Spring is fast upon us. I have been feeling the frenzy for a week or two now. To that end I want to share with you a novel I have been reading over the end of winter. A story which, to some extent is about Spring and certainly captures it’s frenzy.

Joy of Man’s Desiring by Jean Giono is an excellent read. It is what might be termed an “agricultural novel”. Not quite about farming and agriculture, but enough to stir this farmer’s heart and certainly set and populated by rural agrarians living on the land. This novel, set in France, written by an amazing French author captures so much of what’s been in my heart this winter I felt I had to share it with any of you interested in a great tale of people and the land.

Lets face it…. life has been more than a little complicated for me in the past year. The break up of my 21 year marriage, separation and divorce. The loss of my farm and bakery job. Trouble finding work and finding the soul mate I’ve been looking for my whole life, only to realize that for both of us, the pain of divorce is still too fresh and uneasy to have the relationship we both desire, has all been more than a little daunting.

So why then, when faced with job loss, the high cost of traveling to a new job half-way across the state, emotional upheaval, the new reality of child support payments and debt from setting up a new life….why would I go spend $100 for what will amount to a few days worth of groceries? Because it was the right thing to do.

Let me explain. I have a freezer full of self-raised meat and frozen vegetables. I have home canned goods and a pantry full of spices and herbs. I roast my own coffee and thereby only pay $5 a pound. I eat very little on the whole. Today I bought some bread, rice, barley, a bunch of bananas, an avocado, some salsa, two chocolate bars, some paper towels, some toilet paper, kitty litter, some smoked salmon, some salad mix and some cheese. This is enough for a while for one man. I will readily share it with my friend and her boys, or anyone who stops in around meal time. Almost all of the groceries I bought today were organic. A couple of the items were produced locally—the wild smoked salmon and the bread. I shopped at the Good Tern Coop, of which I am a working member. By which I mean, I volunteer there 1.5 hrs a month and receive a 15% discount on all my purchases for the month. They in turn support many local farmers and businesses. I bought the remainder of my purchases from a regional grocery chain, but kept my purchases there to the minimum to keep my money in the community as much as possible.

I am not affluent. I don’t have independent means. I work hard for every dime I have to spend. I choose to purchase food this way and support the local economy because it is the right thing to do. As much as possible by keeping true to principles, no matter what life-circumstances surround us, we make the world a better place. By knowing the value of food and ingredients, by buying whole foods, and by regulating what I eat—keeping it healthy, balanced and minimal—I can afford to spend wisely and ethically. I also happen to shop two times a week. I buy bulk foods when it makes sense, in order to have plenty and take advantage of discounts. But I also buy fresh foods in a smaller quantity so there is less waste if I don’t get to using it before it would spoil. By minimizing waste and cooking to reflect the seasons and what needs to be used from the freezer, pantry or fridge I gain more value from the food I spend my money on. By buying organic, local foods I support my neighbors and eat healthy so my down-time from illness and malaise is reduced and I am a happier, more productive person.

Just because life throws shit at us once and awhile should cause us to put our shoulder to the wind and keep our determination to be who we are and do what is right. The less we let external things bother us, those things we cannot change or alter, the more we are empowered to keep fighting the good fight. In the words of Goethe, “I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or de-humanized. If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.”

I hope you will join me in an avocado & smoked salmon sandwich…..

New Workshop!

As a follow-up to our successful French Butchery Workshop from a few years ago we are hosting another!  You can read more about the Two Day Event here. We will be holding at the farm in our new Bakery Space. You can read more about what to expect by having a look back at the archives from my trip to Gascony, working with the Chapolards, and preparing for the previous workshop.

If you are interested in the workshop, don’t delay! There are only 10 spaces and we are expecting them to fill up fast!

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Midwinter Update

Well….it appears this blog has been out of action for far longer than I realized. Something happened which prevented it from being seen by the world at large and I haven’t had much time to fix it. That is, until today. It has finally gotten up to 20 degrees today, but the wind is vicious. It is expected to get down below 0 tonight and I have been keeping the new gasification wood boiler loaded against the chilly blasts outside. It has been nice to sit in the farmhouse kitchen and get some much needed indoor work done, even though it is beautiful outside and the woods & horses beckon…..

So much has been going on here I hardly know where to start. Perhaps I will post a photo essay soon. Meanwhile there are big things afoot here at the farm, I will post more about this soon!

Once again, I apologize if you’ve come here in the past months looking for a post or to read what’s been going on. Summer faded into Autumn into Winter with out much time to rest, think or blog. I am hoping that will change this year. Many of the larger projects and repairs to the farm are well underway, leaving more time to focus on growing our ethos. This year is looking to be once more big adventure farming in Maine.


