New Kids on the Block….

Things have been rather busy of late and my creative writing endeavours have taken a back seat behind the back seat of an old Morris Minor.  Apologies if you have been waiting with anticipation for a post and unfortunately this one is unlikely win any literary awards. I have just emerged from reading “Cooked” by Michael Pollan and the house is a mini microbial experiment much to Commander J’s disgust. Strange smells are emanating from our larder and I look forward to telling you all about my latest fermentations in due course (did you know that salami undergoes a natural fermentation process?).

Charcuterie

Charcuterie

The reason for this post however is to welcome my latest customers into the fold and to let you know who they are:

Pulp Kitchen and Deli in the Gardens Centre

Wellness Warehouse

Stormsvlei Farmstall, Swellendam

Please support them if you are passing by and I wish them every success.

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Relish being an African…

This post is long overdue. One year ago nearly to the day I gave my first charcuterie course at African Relish in Prince Albert. Many of you will have been to this little gem of a Karoo town nestled below the Swartberg mountains. It is well known for olives, figs and mohair, has a wonderful Jersey dairy and sunsets that are very hard to describe.

It boasts two local produce markets every Saturday with a wonderful array of fresh seasonal produce, beautiful baked goodies and two little old ladies that could teach Zig Ziglar a couple of tricks on selling. The Commander is selling a furry squirrel neck warmer if anyone is interested. They are all the rage this season (mostly in the Karoo). It has a very special place in my heart for many reasons, mostly related to the inhabitants and I will try to give you a taste so that you can see it through my eyes.

One of the participants of the first course last year was local legend Bokkie Botha. After a successful career in labour relations, during which time he managed to eat his way around 35 Michelin starred restaurants in Europe, he decided to retire to Prince Albert and open a little restaurant called “The Olive Branch”. He is also one of the official Prince Albert Witblitz stokers and in order not to interfere with this important career he only opens the restaurant once or twice a week. What this really means is he that he cooks when he feels like it – my kind of guy. He also doubles as Kris Kringle during the festive season.

Bokkie Botha

Two weeks ago I conducted my second charcuterie course at African Relish and cannot wait to return again. We had fun from the first minute and I was fortunate to once again be surrounded by dedicated curing enthusiasts who were only too keen to get stuck in to block work, curing, cooking, mincing, filling and talking about charcuterie all day long.

African Relish is owned and run by Jeremy Freemantle and without him and his staff the course would not be half as much fun. We were pampered, spoiled, wined and dined and nothing was too much trouble or a problem. The pig we used for the course was provided by Gay who owns the local Jersey dairy and she feeds a couple of pigs on whey every year which was a real treat as the meat has a lovely aroma and marbeling of fat

 

The course is aimed to give the participants a real hands on taste of curing their own meats and while it is impossible to learn everything about charcuterie in 2 days the idea is for enthusiasts to be able to return home and attempt some basic creations without feeling too intimidated. As their confidence builds they can become more adventurous and add their own creativity to the process. You may be wondering why I would want to teach people how to do what I do and surely is would be detrimental to my business to give away trade secrets. It is in fact quite the opposite as a proper understanding of the traditional methods of curing, an appreciation for pasture reared meat, a realisation of where our food really comes from, an insight into the shortcuts of commercialism and the satisfaction of eating something home made are the best forms of marketing for my business. Just because you know how to cook does not mean restaurants go out of business, however if you are a cook of any reasonable ability you probably don't eat at the Wimpy too often.

During the weekend we managed to make bacon, pancetta, chorizo, sausages, rillettes, slow roast pork, terrines, coppa, prosciutto, lomo and braised cheek. We worked hard and had fun but there was still time to visit the market, attend the annual wit blitz stoke, wonder through the olive grove and vegetable garden at African Relish and some even found time to make a few purchases at the local art gallery.

Class of 2013 - African Relish Charcuterie

Class of 2013 - African Relish Charcuterie 101

 

A very big thank you to everyone who attended, Jeremy, Virna, Simone and all the staff at African Relish and the town of Prince Albert for once again restoring the Commander and my connection to nature.

 

 

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Britannia Bay

My cousin James has an obsession with puns. His wordsmith abilities often astound us all yet his ability to tirelessly continue on despite only a token of appreciation and acknowledgement are qualities to be admired. I'm sure Baden Powell could have used such a person in times of rumbustion at Boy Scout camp outs.

I have just returned from honeymoon in Britannia Bay and spent a week relaxing and marveling at the wonders of the West Coast. Part of our leisure time was spent eating bacon which led Commander J to lament the current state of affairs regarding bacon.

