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Archive for the ‘Nature’s Green Acres’ Category

Why I Need an Annual ‘Charcuterie Day’

11.25.13

Charcuterie Day - Sausage and Bacon It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that an annual ‘Charcuterie Day‘ marathon immediately following the annual ‘Pig Day‘ is in my future for a long, long time. Here’s why.

Bacon.

Beyond bacon [reason alone], I’m not concerned with the possibility of trichinosis in my extremely high quality bush-raised-and-handled-by-me pork and skipping right past freezing and into to curing and dry curing. Purists prefer this approach to frozen meats. I’m happy to have it an outcome of pragmatism. Having spent a few hours breaking down the pig, I have fresh in the brain a host of ideas for the delicious possibilities in front of me, and can save myself the following steps: bagging, butcher paper wrapping, hauling to freezer, energy required for freezing, taking it out to defrost, throwing out of packaging, handling of post-freeze sloppy wet meat [fresh is nicer to work with]. I also avoid the possibility of neglecting a cut deep in my freezer, and the worry of having to inventory it to figure out whether that is the case or not.

So I spent a relaxed 8 hour day putting it all up. Both entire sides of the pig went into various forms of bacon – some plain, some spiced with chili, white pepper [deep gratitude to John at Oyama Sausage for the hook-up], and fennel before getting hot smoked. No more ‘when are you going to make bacon again?’ from the family for this guy. It’s done. I also put up the 2 pig faces into guanciale, and a kilo or so of back fat into lardo. In this year’s case, I’d just shot a deer a week prior, so taking fresh deer trim and making 15lbs or so of best-I’ve-ever-made sausage with fresh pig belly seemed sensible. Salted a whole back leg for its long fate of air drying.

I acknowledge that it’s super handy to have cold storage that is my cellar setup to handle the volume of meats so that they’re not consuming my entire fridge. If that was required though, it’d be worth the bother. A big change for me is that I to finally caved on my ‘no energy input‘ purism about my wine/cider/charcuterie cellar and actually put a heater and humidifier in there to create the conditions necessary for dry curing. I’m going to say though [read: justify to myself] that the energy my humidifier and heater consume are a saw-off for the freezer energy, time, and packaging I won’t use for the dry cured items. So while I used to have a 2-3 month natural window [Jun-Aug] of optimal temp and humidity in my 6x6x8′ dry curing chamber, I’ll now have it rolling year round.  Gearing it up is a bit challenging as substantially all of what others have done and shared online relates to the constraints of a repurposed fridge. Still trying to figure out the best way to tweak out my space. A happy problem.

A reason NOT to do a ‘Charcuterie Day’ immediately post ‘Pig day’? It’s a busy time of year typically, and there are many another food thing to tend to. I’m over that one. Or perhaps you don’t have your own ‘Pig Day‘ to follow up. That, my friends, unless you have a religious/cultural justification, needs to be rectified.

Charcuterie Day - Venison Sausage

Episode 56 – Pig Day

10.17.12

Pig Day. This was my 5th annual pig day – the one day a year we spend putting up all the pork we’ll eat for the entire year. If we run out, one waits until the next pig arrives. This site is long enough in the tooth to have documented the 1st annual Pig Day. I’m sure it will document many more.

This one was particularly memorable. Twitter made me aware of rock-star-in-hiding Elyse Chatterton, a Master Butcher from the UK with some serious meat cutting skills. A half bottle of wine made me brave enough to invite her. After that, a number of invitations went out to friends, and we all of a sudden had a crew of 12 and 10 sides of Tamworth for 2012′s Pig Day – including the farmers that raised the pigs. A full day of sharing, cutting beautiful pork, hard work, eating, drinking, with the air wafting with wood smoke and conversation. Not sure there’s more one can ask for.

The video features Elyse talking through how she’s accustomed to breaking down a pork, UK-style, and Shannon Ruzicka speaking to how the pigs are raised. And yes there was some roast tying race action. And yes, she won with ease.

Episode 49 – Rge Rd 135

08.22.12

Last year’s Rge Rd 135 farm-to-table epic at Nature’s Green Acres [Episode 19] is still engraved into the minds of everyone that had the pleasure of being involved, making me more than slightly trepdatious at the prospect of trying to duplicate, nevermind top that farm-to-table extravaganza. But as far as I see it, they pulled it off.

Maybe I’m biased. It was a menu heavy on grass fed free-range meats, fresh garden veg and a splash of wild foods, all cooked on fire. I’m into that kind of thing. It also was the true maiden voyage of the 2nd cob oven build of the year, the first being mine. Add a lucky card-draw on the weather [again], a crew that busted their butts to make it happen, a few bottles of wine, a farm tour, and a few beautiful dishes for a large crew of happy guests – what’s not to like? The cob oven performed fabulously, I’ll add. It was a joy to watch it shed the last of its moisture from the build, get insanely hot, and cook some beautiful food. I wish I’d shot a video about the build, but was soaked to squishy-socks-in-my-shoes-stage and muddy as all heck.

This event is a labour of love, and for that I adore it.