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Higgery Piggery

2011 Piglets My life of late seems to be one random event after another. In the past 4 days I have sorted out a means of boiling maple syrup, bought 10 piglets, turned out for a tense fire call, moved a shed frozen to the ground out of my driveway, and processed ducks and rabbits which I am now turning into terrines. I have also—in my spare time—been preparing for our Cochon & Charcuterie Workshop. The first, unofficial, day of the workshop actually begins tomorrow with the slaughter of two pigs. The owners of the pigs will be assisting me in the killing, scalding, scraping and eviscerating of the pigs. Later in the day we will be making Boudin & Patés with the fresh offal.

And now, very much a case of out with the old, in with the new…as we say good bye to the last of the pigs we’ve been raising all year, I have installed 10 new piglets in the barn. The will be inside until the snow clears and the mud ends. They I will move them out onto pasture for the next 6 months, eventually moving them into the orchards to clear up the windfalls before winter. This should put us in a great position to have pork ready for autumn sales and a pig or two for Porkshop. Can’t wait.

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Clear That Calendar

Photo by Kate Hill

Photo by Kate Hill

So you’ve bought the book, the cultures, the pink salt, the expensive free-range, organic, provenanced meats, and now you are contemplating the brine injectors, smoke house, wine-fridge curing chamber and all the other gizmos, equipment, toys and goodies your new found love of meat suggests to you. You’ve invested in all the paraphernalia, but haven’t you forgotten to invest in the most important thing–yourself & your skills?

In my last post I detailed my Carpe Diem moment. There was no second guessing, really. Sure, I did the whole, “Let me check my calendar” thing. Putting it off, hoping the decision would be made for me. Hoping that somehow, this thing I was burning to do would resolve itself, that funds would be available and that a window of time would magically open for me. And then I took a deep breath. I realized that, truthfully, there is “no time like the present.” That the opportunity offered to me, to travel to France and study with two masters of their craft, would not be available to me again for a long time and that it was now….or never. I made the time to do something that was important to me, and what I am about. I cleared my calendar. Not an easy thing to do with a family, two dairy cows, pigs, chickens, ducks, sheep and a fire department who rely on me being around at least part of the time during the week. In order to take advantage of this “now or never” opportunity I had to bow out of two nights of a semi-important class, knowing I will have to work harder to make up the lost time. I had to miss an important business meeting for the fire department I volunteer with, and I had to screw up a podcasting schedule I am trying desperately to stick to. Not only was my schedule interrupted, but my ducking out for 10 days meant that everyone at home had to pick up the slack. I am truly blessed with a fantastic family.

Photo By Kate Hill

Photo by Kate Hill

Now, I went on this mission for a reason. To learn. To improve my skills and to gain as much information as I could in the short time I had. I went, so I could be better at what I love to do. Not only have my skills increased, but my confidence, my knowledge of farming and cooking practices increased, and I have a greater appreciation for different foods. I could easily have read  about most of this, watch a few YouTube videos, and followed a few blogs. But, nothing beats being there in person and observing all the little things, the nuances. I have stuffed miles of sausage casing, but nothing made me feel more like being in kindergarten than being corrected by Bruno Chapolard as I tired to operate their pneumatic stuffer while stuffing both Boudin Noir & Saucisson. For me, doing is being. I learned more than I have even come to terms with, and as I sort it all out, look through my notes and remember I realize over and over that my little jaunt was well worth it.

Now, here’s really what this post is about. I’ve been trying to promote the workshop at my farm that we created while I was in Gascony. I firmly believe that working with Dominique Chapolard—heck, even just observing how he works, moves and uses his skills—has made me better at what I do. I wanted to bring that back with me. Instead, I’ve brought Dom back, and Kate Hill too to help us all understand. I want to share my experience in whatever small way I can. But as I try to promote the workshop I keep getting people telling me that they’re “checking their calendar” or “thinking about it”, “Looking into the possibility”. But I am here to say, from experience, that as soon as those words come out, it is almost too late. Perhaps it is my fault.

