Viola! A Dash Through France….

In order to get to Spain, we took our car across to Cherbourg on the ferry, which meant a bit of a mad dash southbound, traversing France at a less than a pleasurable, relaxed speed. Bad planning meant forking over a small French king’s ransom to use the toll roads – sacre bleu! At last count, France had squeezed £150 from our weeping wallets. Some of our pain was dutifully eased by a 2 night crash at the sweet Le Moulin Pastelier, run & hosted by expat British folks Donna & Chris.

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Just a spitting distance outside of Toulouse, in the verdant French country side, it made the perfect place for rest & exploration. We were handed some good tips on the local villages and that the big, regional market would take place the next day in Revel.

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Cheeses, Glorious Cheeses – Charles de Gualle was wrongly right.

We love French markets – it puts our faith back (after many years absence) that the French really do know their food. Zut alors! We circled the market square half a dozen times, eyeing up the plethora of cheese, charcuterie, butchers, bread, condiment & veggie stalls and developing a massive case of market produce envy. Our UK markets are good, but the Revel village market was in a seriously different dimension.

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Revel Market Charcuterie Stall – yum.

The charcuterie stalls elicited the most drool as it is an artisanal art form not widely practised in the UK and just beginning to catch hold. In our searches for UK charcuterie courses we have come across just one not in London proper, taught by – you guessed it – a Frenchman.

The choices at the Revel market were beyond overwhelming and it was quite hard, knowing we were going to be in Spain for 3 weeks, to hold back on packing the wee Nissan Micra to the gills with a decent assortment of just about everything the market had on offer.

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The French, besides knowing their food, also know how to do a damn fine job of presentation. They seem to have that je ne sais quoi factor that, with just a minor, subtle twist, the ordinary becomes the extraordinary. Example numero uno – bowl of olives (below) flecked with bits of red peppers.

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Or this almost irresistible, savoury scented humongous pan of a French styled paella…

FRStew And to add the final nail in our argument coffin, whilst having a rest stop at a service centre on aforementioned toll highways to hell, who but the French, instead of shelves stacked with junk food, offer you the option to purchase servings of Duck Confit or perhaps some Raclette or Comte cheeses for your journey…

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River Cottage: Pig In A Day

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WARNING: If you are vegetarian or vegan or just generally against the eating of meat, the following post and pictures may not be to your liking…may be a good time to leave. 

A very generous Hound #3 procured a full day course at the River Cottage Cookery School aptly titled a Pig in a Day for Hound #2’s birthday. This is a porker of a day for anyone who wants to demystify the art of butchery and gain hands on experience, or build up their confidence to tackle the world of charcuterie.

The day began at 9:30AM with a tractor ride down a steep & winding lane, past River Cottage HQ and the Cookery School’s old barn home (destroyed by fire but being rebuilt) to the ‘temporary’ tent headquarters. Though it is a tent, it is a damn fancy tent with a full on commercial kitchen, dining room & bar & cookery school instructional classroom.

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We were greeted with piping hot coffee & tea, juices & amazing duck rillettes on house-made English muffins – awesome savoury start to the day. Laid out on a sizeable solid wood butcher’s block was the English Large White Pig. Our instructor, Steven Lamb (Head of Events), told us that River Cottage had been struggling to find a source of organic, free range pork ever since their original primary supplier outside of Dorchester, Dorset had stopped rearing them as it was not economically feasible.

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This course is mos def hands on. Steven Lamb solicited (and sometimes made) folks to jump right in during the butchering sessions & grab a knife or saw and work through the various pig sections to extract the tenderloin, the loin (our lunch), the chump, etc…until all bits & bobs (including the head) were accounted for.

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Besides the butchery session, we were also treated to a variety of methods on what to do with the various cuts of meat. We have always been fascinated with the world of charcuterie (preserved meats) but a wee bit timid in attempting it solo, with no instruction. A bit like mushroom foraging – we would not want to make a simple mistake using a book & end up in the A&E.

So it was immense fun to jump right into the making of everything from bacon to prosciutto to sausages & chorizo. It is a small wonder that fresh meat, packed in a seasoned salt cure for a few weeks & then hung to air dry for months & months could end up as such a scrumptious taste treat. The only other natural thing we can think of that gets better with age is wine – not a bad complement to some damn good, home made charcuterie.

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Included in this awesome day is a delicious lunch – we had the roasted pork loin with great au jus & savoury potato cake & fresh garden kale. And dessert (see below) was a stunner too – all washed down with a couple of decent biodynamic / organic tempranillos.

If you are tempted to attend this course – HURRY! They are tres popular and get booked out in a nanosecond…check the course calendar & get yourself to a Pig in a Day! You will come away with your brain hurting with so much new information.

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