to whittle them down to the best six and we already know it will be tough – you all are so awesome.

The semifinalists’ posts will be forwarded to the judges, who will whittle the six down to two. The two finalists’ blog posts will be presented on FOOD52, where the community’s vote will decide the winner.

It’s all very exciting. And it’s coming right up.

november challenge. curing.

The eleventh challenge. We’re almost through the Year of Meat and a trip to France is so close for one of you.

We’ve come a long way. We’ve salted, brined, smoked, ground, stuffed, packed and stretched our way through parts of pork, slabs of beef, flocks of chickens, dozens of ducks and hundreds of feet of casings. We’re ready to cure.

Charcuterie served at Camont.

The weather is cooling and it’s time to hang meats and sausages in the garage, the wine refrigerator, the attic, the back of the pantry – wherever you have the right conditions for curing.

Apprentice Challenge: Please cure a sausage, ex: soppresata, saucisson sec, Spanish chorizo, salami or coppa
Charcutiere Challenge: Please cure a whole cut, ex: lonzino, bresaola, jambon de Camont, lardo

Some of these cures may take longer than the month usually given to complete a challenge, so the deadline for posting is December 1st. That’s six and a half weeks. If you’re going to do a whole cut cure, you’d better get cracking, you’ll want every minute of that time.

Tag your post charcutepalooza and we’ll be sure to see it. Share your blog post with Punk Domestics. Cross post and upload photos on Charcutepalooza’s Facebook page and Flickr page. And don’t forget to share all those great original recipes on Food52.

Please take note – the final challenge will be announced November 1st. And the posting deadline will be December 15th. Also on November 1st, expect to hear about all the end of the year hullaballoo. TrufflePig, Kate Hill and the rest of our Grand Prize sponsors are finalizing all the plans.

Christiane Chapolard passes a plate of the family's charcuterie.

Making the Cut

My recent trip to Gascony provided a great education in the making of a perfect dried sausage. Sausage that is cured should be deeply flavored and redolent of the pig, its diet and the farm where it lived. Some sausages are heavily spiced and reflect the country of origin. But under all those spices, you want to taste excellent meat.

There is a critical difference between the meat we have available in the US and what is sold at the markets in France. The French serve up older meat. Older cattle. Older pigs (12 to 14 months, versus the 6-8 months here.) As animals age, the cellular structure changes; they grow and mature into muscled protein and flavor carrying fat. I tasted the proof. The older meat was porkier. The bevette was beefier. These meats had so much more flavor, texture and character.

Les Blondes d'Aquitaine beef - bevette, skirt steak, more. Butchery by Kari Underly.

This is one of the lasting lessons of Kate’s Camont kitchen. I hope to find a farmer who will raise a pig for me, and do so for a year. I’m going to talk to all my connections at the farmer’s market and see if I can spread the word. Which one of you will learn from Kate next March? I already envy you! The Grand Prize. It’s just a few weeks away.

Temperature and Humidity

At the Chapolard charcuterie shop, there is a serious looking machine serving as a curing chamber. In the first week, saucisse and sauccison seche are cured here, carefully monitored for temperature and humidity. After that first week, the sausages are placed in another cool, moist room to fully cure – an additional four to five weeks for the large saucisse – think slightly moist in the center salami – and five for the thinner saucisson seche – a kneaded sausage that is quite dry (seche) – another of their magical specialties.

What a proper curing chamber looks like. Also note how red the meat is. Older pig.

Most of us don’t have these great machines at home, so we must balance curiousity with caution. The recipes in Charcuterie all use curing salts, and that’s what will ensure food safety. We’re back to that pink salt debate, but it’s ramped up now – on to Cure #2. I encourage you to do your own research and decide for yourself about curing sausages and hanging whole cuts with or without these curing salts.

You may remember, back when we were curing pancetta, we learned the perfect conditions are in the 50-60°F range with 70% humidity. I wandered all through my house until I happened upon the right mix, and found the sweet spot in a decidedly unpicturesque corner of the garage. (No, we don’t park the car in there.)

Airflow is critical, so add a small fan if the space is not well ventilated. Up the humidity with a bowl of water. Check every day. Or, if you’re like me, several times a day.

Your best measure of the curing will be weight. Weigh the sausages or meat before hanging and then again after the recommended amount of time. You should expect about a 30% loss of weight when the cure is complete.