Photo By Kate Hill

Photo By Kate Hill

Perhaps I am not getting the message across that what we are offering here is an amazing one of a kind experience. It’s not every day that we can get a French butcher & Charcutier to come to the US to divulge his skills and secrets. Perhaps I’m not getting across the value of what we are offering. Three for the price of one. Three experts together in one place for a full day workshop with food, beverage and unlimited question opportunity. Two farmers, Three cooks, really. Dominique and I know a bit about raising pigs. He, I and Kate all know a smidge about cooking with them and using every part. We could have a blast ourselves breaking down a pig and cooking up a storm. Why not join in? Paint yourself into the party and we’ve got an awesome event. Come the day before an I will be walking a few folks through taking the pig from trough to terrine, using the fifth quarter to make Boudin Noir and a few other treats. Perhaps I haven’t been clear enough about all of this. My bad. So far, a few lucky people have taken the plunge. They will get to see and taste my passion—raising quality, mature, flavorful pork. They might even get to taste some duck or rabbit as well, just to balance things out a bit. As of this writing there are a very few places left. All of the emails I sent out, with the vague replies I’ve received will leave their writers chagrined when they don’t get a spot at the butcher’s table. Check your calendar now, then clear it and come join us. If you are at all inclined, then you should be here, with us.

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Talking Dollars and Sense

DSCF0180 Back in December, during Duckfest, the seed had been planted….”Why not come to Gascony and study, if you have some time?” I pushed the thought off, thinking of where I could possibly come up with the money, how the chores would get done—in short, how could I possibly escape my everyday reality and take advantage of the offer before me. Soon enough, logistics overwhelmed me and I put all thoughts of wanderlust out of my head as we hunkered down for the long harsh winter ahead.  Meanwhile, I worked on my calendar of upcoming projects, restarted my show and pretty much figured I had a busy enough schedule for the time being, I wouldn’t take anything new on.

Then it happened. It started off, innocently enough with an inquisitive DM. That lead to a flurry of more DM’s and some soul-searching questions. I pushed off mentioning it to my dear, long suffering wife, knowing full well what it meant for her. But, my friend Kate Hill had suggested we collaborate on another project and that I should take advantage of a break in other people schedules and come learn what I could in whatever time I had. I put it to Kathy, who laughingly pushed it back on me. Was I insane? How long did I think I could be gone? Was it really good timing. We looked at the calendar, checked schedules. No, it wasn’t really a great time to go. I would have to miss an important meeting, and some classes I was signed up for. We’re they really that important? Could I make them up?

IMG_3739 I looked at airfares to help myself rule out any possibility of dreaming about a trip to Southern France. Of escape from my frozen world of winter farming. I sneered loudly at the prices. I checked what they would be if I pushed the idea off two weeks, a month, two months…oh, wait….that would be Spring, and I had even more responsibilities then. Besides, there was only a $20 price difference flying any of the possible permutations I had checked. I re-verified schedules with Kate and slept on it. Kathy & I hashed over what needed to be done before I left and what had to be done if I went. I didn’t sleep much that night. A mixture of fear, penury, overwhelming responsibility and excitement gripped my bowels, knotting them like hastily pulled sausage casing. Things weren’t any clearer in the morning, but the flight–the one and only flight I could possibly take if I was going to go at all–was still there, still at the same price, and still had room. Room for me. I took out my flexible friend and made the plunge. I put my money where my mouth is.

I won’t say the time was right, or that I had a little flush of cash from autumn & winter livestock sales. It wasn’t, and I didn’t. But I decided right then and there, that in the realm of knowing and doing there really isn’t a tomorrow, or a later. I have been processing poultry and pigs now for some time. I have been teaching others and writing about it. It was time for a refresher course for myself. Time to invest in my skills. That that investment lead me to Gascony, to the Chapolard’s Farm, to Jehann Rignault’s Ferme Auberge du Boué, to meeting farmers and purveyors who had passion and excitement for what they were doing, made my experience all the richer. This trip has helped to remind me who I am and focus my energies back on where I should be going. It has given me confidence in skills I already have and showed me techniques I need to know. What’s more is, it has reaffirmed the passion and conviction I have for what I do everyday.

Not long ago, I was asked to speak at a conference. The engagement paid nothing other than a modest lunch, and a chance to meet other like minded people. I agreed without really thinking things through. But, Charcuterie despite a busy schedule, I duly prepared a presentation with slides, data and information. I rehearsed it, and dreaded going through it before an audience. On the day of my speech I arrived and met with the staff I was supposed to coordinate with. Imagine my surprise when they presented me with a list of rules for the discussion time after my presentation. Rule number 1 stated, “Everyone is an expert.” I really don’t remember the other 5 or 6 rules. I think they largely had to do with common sense behavior and being courteous and respectful to the other participants. I, however, was stuck on the first rule. I thought to myself, “If everyone’s and expert why am I even here? Why am I giving a talk on a topic others are already experts on? And more so, if everyone else attending is an expert, and I’ve been doing this for over 20 years perhaps I should just sit in the audience and learn from them….” You get the idea. It didn’t really set well with me then and, as you can gather, it really doesn’t set well with me now.

