Bellevue Farmers Market

The final stop of the day before setting off for Oregon was the Bellevue Farmers Market. Set in a Church car park it had an incredible community feel to it – a band was playing, there was a wood fired brick oven serving pizza and children and their parents were stopping by to pick up groceries on their ride home from school.

For a small market with maybe 20-30 stalls it had the best meat representation that I’d yet seen. Three stalls in all. I had a good chat with two of them – the first Olsen Farms, are based close to the Washington/Idaho/Canada border and it was a 10hr journey to bring produce to the market. Like a number of people I’d spoken to, fuel prices largely affect the price of their produce as they have to drive vast distances to find a large enough market to sell to. Due to distance and logistics the produce is mostly frozen, with a few chilled sausages, and thermally processed sausages available fresh.

The second stall was Sea Breeze Farm, I’d already read about them as they sell at U-District Farmers Market on Saturdays. They’re a short 15min ferry ride from Seattle and have their own butchery, cafe and restaurant in the town of Vashon. They’re also the only producer I’ve seen at a Farmers Market to sell fresh chilled meat. They had a nice range of fresh sausages, meat cuts as well as some pates and bottled gravy and stock. If I have time on my return journey I’ll definitely be making an effort to swing by and take a look at their butchery.

I should also mention Veraci Pizza, I had a slice of their special for the day a prosciutto, rocket and mushroom pizza. It was truly excellent, and judging by the sheer volume of people taking boxed pizzas home with them by far the most successful stand on the market.

Catching the hog!

So, the pig shaped cart that I caught sight of! Well, I did my research and tracked him down to the corner of 2nd and Pike. He’s obviously a Seattle staple, as there was a good queue of office workers ahead of me waiting for their pulled pork sandwiches. He’s called Maxiums Minimus, and he serves a Maximus (savoury and a little spicy) and a Minimus (sweet & tangy) pulled pork and slaw. I went for his namesake, with a Maximus sandwich and Minimus slaw.

I can honestly say it was one of the best meals that I’ve had on this trip so far. Street food is excellent here, and although it’s not as cheap as chips (it was around £7.50 for the sandwich, slaw and glass of ginger lemonade) the standard is so good that you’re happy to pay for it. This is street food made with love, care and attention that’s fresh, tasty and homemade. I was lucky to catch him, this is his last week for the season before he rests for winter.

Link Labs Artisan Meats, Seattle

My last day in Seattle on this whirlwind tour of the Pacific Northwest – I head North out of the city centre to meet David Pearlstein of Link Labs. I’d first read about David on the Wrightfood blog, Matt who writes that blog is also an avid charcutier and I’ve been following his writing, curing and photography for some time now. David stood out for me in particular as he had taken the extraordinary step of turning his garage/basement into a food processing unit which is fully USDA approved. It’s no small step, David was the first to fully explain to me how USDA approval works – the best comparison I can provide is that it’s like getting a Food Standard Agency meat plant set up, but with the addition that on every processing day an inspector needs to be present to watch you work. There’s no cost implication to the producer in having the inspector there but it doesn’t provide any flexibility in terms of production.

Finding a small ‘cottage industry’ like this on a suburban street is really quite enchanting, for a meat enthusiast like myself, passing through the garage doors are akin to stepping into the wardrobe and entering Narnia. David started his sausage business some eight months ago, and he mentioned the frantic, busy, set-up period that I’m currently in – I just can’t wait to get production underway in my own space! And having seen how it can be done, it’s given me a whole host of ideas.

David’s business is all about sausages, and he makes an incredible variety which he sells both direct and wholesale. Back home you rarely see sausages vacuum packed, but here it’s far more common place – I think it must be largely down to the meat content of the sausages. We’ve traditionally made sausages with added breadcrumbs and rusk which makes a link of much squishier texture, which, when vacuum packed tends to explode.

