I Heart Australia: Finding France Down Under


I found myself saying this over and over during the last two weeks-I heart Australia. And this is why.

Over the last two weeks,  Christiane and Dominique Chapolard and I traveled the Victorian Countryside visiting farms, towns and markets. We came to meet some former students, make some new friends, and learn a little about life with pigs down under.  The French Pig Workshops, farm chats and special lunches and dinners were shared with over 50 people-farmers, butchers, charcutiers and chefs. That would have been reward enough with new found energy for the sort of Seed-to-Sausage gospel we preach. But best of all was traveling the two lane roads lined with ghostly reaching eucalyptus trees from farm to homestead to charming gold rush villages and meeting people on their home turf-that vast sky over an end of summer golden, gum-forested landscape called Australia.


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Meet Mr. & Mrs Jonas of Jonai Farms. Jonai Farms spills down a slope of open fields edged in eucalyptus trees with a view of the paddocks and pastured farmland from the Moonrise Porch. Tammi and Stuart Jonas and their three bright and welcoming kids shared their home, their table and along with their their Large Black pigs hosted our first ever French Pig workshop in Australia. They generously offered their farm and life over a long weekend that stretched to just one more ample biscuits-and-gravy breakfast before we left. 

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Looking at France …from afar and from within.


This timeless scene- the Basque charcutier Pierre Oteiza and a table of French fans.

I had thought I would write a post about my  trip to the Salon d’Agriculture in Paris last week. You could call it the largest Producer’s market in France. Then I read David’s great photographic account on his blog here; I bow to his alacrity and fabulous pictures!  But before you take a stroll through the Pavillion #7 with David, Susan and I (and we only made it through one part of the amazing farm show!) think about this. This is what I see from within France. 

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Australian Pigs with A French Accent… French Pig Workshops in OZ

Come watch a French Pig Fly… to Australia!

We are super excited to announce that we are packing The French Pig Butchery & Charcuterie Workshop bags for a round-the-world jaunt to Australia, Melbourne and Brisbane areas, for workshops, dinners and special events from Gascony in Southwest France into the kitchens, farms, and butcher shops of Australia- March 14th to 19th, 2014. 


How to make a ham… French style or meet the Jambon de Bayonne IGP

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10 kilogram fresh pork leg & pure salt from Salies de Bearn

They say it takes a village… to do a lot things- raise a child, train a dog, create a civilization. In my corner of SW France, it takes this village to make a ham. Not just any ham, but the IGP  (geographically protected) Jambon de Bayonne*.  I happened to be passing by with a ham-driven student, so we stopped to make a ham with the rest of the village for their annual Fête du Cochon. I saw the link for the village celebration on the Pyragena site while looking for scientific information on curing charcuterie. (That’s what I do when I am not rebuilding barns and refitting barges.)  When I spotted a notice at the bottom of the page that the villagers (and any passers by) were invited to come and salt cure your own ham at the amazing new ham house, I was in!   


Beside the Englishman and me, there were only a few bereted men and one French housewife waiting in white overcoats, hair nets and blue booties. These ‘early birds of Arzacq’  wanted to be the first to make the first batch of public ham that day. We were escorted into the inner sanctum of stainless steel and gleaming white walls by the technical team responsible for transforming 1000 hams a week and to discover the marriage of a farmhouse tradition to a modern technical plant.  Although the boar’s share of the production is a high-quality entry level created under the Consortium de Jambon de Bayonne’s guidelines, the facilities also salts and cures, dries, ages and refines artisan produced hams as well as personal hams. And this is where we fit in.


I had visited the facility before with students discovering some of the finer points of making a French ham in a modern plant that was designed to mimic the traditional flow of charcuterie making: from winter slaughter and salting to spring drying under windy dry skies, to warm summer aging and maturing. Although I extol and celebrate the small producer and artisan farmstead charcuterie, it is important to keep your eye on the larger scale as well. As Dominique Chapolard always says, “Tout seul, tu meurs“- in other words you can’t live and work alone. In the agricultural world of rural Southwest France, working in community- sharing equipment, running slaughterhouses and direct sales and marketing is critical element in financial and lifestyle choices. At the Consortium de Jambon de Bayonne, they have managed to keep a pulse on a growing global market (Jambon de Bayonne in the USA soon!) while preserving local traditions and supporting a broad local farming community.  This means a large community of small pig farmers, approx 1500 farms, can supply 50+ charcutiers to create recognized global brand.