I am not an expert on all things. Perhaps not even on many things. And the things I might be classified as an expert on, I am not even that sure I know all I should about. But damn it, I try. I try hard to know what I know and do what I do. I invest in learning and skills whenever I get the opportunity. Over the last 20 some years I have worked, observed, experimented, learned and failed. That has to count for something, doesn’t’ it? But there I was, in a room full of “experts”. 20 somethings, first timers, dabblers and those who really were experts who’d come to learn or sneer at what I had to say—those who like me, constantly try to reinvest in ourselves. My talk went okay, the questions were good. But the experience has left me questioning this new paradigm society seems to be operating under—We’re all experts, everybody is a winner, and we all get a prize. Maybe it’s me. Maybe time has outrun my values and I have been left behind, but this doesn’t seem right. It doesn’t seem real. And I am all about the real.

DSCF1085Which is why I found myself in Gascony for nine days. In the midst of reality. A reality which is but a fantasy to most Americans, but makes perfect sense when viewed with a modicum of reason. I was learning  from “real deals”–experts who knew their business, their focus and what worked or didn’t work for them. And I realized something. Amidst the reality of this other culture, a culture which values its food, its farmers, I realized that I am the real deal in my own right as well. I live my life, and I live it with conviction. I share that conviction and the information I’ve spent half of my life gathering freely with those who want to listen and to learn. Sometimes I give it away, other times, in order to live, I have to ask that there is something given in return. Everything has a value. For those of us who value what we do, we willingly spend what we need to, in order to reinvest in ourselves. It take a little reminding at times. It takes a little insight. But, I keep finding it is money well spent.

If you want to find out what this is all about, to reinvest in yourself, to learn from a real expert, consider the Cochon & Charcuterie Workshop.

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The Pig, The Meat

Mixed Breed Pigs I have been raising pigs for a long time. I have raised many breed, on many feeds, in several different ways. When I started with pigs it was the typical backyard raise two, sell one to pay for the one you keep. We did it in a movable pen, which was shifted around a few times to keep from having to work too hard at cleaning up and to make sure the pigs had a good chance of keeping clean and disease free. We fed these pigs conventional feed, table scraps and garden gleanings. It was not idea, but it worked and at the time we thought the pork was wonderful. At very least it was better than anything that could be bought in a supermarket.

Gradually, over time, I shifted the way I raised my pigs. I began pasturing them, largely to take advantage of wasted space on the farm, but also to develop a better flavor in the meat. At first I kept the pigs on conventional feeds, but also added stale bread—available free for the taking—and cull potatoes from a potato farm nearby. The pigs were cheap to raise, and easy to care for, but I learned my lesson on the meat. Not only was the flesh soft and water-logged, but it also lacked the character and depth of flavor I was hoping for. Additionally, I was still raising the pigs to the standard, conventional 6-8 months old. I continued to adjust my program.

Quality Pork Finally, a few years back, I switched to feeding whole grains. I cut out the potatoes and bread, added milk to the pig’s diet and upped the amount of apples, garden scraps and other natural foods they ate. I also rotated them more often to keep them working over waste land on the farm. One year, due to an odd season, the recession, and difficulty finding customers I had to delay the processing of these pigs. Most were 10 months old, and some almost a year before we processed them. The resulting pork was fabulous. My customers mentioned it, and I could see and taste the quality in the pork I kept for myself. I had clearly stumble onto something.

I haven’t looked back since. I now raise my pigs to a standard which provides my customers an amazing quality pork at a reasonable price. Some fail to see the value, others get it and come back for more. One thing all of this has taught me is, that while different breeds of pig have different temperaments and varying levels of success outdoors, it is the feed, not the breed which makes great pork. Sure, some will argue that different breeds have certain characteristics, flavor profiles and properties. But by, and large, it is the feed, the way it is fed and the length of feeding that determines the quality and flavor of the pork. I hadn’t quite realized the truth about the age of the pig at slaughter until my recent trip to France to work with the Chapolards. Seeing another farms’ pork, from a breed cross I had not seen before, confirmed my belief that the ideal pork comes from a 1 year old pig, fed on a balanced diet of natural whole grains, grasses and hay. This level of maturity offers a depth of flavor, a muscle and fat structure which is ideal for aging, processing and curing and Quality Pork has an unmistakeable sweetness about it. Younger pork is the veal of the pork world, lacking texture, fat development, marbling and depth of flavor. Even in a well raised pig, this younger meat lacks what it takes for further processing and curing because of its lack of structure and cell development. Seeing and working with this quality of pork first hand, at the Chapolard’s farm, has convinced me of it. Don’t believe me? Come to my farm March 18th and see for yourself. Ask Dominique Chapolard any questions you may have, and taste first hand what I am on about.