Bacon, Avo and Gorgonzola

We both felt that bacon is not revered adequately and its status needs to be elevated. Bacon has no season. Bacon can be eaten on its own, with egg, with lettuce and tomato, with avo, in a sandwich, wrapped around scallops, diced into pasta sauces, added to salads, baked into croissants, added to pâtés, made into jam and I'm just getting started. If you are from the United States you probably have a fetish for syrup with your bacon or even candied and chocolate dipped rashers. Americas NATO allies across the Atlantic have an fondness for slathering HP sauce onto undercooked slabs of bacon and encapsulating it in well buttered white bread, adding further insult to injury by calling it a “butty”.
The Italians at least have some style and passion. For starters they don't call it bacon but rather pancetta and it is NEVER injected or pumped with any liquid. It is flavored with herbs and spices with each producer using his own unique combinations. They also make a bacon from the cheek called Guanciale which is fattier, tastier and comes into its own in a carbonara sauce. The French never really took to the bacon revolution preferring to chop and dice their bacon. Perhaps the French bacon lovers never made it out of the Bastille. Parts of Gascony do make Ventreche which is similar to rolled pancetta but is not widely used in French cookery.
For all their foibles, the one thing that our European friends have in common is an understanding of quality when it comes to bacon. Even the supermarket shelves in London offer dry cured bacons with a multitude of different options – unsmoked, apple smoked, hickory smoked, maple cured, thick cut and so on. Unfortunately the bulk of local offerings are loaded with water and flavored with smoke from a bottle. They compete on price in a market that has little differentiation and not enough discerning customers.
To address this travesty the Commander and I have embarked on a collaboration to raise the status of bacon. My alter ego, the boss of bacon has a twitter (@bossofbacon), Instagram (bossofbacon) and Pinterest (bossofbacon) accounts set up and will be featuring bacon pictures taken by the Commander as well as recipes and bacon ideas to provide inspiration. We have already posted a few pics to set the tone and will be backing it up with some interesting and exciting new bacon products for the more adventurous.
But I digress, back to cousin James and the reason for this blog post. After typing the title it occurred to me that he would be unable to stop himself from launching forth and I look forward to his comments below. Britannia Baycon, Rule Britannia bacon, bacon bake on – you can see I'm just an amateur pun crafter.
 

 

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Something fishy…..

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I have recently tried my hand at curing some salmon and trout. The results have been pleasing to Commander J and she documented our breakfast by taking the most gorgeous pictures – good enough to eat quite frankly. The salmon and trout is available at Somersault Studio in Claremont currently as well through Ocean Jewels deli in Woodstock
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Truffled Poached Egg with Smoked Trout

Ingredients for 2
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Truffle sabayon
2 egg yolks
75ml cream
Pinch of salt
Twist of pepper
5ml truffle oil
3 pieces black truffle, chopped

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Method
Place the egg yolks in a glass bowl and whisk well. Add the cream, salt and pepper and whisk again. Place over a pot of water and put onto the stove to heat up. Whisk continuously until the sauce thickens and coats the back of a spoon. I like to incorporate lots of air into the sauce during cooking as this results in a lighter sauce. Once the sauce has cooked enough remove the pot from the stove and add the truffle oil and pieces. I used sliced summer truffle which you can get in little jars at any self respecting delicatessen. Allow the sauce to rest over the pot of hot water while you poach the eggs.

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The poached eggs
2 very fresh eggs
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar (I used truffle flavored vinegar)
Pot of water

Method
Add the vinegar to the water and heat until simmering. Stir the water and add the eggs one at a time. I break them into a bowl first and then add them to the water. Cook for 3 minutes then remove and drain on a tea towel.

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To assemble
2 packets smoked trout 80g
Rocket
Half an avo
2 pieces shaved black truffle
Black pepper

Method
Place a handful of rocket on each plate. Arrange the trout and avo on the plate and place an egg on top of the rocket. Drizzle with the sabayon and garnish with shaved truffle and some black pepper.

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Good Okes ……

One of my favourite aspects of my business is dealing with the farmers who supply my meat. They are close to nature, driven by a passion to produce something special and totally unaffected by the complications that come with an urban lifestyle. None more so than Charlie and Julie Crowther of Glen Oakes Farm. Taking a blind leap of faith in my yet to be proven ability to make a salami, Charlie set up the most amazing breeding programme at Glen Oakes. I hope cousin James will forgive my complete disregard for the English language in this post but the proof of the bacon is in the eating, quite literally.  The quality of the pork makes my job that much easier and knowing that the animals were raised ethically, humanely and as naturally as possible is just as important.

Don’t take my word for it though. I invite you to come to the farm this weekend to see and taste for yourself. Jules Mercer from the Outlandish Kitchen is hosting a picnic on Saturday and a lunch on Sunday. Charlie will be on hand to explain how the farm works, show guests his favourite veldskoen shoes and, if we are really lucky, let us taste his illegal apple brandy.

outlandish poster

I will be present on both days with a small selection of products made from Glen Oakes pork and hope to see you there.