So what about our own personal hams? After massaging and then salting my 10-kilo ham, it was placed alongside the dozen other early bird hams on salted racks. By the end of the day several dozen village hams would be wheeled into the refrigerated rooms for a a dozen days to cure. After that, they will cycle through the man-made seasons drying in a foehn inspired wind, then aging quietly in the dark until they are deemed ready to eat. In 10 months or so, I’ll take a little 2-hour road trip to pick up my ham and bring it home to hang alongside my XL Chapolard hams at Camont secure in knowing that the village of Arzacq has lived up to it’s promise to share their Jambon de Bayonne with the world.

Making hams requires patience, So while my ham is curing under a careful eye a few hundred kilometers south of here, I’ll continue to share these ham centric tidbits with you. Want to discover Ham heaven for yourself? check out my next Spring Basquelandia Road Trip here.

Here are a few more process pictures of that leg of fresh pork becoming a fine Jambon de Bayonne.


After salting for a day a kilo, the hams are moved into a drying chamber for 2 months.


Next they are ‘woken up’ from their cold deep sleep and moved to a warmer drier environment to continue drying.


Once they reach at proper weight loss they are covered with a protective layer of fat and left to mature and develop the characteristic rich flavors of hamness. IMG_9515

The sweet salty thin slices of Jambon de Bayonne marry perfectly with the orange scented madeleine. A Gascon breakfast en route.

*Jambon de Bayonne is a PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) European product. This means traditional salt-cured and air-dried hams cured within the designated area from pigs grown in that area and fed on cereal and other food grown in that same area- Southwest French Hams.  This isn’t a plug for the brand or type of ham, it’s an abashedly effusive love letter to the good people at the Maison de Jambon and Pyregena research station that opens it doors one weekend a year so that the villagers ( and few daring strangers- see photographs) can see for themselves what makes a Jambon de Bayonne. This is transparency at its most neighborly form. How many charcutiers and butchers share all their backstory with the public?







Let’s talk about charcuterie and how to learn to make it


I am looking at four students at the end of four weeks and one happy French farmer/butcher/teacher. These are the faces of accomplishment and I am proud that we help get them there. Can you picture yourself here? Working with year-old XL pigs (400 lb.), only salt and black pepper as seasoning, and the simple low-tech solutions to curing.

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In 2014, we have just two four-week programs scheduled: one in May, one in November. If you are thinking of creating a charcuterie business, incorporating direct sales, farmer’s markets, and added value products from your farm, or want to authenticate and improve your charcuterie skills with some classic French savor-faire, then think about joining us. This year we will be working in the new BarnKitchen at Camont- a 600 sq ft workshop teaching space including a built in charcuterie curing cabinet, outside smoker, canning station, and 8 burn professional range. There is limited space available; just 6 students at a time. Only 12 students per year.

eric showing lepoa

This year we will adding a week of advanced studies in the Basque Country in making salt-cured, air-dryer ham and working with heritage breed pork- Kintoa and Black Gascon pigs.  This study is on site on a farm in the Pyrenees and in the abattoir and workshops of the Jambon de Bayonne producers.

aldudes pig walk

There are also a couple of one week introduction programs- a sort of “how to” basic that covers pork, duck and other farm poultry as well if you just want a taste of and overview of how we turn animals to meat to preserved food. For more information and how to sign up for our Butchery & Charcuterie programs just click here: http://kitchen-at-camont.com/programs/charcuterie/


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The House of the Golden Yolk


It starts here on Christmas Day with the hatching of 5 new Muscovy ducklings by two attentive Maman Ducks. Wrapped up in the gentle peeping, the warning hissing, and the sweet fluffy down, I wasn’t prepared for my two ace mother ducks to start laying again, so soon. This time I decided to practice birth control for my feathered girls and collect the fresh eggs as they lay them, one or two a day. Like clockwork. The results this last week have been a bounty of golden pound cakes, creamy cheese cakes and delicious crêpes to share with my newly returned Team Polska as they work on the Barn works renovation.  A happy remedy for all.