In addition to his business blog, he also keeps a blog of his own. I’ve yet to read it all, it was initially set up to follow his two year journey curing a leg of pork as prosciutto, but has a variety of other experiments and mentions the building and setting up of the current business – worth a read.

Follow that hog!

No appointments booked for the day, so the plan was to amble, and amble I did. My walk started off a little like Will Ferrell’s character in Elf as he makes his way from the North Pole to New York City “I passed through the seven levels of the Candy Cane forest, through the sea of swirly twirly gum drops, and then I walked through the Lincoln Tunnel.” Though with me it was a case of passing the Frank Gehry designed Experience Music Project Building, walking in the shadow of the Space Needle and through a big red spider-like sculpture before getting to Downtown Seattle.

First on the list to visit was Pike Place Market, and I spent most of my day walking back and forth through the various floors taking a look at all the nooks and crannies. It’s a major tourist destination in Seattle, and people flock to the central fish stall to watch the stallholders, hoop, shout and throw fish about. Like Granville Island Market in Vancouver, the produce looks incredible, but I’m not sure how much of it gets sold here – with such a tourist bias it feels more of a ‘looking’ place than a buying place.

Meat stalls were few, and it’s understandable with such a bounty from the sea. The main meat stall Don & Joe’s Meats is usually in the main market but due to some construction work it had been moved temporarily to a darker quieter corner across the street. It had a good selection of meat, and the best looking lamb that I’ve seen yet in North America.

In addition to the permanent market stalls there were some Farmers Market stalls on the street selling local vegetables and a section of the market also had tables that were available to smaller food producers and craft stalls. Here, there were two stalls selling jerky and pepperoni. Of particular interest was Happy Mountain Farm – they raised Miniature Cattle breeds, offered farm tours and actively marketed their products by essentially ‘franchising’ – they had little leaflets on the store for those with an interest in selling their products, whether it be by establishing a stall, selling to retail customers or by setting up a website and selling the product online.

Mid morning as I wandered, I caught sight of the tail end of a food truck. It was shaped like a pig! I attempted to follow it, but even as it drove through Downtown traffic it had the edge over me. It felt like a modern urban hog hunt. I’d seen the truck before on the Food Network’s Eat Street and had hoped to visit if I was to come across it. Sadly it wasn’t to be.

The next stop was Salumi, an Artisan Cured Meats shop/cafe close to Pioneer Square. A couple of people on the trip had asked whether I’d be visiting, so I thought it would be foolish no to. The venture was the retirement dream of Armandino Batali, who’s great grandparents had opened an Italian Food Store in Seattle in 1903 a mere block from the current store. Armandino’s son is American restauranteur and television personality Mario Batali. The store had a familiar, relaxed, lived in quality – largely thanks to the ‘family style’ seating – when I arrived, the place was packed and it felt as if we’d stumbled into a party for an Italian wedding.

I ordered a salumi platter with some bread, and when I mentioned my interest in charcuterie they sliced a couple of slices of extra spicy coppa to top the platter. Later on I went back to try the pancetta, lomo and culatello. They had a good choice of salami – the platter consisted of salumi salami, soppresata, finnochiona, mole salami, anise pepperoni and smoked paprika salami.

Trade was brisk at the store both with sit-in and take-out customers, I was the only person with a platter, everyone else was buying sandwiches. It could well be a cultural thing, there are so many places selling thick meat filled sandwiches here that it’s the norm, but it’s hugely encouraging to see such an interest in cured meats.

 

 

Heath Putnam – the Godfather of Mangalitsa.

It was with some nervous excitement that I waited for the arrival of Heath Putnam, owner of Heath Putnam Farms/Wooly Pigs. In the Mangalitsa world he’s somewhat of a celebrity. He’s largely responsible for bringing the breed to the attention of the US culinary and foodie world. Both his website and his blog are a wealth of information about his experiences in Europe researching the breeds and I often find myself dipping in and out of his sites to brush up on some little nugget of information that I half remember reading.