Created with flickr slideshow from softsea.

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On my recent visit to the Chapolard’s Charcuterie Farm in Gascony I learned about and made these fantastic little Ham-ettes. You can get an idea of how to do it from this video, but you should also consider coming to Claddagh Farms, meeting Dominique, and trying for yourself!

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Nerac I live in rural Maine. It is beautiful here, and as we drove around the countryside of Gascony, I was often reminded of the rolling hills and forests around my own home. Granted, my home is covered in layers of snow and ice and the winter Gascon landscape had the greens and browns of spring-emerging with the first blush of buds & flowers poking through the ground. Back home I am contemplating all I saw and tasted. The closest thing any of my neighbors might get to Charcuterie is the loads of pepperoni on the ubiquitous pizzas sold at every corner store and gas station. Sausages come in two varieties around here—hot dogs & sweet or hot Italian sausages. The last time I asked someone if they liked Kielbasa, they looked at me funny like I had tried to stifle a sneeze. I have to travel an hour in any direction before I can get anywhere that might remotely have a cured meat selection not involving Slim Jims, some form of Jerkey or loaded with preservatives.  I find this sad.

Having spent nine days surrounded by food in every direction, in a place as remote or perhaps more so, than where I live, I have been reminded how narrow American culture really is. Whether by choice or design we have allowed our selections and tastes for food to be squeezed into the smallest of boxes. Sure not everywhere, but in more places than DSCF1013 I care to think. Where have we gone wrong? Not only were the simplest and smallest of  Markets in France larger and better attended than some of the biggest Farmers’ Markets here, but the number and amount of small purveyors in the tiniest of villages outnumbers those in some of the US’s biggest cities. As I helped prepare 100 kilos (220+ lbs) of Boudin Noir (Blood Sausage) on the Chapolard’s farm for one week’s worth of markets, it dawned on me that that much Boudin probably isn’t sold in a month in the busiest boutiques in New York city, let alone three small towns with populations totaling around 5500 people. And…the Chapolards wouldn’t be the only butchers at the market selling Boudin, nor would the Market be the only place to buy Boudin. The villages own butcher shops would also sell it. Many of the small villages we rolled through had at least two boucheries. The beautiful village of Nerac, with a population of 6800 people,  supports at least 8 butcher shops, with three meat stalls on Saturday Market day. This is in addition to the supermarkets near by, and the fact that most villages are 10-20 minutes away by car. You can buy at an open air market every day of the week in the region. Diversity and local support. What an amazing goal to strive for as we, in the States, seek food security and expanded Farmer’s Market opportunities.

Which brings me to my Charcuterie Review. Diversity, Abundance & Pride are all displayed in the stalls and shops we visited. Regional specialties, Proprietary secret concoctions, traditional standards are all for sale side by side, from one stall to another. The Charcutrier’s pride, banter, reputation, and offerings draw their regulars in to them. The time honored ways of sharing a recipe, offering advice, giving an extra Charcuterie morsel on the side, handing out a generous tasting all help secure sales. And so it was, that we met with market stall owners, purveyors, charcutiers and tasted our way through some amazing offerings. From standards like Saucisson, Saucisse Seche, Noix de Jambon, Jambon de Bayonne to specialties like some slivers of cured ham from a massive, mature sow. It was so sweet and tender, the fat dripping with flavor. We tasted several cured hams, in fact. From Gascony, into the Pays du Basque & into Spain we sampled the cured hams of the region, noting the differences in flavor, texture, price and the breeds of pig which stood behind them. The regional preferences also spoke to us—Lots of Black Pepper for the Gascons, Piment d’Espelette for the Basques. Some of the most amazing Saucisse we had contained fruits as an added element—blueberry, juniper, and fig. Cured meat & figs is an amazing combination, especially when the figs have become part of the meat.

And not just to dwell on the hams and saucisse side of Charcuterie. We tasted some amazing patés, terrines and grattons. I made the comment while there, that you can’t be a vegan and live or visit Gascony. I think  even an open-minded vegetarian might have trouble finding something not containing meat. It was everywhere, and nothing is wasted. Lungs, pig’s ears, pig skin, hearts, liver and more standard offal are all sold side by side to consumers who buy it. After preparing the brains from 5 pigs for sale, I was told that a little old woman comes each market day and buys them all. Every week. I hope we can become a culture of markets and local shoppers such as these, here in the States. Little waste, lots of selection. An amazing abundance and variety of flavors.

Created with flickr slideshow from softsea.

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