Sunday, December 27, 2009

Why Low? part 2.

This charcuterie shop was more of a specialty foods type of shop. It offered imported items from Italy like dry pastas, canned San Marzanos and a vast array of anchovies. It had a sweets section with lots of imported goodies. It had some various liquor bottles. It had a lot. Then I reached the front corner of the shop exposed to the outside by two walls of glass. Facing the inside of the store towards me was two long display cases of prepared foods. But it wasn't potato salad and macaroni & cheese. It was their charcuterie offerings including pork rillettes, salmon rillettes, chicken rillettes and duck rillettes.

But even though it was those rillettes that drew me there, it was all the pork based items that amazed and intrigued me. Patés (at least 6 kinds), fresh sausages, dried sausages, smoked sausages, smoked slab belly, lardons, city ham (jambon de paris) and lots of dried hams. At this point I was familiar with and fond of proscuitto. But to see so many others versions, only identifiable to me by there tags, sparked my interest even more. Proscuitto de San Daniel, Jambon de Bayonne, Jamón Ibérico, Jamón Serrano, Pata Negra, Bellota and more I can't even remember. These were all in the leg form, still on the bone and with the hoof still attached (except the proscuitto). They were sitting in these wood based cradles that held them in a position to be carefully shaved by hand to order. Those yet to be carved hung in the windows with their labels and their prices, always by the kilo, some hitting over €150 /kilo.

A couple months later while imbibing at a cidreria in Madrid I met a spaniard who enjoyed practicing his English so I asked what the difference was between the Ibérico ham and the Pata Negra, aside from the three-times-higher price on the Pata Negra. He simply said that the Pata Negra pigs are treated better than the farmers family. Unfortunately my time spent in Europe was under a budget, and while I would love to tell stories of Pata Negra sandwiches washed down with vintage wines and locally made ciders, I only had one opportunity to try the stuff. It was truly melt-in-your-mouth soft with an unbelievable nuttiness that I can't wait to try again. But I won't dwell on that! Mostly I enjoyed a serrano plate when I could. It simply means "mountain ham."

Back in France I did see that Paté de Campagne was rather affordable, and much to my delight, quite tasty. Especially with some fresh baguette and something vinagery like cornichons and/or mustard! I avoided reading the ingredients when offered, mostly because I was still somewhat picky and figured "why ruin a good thing?" I would go to the butcher or charcutier and try various sausages, patés, rillettes or whatever seemed interesting and affordable. While my friends were eating Chez McDo, I was grabbing a city ham and cheese crepe from the creperie or a paté baguette from the sandwich shop. When I wanted something hot I'd regularly grab a doner kebab, a Turkish type of gyro made from lamb and beef, shaved into a pita. But at least it wasn't McDonalds!

When I got back to the U.S., and after I caught up on most of my old favorites (chicken wings, fat steaks and the likes) I started to crave what I had enjoyed back in Europe. Some things could be found to a certain extent. Patés showing up at the French restaurants, dried hams at the super expensive specialty shops, or true bratwurst at the local German fest were always a nice find. But it was only occasional, not always fresh and almost always expensive.

I had begun to start researching recipes, techniques and histories online, in books and through other likeminded people. I learned that others were interested in, had experience with or were simply hungry to learn like I had been. And knowing that I wouldn't be stuck with lots of unused product in the freezer, I began to try things out myself. My first sausage to go through my KitchenAid attachment was a brat. My first cure was a bacon made from the belly of a locally bought pig. And my first big project was a dried ham, again from a local pig. The products I was using weren't anything special. It was fresh at least. It was central IL pork, raised on Corn/Soy feed, likely injected or fed some sort of medicine or hormones. But I couldn't afford to buy top quality products just to have to throw it away when something went wrong, kinda like my first moldy batch of pancetta.

A few years later I am still experimenting with variations of recipes I have already done, mastering some already successful items, buying recipe books like they're going out of style (some are out of print!), searching out others with a similar passion and quite simply loving every minute of it. So I figured why keep it all to myself and those who see me all the time? That's why I have decided to start documenting, photographing and sharing my adventures with all of you. Perhaps you never thought of a certain technique, perhaps you tried something I did and got a similar/better/worse result, perhaps you are googling at home and accidentally entered "pork" instead of "porn" or maybe, just maybe, you are just like me. Whatever the reason, thanks for stopping by. Sit back, click, and bon appetit.

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