Duck egg shells are thick and difficult to crack. The yolks are deep orange; the whites are dense and more viscous than the hens eggs. They weigh between 60-80 grams each. I can easily make a pound cake with 3-4 of them, a flan or cheesecake with 2, or just enjoy a last minute omelette-for-one at lunch with one big duck egg.


The simple recipe for a classic French pound cake-a quatre-quatre- is made with equal parts egg, butter, flour and sugar. Weigh the eggs, then using that as your measure, weigh each of the other three ingredients. I added a teaspoon of baking powder… and a shot of armagnac. Was it delicious? IMG_8658Oui!

You can make one yourself with good fresh farm hens eggs, too. I’d start with 6 hen eggs to get enough batter to fill the pan. I whisked the eggs and sugar, slightly melted the butter until soft enough for me to beat it in by hand, then mixed in the flour and baking powder. I stirred the armagnac in at the end after I tried it to make sure it was still good. It was.

I baked it in a moderate oven at 160’C or about 325’F for as long as it needed, I set the timer for 30 minutes, then another 15, and another. I just kept looking and testing it until it was done. My oven is pretty good, but it’s probably different from yours, so learn to watch, pay attention and test your food when baking. All in all, a pound cake usually takes an hour to an hour-and-a-half to cook. You can test it with a knife, skewer or broom straw. When it comes out clean, it is done. And the house smells amazing!


The winter days are good for a lot of slow things. Thinking. Reading. Writing. Making big plans!  And baking. Today I added another twist on my standard cheesecake- apples and the duck eggs, of course. Tomorrow, maybe some dumplings for a cabbage soup. You don’t have too work to hard when the raw materials you have are this good. To make these recipes, start with a couple ducks I think I’ll just rename Camont- the House of the Golden Yolk.


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In the dark kitchen…lightly.


Waking on winter mornings, mild as they have been this year-2014, is a lesson in stealth. I come downstairs quietly to wake not sleeping sister nor snoring beast. The outside critters of Camont are still in the dark and so unless I flush the toilet, the cats remain cozied in the piggery. The chickens and ducks are still tucked inside their coop.

It’s only mid-January. It is too early to be awakened by singing birds, although I think this year Spring comes early. There are garden signs that point the way- those early daffodils by the gate, new kale sprouts taking hold, old garlic rooting. It won’t be long before the seeds, sprouted in the cold frame Jill made last year, will find their new home turf.

Jill came from heaven. It seemed so anyway. And in her time here endeared herself to all- butchery boys, spoiled cats, and especially me. A plan for a new potager grew in her head and materialized in a short 6 weeks. She kept notes, drew charts, made lists and worked; built, shoveled and moved a mountain of sand and gravel. When it is in full flower, leafy green and sprouting, you will see the genius of walking just outside the kitchen door to pluck a bowl of leaves for supper, seasoning a pot of soup from the pathway, or grazing a handful of berries from a bench under the almond tree.  Jill looked long and hard at Camont-how I work, where we live, and why the path needs to connect the purpose with the deed. The wood pile with the cheminée.

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So I wake in a dark kitchen, grateful for the hot embers that remain. Lighting the fire has been reduced from a chore to a magician’s trick. Heating with wood, eminently gratifying, can also be pain on cold stove mornings. I have now learned the rhythm of my stove and wood, bringing in two days worth to dry, really dry, before use so that the morning fumble, before the coffee rites (Morning Ritual #2) is done in silence. Another gift from Jill.