Cob Oven Bacon

06.03.12

Writing about bacon. Again. Just when I thought there wasn’t anything additional to add to the conversation I have with myself here, there was something else to add. A simple conclusion: wood ovens are fantastic smokers. Different than a commercially manufactured smoker that generally involves automation, an element, and some wood chips, it still requires some finagaling in the way of fire management, making it an enjoyable creative process. Not only does it contain smoke as intensely as you’d like, it’s also well suited to creating smoke, as it’s easy to shut down its O2 supply such that it can’t ‘catch’ flame, and instead smoulders and smokes prolifically. I still maintain that an external fire source is critical to successful smoking, so I had a fire in an old baking pan off to the side to fuel the oven with heat when it started to cool off too much to hot smoke, or generate smoke at all for that matter. As usual, the wood of choice in my yard is apple wood, this time supplied by a friend at Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton. A future project of mine: many of the hundreds of trees OFRE has signed up for fruit rescue need some serious pruning + a local meat shop is interested in smoking their meats with said wood = cool.

So after years with a bbq conversion setup, and a year with a dry-stack brick setup, I am now pleased to be staring down a future of smoking in the new cob oven. A friend recently asked me if the honeymoon phase is over with the oven. Nope.

Episode 37 – Bacon

03.21.12

I’ve been writing about bacon for years now. As in, 6-7 years. I’ve made it umpteen times, yet there are always little refinements here and there to make in the process. You’d think I’d have run out of things to say about it too by now. Nope.

I feel like this episode should be rated ‘N’ for containing the evil ‘Nitrates’. But for all you nitrate haters, consider this: “the permissible amount of nitrate in comminuted meat products [sausages], is 1718 mg/kg.” The amounts of nitrates naturally inherent in vegetables are then quoted, again in mg/kg: “spinach, 1631. beetroot, 1211. lettuces, 1051. cabbages, 338. potatoes, 155…” The list goes on. I’m quoting the book ‘Meat Smoking and Smokehouse Design’ by respected charcuterie authors S., A., & R. Marianski. The authors then go on: “If one ate 1/4 lb smoked sausage, the ingoing nitrate would be 430ppm. That would probably account for less nitrates than a dinner served with potatoes and spinach.” 

That’s right. That box-store bagged spinach [which has a nasty history of carrying deadly pathogens, I'll add], cooked into a nice lasagna, would very likely have far more nitrates in it than a healthy portion of bacon. There are many things to fear in the food world, but let moderate use of nitrates not be one of them. And lastly, let me say it for the record: bacon without nitrates is not bacon, it’s pork belly. If you’re smoking pork belly without nitrates to get a ‘pretend bacon’ or ‘nitrate-free bacon’, you’re missing the point that nitrates are present to avoid you having a intimate encounter with ‘Mr. Botulism’.

Dry Cured Pig Face, Complete.

12.27.11

When we butchered pigs back in mid-October, one pig face was allocated to dry curing [details here], and today it came down from its hook in the cellar – 2 months later. I’ve successfully cured a number of jowls, and was keen to see how this one turned out as it lacked the slashes we’ve had from processor-butchered jowls, and I had also left cheek muscle, and other muscles in the preparation – you can see the dark cheek meat on the left. The simple conclusion is that it’s darned lovely, period.

I’ve admitted before that I’ll take a well made bacon over guanciale, generally speaking, but I’m certainly starting to see the appeal to this piece of charcuterie. The dry curing gives it some complexity and intellect that bacon can lack – bacon’s strength is pure hedonism, it’s not so much about the brains. The dry curing brings some mystery to the table – some light funk and earthiness. Some drama.

What to do with it? Lunch was fried lardons of dry cured pig face, onion, and tomato sauce – classic pasta all’Amatriciana, really. So tasty. I get why this dish is a classic – the dry cured pork has a chance to show its character. Of all dry curing, this one seems like a good bet if you’re thinking of trying your hand at it. Seems consistently successful and presents few challenges if any. Except maybe, for finding yourself a pig head in the first place.

From The Farmers’ Mouth – Time to Vote

12.21.11

My highlight reel of ‘From Local Farms‘ videos was just chosen by Daniel and Mirra of The Perennial Plate as a top-four contender in their recent video competition. I’m honored to be on the list, to say the least. The very reason I started a video series at all was directly because of Daniel and Mirra’s earliest episodes – inspiring me to pick up a cheap Flip camera, introduce myself to some farmers, and press some record button. My life, quite literally, has not been the same since.

So a big thank you goes out today to Daniel, Mirra, all the passionate farmers, and especially to you for taking the time to watch what other folks have to say about our food world. You plugging into and supporting projects like The Perennial Plate matters – it creates cracks in a food culture needing to evolve.

Please click over here to like the video on facebook, and vote for it too while you’re at it. If the vid wins the day, it will replace the regular programming of The Perennial Plate next Monday, exposing it to a very large viewership of like minded folks across many borders. That would be very cool. Even if it doesn’t, big thanks to Daniel and Mirra for your support of what I’m up to and sharing your audience.