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The Boar Whisperer…..

at least that is what I call him. My next two posts are going to feature 2 of my favourite people. They are both farmers, they both do what they do because they believe in it, they love it, are passionate about it and they are proud of what they do.

Farmer Tom and Lucky

Tom Turner and his gorgeous wife Katja are farmers at Bontebok Ridge Reserve in Wellington. They breed European wild boar and supply me with a very limited amount of the most fantastic meat. The colour is similar to Shiraz, the texture is firm, the flavour is wild but not gamey and the resultant cured products are some of my favourites. I have a cured leg from the very first wild boar I received in February at home and cut a few slices for guests or just for a snack when the need arises.

The boar were introduced in the 1800’s to South Africa and since then have roamed wild up the west coast. They can be very destructive to the local flora resulting in Cape Nature Conservation currently trying to cull the population surrounding Riebeck West with mixed results. The boar at Bontebok Ridge are part of a specialised breeding program and while they roam freely in their allocated pastures they are monitored closely to track their growth, breeding and health. Tom also uses them to tackle the problems of black wattle and blue gum which are alien species.

Bontebok Ridge Reserve

 

Tom is clearly well know to the wild boar population and I’m guessing the little bucket of treats he carries around with him is just the required bribery to initiate some boar interaction. On our recent visit the boy named Lucky (named due to his escape from becoming a salami) came running at the sound of his whistle and not only loved the tummy rub, he even lay down while we stroked him.

I feel so privileged to have dedicated farmers who are prepared to treat their animals with respect. To raise them ethically and with integrity and who are not driven by profit but rather by a desire to rear animals in a humane way, thus providing me with something special. I try to do as little as possible to the meat once it arrives as I don’t believe it needs too much added and I want the quality to shine through. At times the stresses of running a business can take its toll but a visit to my amazing farmers can restore ones faith and belief in what we are doing and inspire one to continue the journey.

Next blog will be about Charlie, Julie and Glen Oakes but until then, to my awesome suppliers: A very big thank you – without you I would be poorer in spirit and values.

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It was a bit like a pilgrimage…….

Pomodoro di Positano

We have just been on a holiday to the Amalfi coast in Italy and the thing that really left an impression on me is the simplicity of certain aspects of Italian life. Before I continue let me assure you that the grass is not greener on the other side and this is by no means a moan about life in sunny South Africa.  It’s just that there are several things that I would really love to transport over here with my magic wand.

In no particular order:
– Every 500m there must be a smallish bar/pastisserie serving unctuous creamy espresso coffee and chocolate croissants
– Nearby is a deli which slices charcuterie and makes delicious panini
– Next door to that is a green grocer selling local produce that tastes as good as it looks and trust me when I say the tomatoes in the south of Italy are the best I have ever tasted. When you buy some the lady behind the counter puts a handful of basil leaves into the packet for your salad or sugo that night.
– Pizza is simply cheese, tomato and one or two toppings and the base has flavour and texture
– The menu has seasonal items such as artichokes which are not available when the season is over
– Restaurants that are serving frozen seafood tell you in advance that the fish is not fresh
– Chefs are secure enough to serve the simplest dishes relying on the quality of the ingredients to shine through – one perfect example of this is insalata di pomodoro which is a tomato salad and comes without dressing and usually just a sprinkling of dried oregano. The beholder is presented with olive oil to add at his discretion.
– Gelato is one of the major food groups
– People in the street are dressed with style and panache and you can just tell that they take pride in their appearance
– Supermarkets are few and far between and exist to provide shampoo, nappies, deodorant and other basics

Prosciutto di Parma

Its not all a bed of roses as I mentioned initially. Transport strikes occur regularly and randomly. Parking is a total nightmare and bus drivers must have some of the highest stress levels in Europe. Space is in short supply and at a premium and as a result everybody grows some fruit and vegetables in every possible square metre of land. The Chinese have invaded and the markets are flooded with cheap imports and knock offs that must be killing the local textile industry. The cost of living seems to be comparable to Cape Town which either makes us expensive or them cheap. It was a wonderful trip, full of great experiences and I just have a feeling that when I return things will be the same, the quality of the food will still be excellent because the simple things are appreciated.

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In Memoriam…

Oded’s Rainbow

Sometimes you meet a person and feel an instant connection, an affinity coming from a mutual understanding,  a comfortable warmth that normally takes many years to cultivate but exists immediately. In my experience this is a rare occurrence and when it happens it is truly special.

I was fortunate to meet Oded recently and we collaborated on a couple of ideas together. He used some of my products in the shop and I buy his roasted tomatoes whenever I am passing as I just can’t make them the same at home no matter how hard I try. His knowledge of food was vast and he was always so willing to share ideas and yet he still wanted to learn new things every day. He epitomised humility – a quality that is rarely found in chefs and is a sign of somebody who is secure in their own ability.