Once the stove is stoked and the coffee steeped, my small dark 18th Century cave joins a world awake by time zone measures around the internet globe: a young chef just getting off shift in Boston posts her favorite dishes of the night, a West Coast photographer sharing a visual journal of #gratitude, an editor in Australia reminding me that the moon rises and sets in opposition to side of the world. Our own French seasons will turn soon enough. Just now, the blue grey day backlights the curtain over the door. Sounds vibrate through old stone walls and creaky floors. Roosters crow, cats knock on the door and sleeping dogs snort. How can a day start better?


Thank you Instagram!



Gascony Souper Club

In Gascony, “souper” is the verb used to describe the act of eating. Supping. Having supper. Dining.

But when my good friend Vétou says, ‘ On soupe beaucoup ici“, she really means we eat a lot of soup here.  Lunch and dinner. Home, cafe, and restaurant. Even when the menu du jour  says 3-courses, it almost always includes a potage before the starter, main and dessert. Since the very act of supping-originally broth poured over bread or sopping, it’s not strayed far for that here in the rural kitchens of Gascony.


If you’ve been followed my ham-centric ramblings in the Basque Country (check the #hamheaven link above or here on just look a the pretty pictures on Instagram) you will have seen lots of shots of soup. Basically at every meal that This Little Piggy and I ate. Like this garbure served above. Or this garbure served at the Taxidermy Cafe below.


Soup is a state of mind and takes over my kitchen, not so much a function of the weather, rather as a way of bringing that happy still life of amazing good local produce together with salty bits of charcuterie, succulent confit de canard and handfuls of beans, rice or lentils.

My favorite Gascon way ‘to soup’ is to rub a warm toasted slice of sturdy pain au levain with a clove of raw garlic, then place it in the bottom of the soup plate. Ladle lots of broth and vegetables over, douse with some vinegar or even a splash of red wine, and then sip, sup, souper beaucoup.

We eat the beefy broth from Pot au Feu separately before the meat and vegetables, the golden bouillon from the Poule au Pot served with some dumpling or other, and the duck rich broth made with a carcass or two as my cassoulet beans are cooking. All these classic meals start with the soup.

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This homemade ham hock simmered with a few whole carrots, an onion and some thyme. Vetou and I didn’t need much else to make this a festive friendly lunch.  A glass of Cotes de Gascogne wine.

Want to know how I make good soup? Take a look at this picture below taken by Tim Clinch as we were shooting for our Cassoulet app.  It’s a table full of fresh winter produce straight from the farmers market. One can buy all the cookbooks and apps you want, but THIS is where real inspiration comes from.

2012-12-02 14.27.54My Soup de Camont in three easy steps:

  1. Fill a 4 liter/quart pan 3/4 full of peeled, chopped or whole fresh seasonal vegetables.
  2. Add a chunk of charcuterie, a few bones, or poultry carcass plus salt, pepper, bay, thyme, and parsley (lovage, celery, fennel, etc)
  3. Add just enough cold water to cover the vegetables. place over a medium high heat, cover, and cook for 1 hour.

For more inspiration from my Recipes link above:



Make Soup Happen !

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What makes good Ham? Reflections on the Pig.

three legged pig cookie

Remember that old joke about the three legged pig? there are thousands of variations here, here and … here.

I can’t help but think of this peg-legged guy whenever I hear conversations about making charcuterie. Why eat a pig this good all at once? More like why eat a pig that’s not good at all? or not ready for the table.

Students come to my program in Southwest France to learn, refine, hone and expand their traditional butchery & charcuterie skills. The dense and chewy intensive four weeks of discovery has many different layers. Some of it is about the ‘foreignness’ of being in France- different language, different food, rhythms, continuity of the food arts, philosophies, etc. Southwest France is charmingly beautiful, old world rural landscapes and stone villages; a renaissance chateau here, a medieval fort there. Some of it is how the more things change, the more they stay the same. But most people (ok, almost all) fall in love with the friendly people they meet- the Chapolard family in particular. We work with them on the family farm as they turn their home grown pigs, 8 to 10 a week,  into amazingly delicious charcuterie. When our students/visitors/guests/friends leave to go home, I hope they also take this one extra souvenir with them. That three legged pig that was too good to eat… too soon.