Dry Cured Ham Report

11.29.11

Pulled this piece of dry cured pork from the cellar this morning as it was feeling decently firm after 1 month of hanging, still showing a bit of give. Kicking myself for not weighing these so I could measure by % weight loss – I’ve purchased some tags that neatly fit on my cellar hooks to label my charcuterie now, so weights will go on there in the future. Wrote about cure day here. Wrote about mold-innoculation day here. Some thoughts:

I’m thinking this could have stayed in the cure longer pre-hanging. It could stand a bit more salt. It’s extremely delicate in flavour, super-clean overall – almost so much so that I was wanting a lick of smoke or something else in there to pick it up a bit. The texture’s fine, albeit a little uneven – you can see the harder dry edges vs the softer interior. I’m guessing a few days in the fridge would help even that gradient out. I noticed too that when cut, the piece showed air pockets within the muscle. Rather counterintuitive as you’d think the muscle would firm up uniformly, but makes the case for me for why these pieces are normally tied tight. The collagen casing worked fine – clung to the meat well, allowed things to dry well [another counterintuitive item - wrap something tight in order to dry it..], and was easy to peel back pre-slicing.

I think my P. Nalgionvense mold struggled in the cold environment that is my winter cellar – a mere 6C at the moment. I’m guessing if it were up around 10C or higher, the mold would have had a better time. I’ve recently cut a 4″ vent hole through my cellar wall into the adjacent room to hopefully be able to warm it up a bit in the winter, and add some ventilation in general. I haven’t found it’s impacted my humidity or temp greatly which was a bit of a surprise, as on the warm side you can feel the cold air drawing through: evidence that it is indeed exchanging air.

I’ve hung this piece back in the cellar to dry up just a bit more, and it’s time to go take out another piece to try. I’m going to be going on a rather extensive run of experiments over the next while, as there’s a very good chance our local culinary school will be building a first-of-its-kind-in-Canada charcuterie program in the near future, which I’ll be involved in. The more projects and learning and I can cram into the next few months before the first intake of students, the better. In fact, I’ve got a very inexpensive side of local pig arriving here in the next few days to play around with, and I’m looking forward to seeing where that leads.

Playing with Mold & Dry Cure Update

11.05.11

I started the cure on these ham cuts here. They were cut from the rear side of the ham, and post cure I decided that rather than stuff it into a bladder as is traditional with Italian Fiocco, I’d cut it in half and stuff it into some 61mm protein-lined clear casing I had on hand for making saucisson sec. They both fit into a single 24″ casing, which I cut into two pieces. I seemed to recall someone online mentioning soaking the casings pre-stuffing, and I can attest to it making stuffing far easier. Tied the casings with kitchen string, wishing I had splurged on a pair of pliers to put wire clips on the ends.

They were hung overnight in the cellar at 8.3C and 50% RH, which is both too cold and too dry. The humidity’s on its way up though, as I’ve reintroduced the bucket of water with wick for the winter. The hanging meats will also help bring it up. Last winter it was up in the 70% range.

This morning, I got to play with Penicillium Nalgionvense for the first time. Frustratingly, it’s yet another charcuterie product that is locally unavailable, so I had to buy it from the US. I’ve had a concerning lack of healthy white molds in my cellar over the past few months, so I’m reintroducing some desirable molds to see how it works out. The photo below shows how much [1/8 tsp in a ramekin of tepid water] I used, let it soak overnight, then applied it in the morning in a fashion similar to basting meats in a fry pan with the cooking fat. Spooned it on, coating the whole thing a couple times over. I’m extremely curious to see how long it takes to bloom and do it’s thing. I’ll post an update on the mold development and finished product over the coming weeks.

Abstinence & Seasonal Eating

11.02.11

Abstinence. As I get older I find the concept more and more intriguing.

I went through a stage of enjoying posh wines quite frequently. After some time, it took more and more to impress as posh wines became the norm. I found my enjoyment of them decreased, and it took more and more awesomeness to impress. Having noticed this taking place, I majorly backed away from posh wines, and now I find I enjoy them more when they do make an appearance. They’re special again. They’re not the norm. They make a moment special as a nice wine should.

Eating seasonally is forced abstinence, and I’m increasing grateful for it. Today’s example is lard. I haven’t had lard in the house since last year’s was all used up. That means that I haven’t had a tart, fruit pie, meat pie, in some time. Which makes having one again far more enjoyable than were I to always have it available. It’s a treat, rather than the norm.

The garden provides far better examples – we eat asparagus in May/June, and that’s it. Some people think that’s hardcore. I see it as sensible – eating the item when it’s fresh and local, then abstaining until it’s in season again. It’s an awfully good thing there are other lovely things to eat than just asparagus, and I’ve found that the year is a slow evolution of palette of foods coming into their own. When asparagus season returns, we’re eating it at its best which makes it tasty, but we’ve also not had it in ages which makes it that much more of an event. It’s not ‘everyday’. This forced abstinence seems to inject my life with loads more ‘special moments’ with food than before, that end up tied to time and place. In a sense, it’s largely what I set out to achieve in changing our family’s food culture.

Absence [and abstinence] does make the heart grow fonder. I’m convinced.