Unfortunately he is no longer with us. His quick smile, his kindness, his sage advice, his wonderful sense of humour are all consigned to the memory bank and thankfully his legacy will live on in his numerous books for future generations. The pic above was taken on my way home after seeing him for the last time to say goodbye.

Travel safely my friend – we miss you.

 

 

 

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Germ Welfare ………

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Last week I delivered some whole salamis to a retail customer. The gentleman who received the products and checked the invoice was reluctant to accept the stock due to the fact that the salamis had some white mould growing on the outside. He was convinced that the salamis were “off” and mouldy and should be rejected. It took his manager several minutes to convince him that it was actually a desirable thing to have on a salami and he should accept the order.

In the same week I read an article about a TED talk given by Dr Johnathan Eisen regarding the benefits of microbes in our lives. Microbes protect us from pathogens, they boost our immune systems, they can keep us slim, reduce stress and aid digestion. So what is that white stuff on the outside of the salami? The scientific name is penicillium nalgiovense and it is a fungus. It has a very important role in the curing process of a salami made in a natural casing as it prevents other harmful bacteria from growing on the product and imparts a characteristic nutty flavour.

Far more accepted and understood are the cousins penicillium camemberti and roqueforti which are similar strains of the penicillium family and are used in cheese making. My friend in goods receiving had no problem accepting a delivery of Brie from Fairview covered in white mould and was happy to inform me that gorgonzola was a good seller in the store. For the sake of clarity, penicillin the antibiotic is made from penicillium chrysogenum and is something I am allergic to however I suffer no side effects from eating salami or cheese (thankfully).

White mould will only grow on a salami that has matured slowly using a natural fermentation process. Commercial salamis that are made with GDLs will not have time to develop any moulds and are usually produced in plastic casings that inhibit mould growth. Next time you see a “mouldy” white salami make sure you appreciate the time taken to produce it and admire one of natures gifts to us.

“It’s a funny thing about life, if you refuse to accept anything but the best you often get it” – unknown

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Interesting Times……..

live in do we (as Yoda might say). I’m referring to the debate regarding the traditional food pyramid and the new thinking around the benefits of a high protein diet. When I grew up a healthy diet consisted of lots of carbohydrates and starches, less protein and little fat or sugar. Today this thinking is being challenged by the likes of  Tim Noakes among others and I was interviewed yesterday by an Irish film crew making a documentary about a super sportsman who is testing out a high protein diet in an effort to avoid hereditary heart disease and diabetes.

Lunch?

Red meat has received lots of negative press in the past and has been linked to heart disease and cancer. A Harvard medical school study of 120000 people from 1986 to 2008 concluded that adding red meat to their diet increased their chances of dying from cancer by 10%, dying of heart disease by 18% and they were 13% more likely die early (source: Johnathan Benson, NaturalNews.com). Impressive stuff from a prestigious institution but with one fatal flaw. The red meat in question was grain fed feedlot beef. Or to put it another way, according to the Harvard study if you eat grain fed feedlot beef you are more likely to get cancer or heart disease.

Benson also mentions a study conducted by researchers at California State University and University of California that was published in Nutrition Journal in 2010 that evaluated the difference between grain fed feedlot meat and grass fed pasture reared meat. The research found that the omega-3 fatty acid profile in grass fed meat was similar to that of fatty fish. Grass fed meat was also higher in CLA, carotenoids and vitamin E tocopherols which protect against cardiovascular disease and cancer. You can read the rest of the article here.

Mmmmm gets a bit confusing after a while doesn’t it. According to ibergour.co.uk, a supplier of acorn fed pasture reared Iberean ham, the fat of Iberico belotta ham contains 55% oleic acid which has a proven beneficial effect on cholesterol, lowering LDL and raising HDL levels. The only fat with higher oleic acid is virgin olive oil. So eating the fat from the ham can be good for your cholesterol levels. The hams also contain vitamins B1, B6, B12 and folic acid as well as vitamin E, copper, zinc, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and selenium, all of which have health benefits. The diet of the pigs plays a major role in providing these nutrients in the meat.

I think it is fairly intuitive that eating pasture reared meat that has not been given hormones or preventative antibiotics, has lead an active life and eaten a natural diet is better for you than eating feedlot meat. You can see more here in this clip from Joel Salatin about feeding cattle grass and not grain. I’m not sure if I’m ready to give up carbs though. Freshly baked ciabatta with a drizzle of Prince Albert extra virgin olive oil is one of the simple pleasures of my life and I would be sad to have to deny myself forever. I think my personal eating plan may well end up as a food tower instead of a pyramid – everything in moderation. I also want to know the provenance of my food for 2 reasons. Firstly to ensure my health, I have plans for when I am 80 and want to make sure I can enjoy them. Secondly, as an omnivore I want to be sure that what I consume has been produced ethically and with integrity.

That’s just me.

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