As a new owner of Mangalitsa pigs he was on the top of my list of people to visit while here in the US. Mangalitsa meat commands a good price here, direct sale cuts range from £14 to £31 per kilo, prices that we can only dream of in the UK. However, finding those customers is the problem – the benefit of the USA is scale, even with a niche product there is a far greater probability that scattered across such a large area there is a discerning customer who’s palate can appreciate the finer quality of Mangalitsa. The UK market, which is obviously much smaller, is still struggling with Mangalitsa – the products that I’ve seen sold have seen meat cuts prices comparable with the big supermarkets. This has to change to make Mangalitsa pork viable.

Heath was incredibly candid and honest about his experiences and for that I am extremely grateful. Over the years he has had his fair share of issues with breeders, slaughterhouses and processors and it was these little anecdotes that I had hoped that he would share with me. As a fledgling business, I’ve already encountered some of these issues – it’s reassuring to hear, whoever I speak with within the meat industry that it’s the same problems that we encounter worldwide.

I didn’t leave empty handed from our visit, he’d brought with him a gift of lardo, what a gent!

Lather Unusual – Makers of Fine Mangalitsa Soap

I washed this morning in bacon and eggs, it was quite delightful.

Yesterday I visited Logan Niles at her beautiful store Lather Unusual to see her range of Mangalitsa soaps. She sources her lard from the famed Wooly Pigs. Formerly an Executive Chef, she mixes her culinary background and her understanding of seasoning, spices, herbs and flavours to create some of the most delightful soap I’ve ever seen.

As for using Mangalitsa, it was completely by chance – she’d spotted the Wooly Pigs stall at a Seattle Farmers Market, walked up and asked if they had any lard. The rest, as they say, is history. She could well be the largest producer of Mangalitsa soap in the US, and probably the World!

Logan had some samples of some new tests she’d been working on – cold smoked Mangalitsa soap, smoked in Hickory. The soap had that deeply warming smell of smoke, and the little cubes reminded me of small blocks of smoked lardo. I was very fortunate to have a tour of her production area at the rear of the store – she’d recently rendered her first batch of lard from Mangalitsa fat, it had the most intense nutty and meaty smell to it – it was screaming out for me to stick my finger in it and eat it!

With the company ethos of whole carcass utilisation, this little visit has given me a huge amount of food for thought. I went away laden with soap, if anyone’s in the Pacific Northwest, make sure you pay her a visit!

A letter from home.

I was hoping that this blog would garner some interaction while I was doing the trip and I can see from the stats page that a fair few of you are following my posts. However, I didn’t expect my mother to be the first contributor!

I received an e-mail from her this morning with pictures of the farm, all are doing fine, and Dai Womble, Madam Cholet and Princess Bubblegum are in fine health.

Heading Stateside

I’m writing this post in a typical motel amidst a strip mall on the side of the freeway. I’ve arrived in the US! I said goodbye to rainy British Columbia and headed South to Washington State – there was the obligatory stop at customs, where I had to stand in line, fill out forms, have my fingerprints and photograph taken. I always seem to pick the wrong customs person too, the one next to me was chatty and smiley, I had the one who could only bark instructions at people.

Having crossed the border, the rain stopped but the wind picked up. I took a detour from the freeway taking Chuckanut Drive which weaved slowly amongst tall pine trees along the Pacific Coast. If you’re a film and tv buff like me, wherever you are in North America the landscape always reminds of you of something you’ve seen on the big screen. My first impression was that I was in one of the new Twilight movies (no, I’m not a fan), and then it crossed my mind that this is actually Twin Peaks country, awesome!

Last night, in complete contrast to my wonderful evening with Christine and John, was spent amidst utter commercialism. I spent a happy couple of hours wandering the aisles of Walmart. We have big supermarkets at home, but these are cathedrals to consumerism. Pork cuts of “commodity pork” were very cheap ranging from £3.26 – £7.68 per kg. Although supermarket pork is hugely intensive here, and has probably travelled 1000+ miles to end up on the shelf it often has better colour and marbling than our pork. Pork is lean here, but they don’t seem to prize ultra lean like we do. It’s at times like these I wish that I had a kitchenette in the room or a campervan so that I could cook up some outdoor reared, antibiotic free, pasture fed pork next to supermarket pork.