Super Sausages

When I was in college, one of my housemates came from a huge Italian family. His grandfather made (rather dreadful) wine, amazing tomato sauce in jars, and soppressata – what the family called Super Sausage. Every autumn, in that Pittsburgh row house dozens of sausages hung from the attic’s rafters, each filled with hand chopped pork and a secret blend of spices. I had never met anyone who did such a thing, but the memory has stayed with me. Now, I’m making super sausages of my own.

Before you rush into the recipes, read the introduction to Chapter Five – The Artist and the Sausage. Seriously. There is a lot of help there and important information about safety. This is hard core charcuterie -making salume – and you don’t want anything to go awry.

Grind the sausage using the large die. Gather the meat and spices together with your hands (or use the mixer.) I prefer to use my hands, as I’ve become familiar with the feeling when the meats are combined well, but still have some texture. Fill the casings well and completely, knotting twine between the sausages to finish.

Puncture the sausages all over using a sausage prick – DIY one with a wine cork and some sewing needles. Air pockets are not your friend, and these miniscule holes will help the air release from the sausages and keep the casing from wrinkling like a sharpei.

Then hang those beauties up to dry. It’s normal for an ashy mold to form on the outside of the sausage, but if the mold turns black, or is long and hairy, that’s a bad sign. Your temperature or humidity may not be conducive to curing in that spot. This is another reason to check on your babies every day.

Curing Whole Cuts

Whole pieces of meat hanging in the garage. It smells amazing in there. The dog walks through with his nose at 90° – looking for that smell, that lovely smell.

But be careful. Remove all the fat or you risk the fat going rancid before the meat cures. Be cautious with your curing temperatures. Airflow and ventilation are critical.  Trim up the whole cuts to make the pieces uniform, to ensure even curing. Wipe down the curing meat with wine or vinegar to keep mold at bay. Sloppy trimming means narrow ends may get overcured while the center of chubby pieces might not be fully cured. Obsessively weigh these curing meats to determine doneness. Don’t get complacent.

You may want to try a few different cuts of the pig and cow – there are so many options. I’m still mulling over a gorgeous little tenderloin of pork I tasted in France. It had been salted, lightly smoked and air cured for a little over two weeks. It was divine.

At Camont, and at the Chapolard farm, I became obsessed with Noix de Jambon, literally the nut of the ham. Les Grrls renamed them Jambons de Camont, in honor of Kate Hill’s hospitality and education. These little nuggets of smoked, cured ham are so darned delicious that I had to make them immediately upon returning home.

Cured in about three weeks, it’s a far quicker way to smoky ham flavor than the months to make old fashioned country ham or prosciutto. For this challenge, I ordered a half ham from Pam the Butcher at Wagshal’s. I intended to cut as many ham-ettes as possible, then grind the remaining scrap with freezer-finds – shoulder and belly scrap – to make Charcuterie’s saucisson sec and Dominique’s saucisse.

Beware the half ham. I should have asked more questions. I literally got the top half of the ham. My jambons were shorter and smaller, but still very tasty. In retrospect, I suppose I could have taken the whole ham and given the gift of meat for the holidays…

From half a ham, I cut four jambons, but only three were suitable for hanging. The fourth had been, in a word, butchered. The cure is short – only 48 hours – and the meat is well peppered before smoking and then air drying. It’s salty, spicy, smoky, silky, tender and chewy all at once. Heaven.

Here’s a little more genius from Gascony: When you find your cured meats have lost all moisture and are hard little nuggets in the back of the refrigerator drawer, use a microplane or a grater and shower saucisse goodness over salads, macaroni and cheese, soups, eggs or anything else you can think of.

Even after watching Dominique (twice!) and Camas skin, bone out and cut up a ham, I studied this video “How to cut fresh ham for noix de jambons” from Neal Foley (on Twitter, @PodChef) about ten million times before taking the first cut….

And don’t miss –
Hank Shaw’s Lonzino
Matt Wright’s Port and Fennel Pollen Salami

Charcutepalooza loves our sponsors. D’Artagnan , generously offering 25% off the meat-of-the-month. If you aren’t receiving your email with the secret code for Charcutepalooza members, register here. And the trip to France – an awesome grand prize deliciously designed by Trufflepig and Kate Hill at Camont. Love to Kinetic Web Solutions and @CreativCulinary who helps us navigate technology. And, Armagnac CASTAREDE, providing celebratory Armagnac to our Grand Prize winner’s party in Paris.