Beyond the techniques, technical curing rooms,  family recipes, the amount of salt and pepper (14 grams salt + 2 grams peppers per kilo), no nitrates, a little smoke, a lot of black pepper, the old stone cheminées, the folklore, the romance (on a pig farm? mais oui!), the long delicious lunches, and the frenchness of it all, there is one basic thing that I will never stop reminding them about- that pig. That Big French Pig.

jenn & ham (1 of 1)

The French call them porcs lourds or heavyweights. They weigh between 180-200 kilos (400 lbs +). They are 10-15 months old. They are adult pigs. The meat from these XL pigs is deep red, well-structured and flavorful. Some are rare breeds like the Black Gascon, the Basque Kintoa, or the standard farmer’s breed- Large white, Duroc and Pietrain. They eat well-balanced diets of wheat, barley, oats, corn and feverole. Some are pastured, some are forested and some are reared indoors. There are as many different details here as farmers just like in the US, UK or Australia. However there is ONE BIG difference.

Most pigs destined for good charcuterie-traditional, artisan, delicious charcuterie- are raised until they are a minimum of 10-11 months sometime as long as 15 months. These mature pigs produce a meat quite unlike their youngster cousins that are the standard ‘other white meat’ across the western world. By comparison the meat from pigs slaughtered at 5-6 months, no matter what their breed, diet or how they are ‘finished’, is a flimsy excuse for something our ancestors cured with salt, smoke and spices to get them through the year. I call this ‘veal pork’. It might taste good grilled, sautéed, or roasted, but it has no place in a curing cabinet. I have yet to meet an artisan charcutier here in France that slaughters pigs so young. That is reserved for the industrial side of meat handling.

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Charcuterie transforms fresh meat into a shelf stable product. It’s damn near impossible to do it with consistent results with pigs that are slaughtered too young. “A pig normally doesn’t reach maturity until it gets all its permanent teeth at 1 1/2 year  old*”. “Most pigs are fully grown by the time they are three years old, but some pigs will keep growing until they are four or five years old. Generally speaking, pigs live for about 10-15 years.’**   Following the industrial standards on a homesteader or artisan charcutier level seems a shame. This is where we have a chance to do it right and take the time to do it right.

The reason i am writing this is that I was dismayed to see in one discussion prompted on a facebook group of charcuterie fans that some folks thought it was okay to ‘practice’ on factory pork so you can make mistakes with a spending a fortune. I don’t get it. How does one learn to do anything well working with poor or inferior materials. I have witnessed the daily curing of thousands of pounds of pork over the last several years and there were no mistakes. No mistakes because classic techniques were followed carefully, respect for the raw material was foremost and the meat itself was of superior quality. The farmers didn’t raise a few sloppily fed and carelessly slaughtered pigs to practice on. It was the fruit of their hard labor for 28 months. This is how i want my students to learn. From good people raising good animals and making good charcuterie. The Chapolard farm is not a storybook farm; it is, however, a very sustainable, prosperous well-respected farm.

I still have a lot to learn. I am thinking these days a lot about the scale of pig farming and how it can be profitable for all the participants. There are many interesting good models out there. I am lucky working here with Dominique Chapolard and his brothers. I believe that for the home cook, weekend meat warrior or small holder it is worth trying to work with the best product you can find. I have great faith in small farms trying to create better raw material and not starve. 


Having cured a lot of small goods over the years here at Camont, I only just made my first big commitment- a full air-cured (using salt only) traditional jambon- a whopping 20 pounds at finished weight having cured, dried and aged for a total of 12 months. It is a good ham. Would I have had such a good result with an inferior leg of pork? I doubt it. And then I would have had to eat the darn thing. Instead, I will slice my way through my  ‘Birthday Ham’ and share it happily with friends and students. It really is delicious.

So when the conversations come around to making charcuterie based on respect for the animal, how about we let the little teenagers mature a bit more and develop the flavor and structure needed to produce a superior traditional product. Now about those other three legs…

*http://ori.hhs.gov/education/products/ncstate/pig.htm   **http://www.kidcyber.com.au/topics/farmpiggies.htm



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