I’m always bowled over by the choice of ‘franks’ available here too. The picture shows about a third of the shelf space for franks, and bacon had equal standing in terms of space. At home we tend to be limited to a choice of supermarket own brand or Herta frankfurters – although I don’t want to see chillers filled like this with franks at home, it would be nice to have some more choice. While in Iowa earlier in the year, there were some really interesting flavours in some of the thermally processed sausages that were served and everyone on that course lamented the demise of old fashioned frankfurters made in sheep casings. Something else I plan to have a go at once I get home!

BBQ, North American Style.

Sunday night I was invited by Christine and John van der Lieck of the Oyama Sausage Company to their house for a barbeque. It was a delightful evening – when travelling, it makes it that much more special when you can spend it with families and experience how local people live. They had the prettiest little house decorated with a mix of antiques and mid century Scandinavian style furniture. I felt privileged just being in the house!

John had recently taken delivery of a new smoker, and our evening meal had been slowly cooking for nearly 14 hrs. It was an extremely simple design – a burning chamber and a cooking chamber with two airflow regulators at each end.

We had the most delicious amuse bouche, one of the other dining guests had cured his own anchovies which were served on small slices of fried bread with apple, cream cheese and walnut.

The main meal consisted of brisket, pork butt, jerk marinated pork chops and pulled pork made from aged pork along with coleslaw, baked beans, homemade cornbread and a rich barbeque sauce. The meat dishes were all excellent, the winner for me was the pulled pork. You rarely hear of aged pork – apparently it’s all down to good breeding and a clean diet, it’s definitely something I’ll be testing when I get home. John was a fountain of knowledge on everything meat, my head was zinging by the time I left.

 

 

 

Chef Robert Belcham, Campagnolo Restaurant

My final visit of the day was to meet Chef Robert Belcham at his restaurant Campagnolo on Main. I’d read about Robert’s curing venture The Cure on various blogs, as well as the cured products he serves at his other restaurants ReFuel and Campagnolo Roma. I was drawn to his curing, largely because of his whole hog approach. Some ten years ago while working at another restaurant he started his search for the best quality local pork that he could find – his search brought him to Sloping Hill Farm on Vancouver Island. At that time he could only purchase whole carcasses, which necessitated the whole hog approach. He’s still an evangelist for their Berkshire pork and processes eight carcasses per month.

It’s refreshing to see a restaurant that breaks carcasses in-house, four carcasses per month are sold as cuts in the restaurant, and he takes a complete nose to tail eating approach to the dishes on the menu. The other four carcasses are made into charcuterie. The English speaking charcuterie world is pretty small, so it’s not often that you get to speak with other like minded people from the industry let alone ones who are happy for you to see their production space. I had the full tour of the curing facility above the restaurant and it was re-assuring to hear that we pretty much have the same production issues whether it be environmental health, issues with drying, raw ingredient consistency etc.

I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to sample a range of his fermented salamis and chorizo. He has a couple of signature cured products – a fennel pollen salami, which was very subtle – there wasn’t that usual zing of fennel that you get with seeds, it was a slow building, warming flavour. And if you ever see fennel pollen for sale, take a good sniff of it, it’s an intense experience. My favourite salami however was a spicy salami – the sausage was dotted with small flecks of chili and chili seed and had the most wonderful fresh flavour.

One of the key reasons that I’d chosen to come to North America to look at charcuterie production was because they aren’t burdened with tradition. Robert is a self taught charcutier, and his products had a fresh taste to them. You can tell he’s a chef; he uses a culture with a higher acidification than I do, but I couldn’t have said as he’d balanced the flavours so well. Another one for the list when I return to Vancouver, hoping to visit the restaurant proper and order the charcuterie platter.