Back Home

So the mass charcuterie tour has come to an end, and I’m back home. It’s been an exciting couple of weeks, and I’ll be eternally grateful to Hybu Cig Cymru/Meat Promotion Wales for allowing me to undertake this trip. I’ve learnt so much, and over the coming months I’ll be doing a series of talks based on those lessons learnt. I’ll post any details on here should anyone fancy coming along. If you know of a group of young farmers, pork producers or a group of people interested in understanding how their food is produced, drop me an e-mail and I’d be happy to arrange a little talk.

The jet lag has hit pretty hard, and at three this morning I was wide awake, I got a couple of hours of work in this morning before returning to bed after six. Sadly, I then slept in and our pigs were late being fed. They’re looking good though, they’ve foraged for so much acorns that they’re a bit sniffy now about the barley I give them! They’re growing each day, and their curly winter coat is growing like a Mohican across their back bone.

I’m hugely grateful to all who I spoke to on the trip, there are far too many to name individually. I was impressed by the honesty that everyone spoke with, and I’m privileged to have had the access that I did to learn about feeding regimes, slaughtering processes, delivery and distribution methods, processing methods, plant layout, as well as packaging, retail and marketing. Thank you. Now it’s time for me to put the wheels in motion and get some product of my own made.

A slice of Lardo

I haven’t had too many disappointments this trip, but I don’t seem to be having much luck when it comes to Lardo. It’s one of the many food trucks in Portland, and top of my list in terms of carts to visit. Sadly due to changing schedules I missed an earlier appointment, and when I got to the cart today it had already shut. It’s been recommended by a couple of people, and they’ve all raved about the porchetta sandwich. I was gutted that I couldn’t get to taste it, but happy to see the cute little cart – a huge amount of thought has obviously gone into the design and build. Taped onto the door there was a cut out from The Oregonian (scroll down to the part about Rick) with a little background. Oh well, somewhere to visit on my next trip…

Chop, Chop

A couple of weeks back I had a brief chat with Eric from Chop at the PSU Farmers Market (there’s a blurry pic of him at the bottom of this post), he suggested I call round to see his stores, so once I’d finished at KitchenCru I headed over to the City Market. I introduced myself to co-owner Paula who cut a few slices of coppa for me. I was interested in trying more of their products as I’d bought an incredible chicken liver and bourbon mousse at the PSU FM which I’d gobbled for breakfast one morning with some artisan bread.The setting for the store is really quite lovely. Five or six businesses share a common space and provide an incredible array of quality produce (there’s Chop supplying meat, a fishmonger, green grocer, pasta maker, wine merchant), it’s like a high end supermarket (and for those who remember it, it had the feel of the old food hall at Howells department store in Cardiff). Chop are the fourth(I hope I’ve got that right) caretakers of the meat stall at the City Market, and I’ve used the word caretaker as it seems the store has passed on both its recipes and its customers from one owner to the next, it makes for great provenance. Like I’ve mentioned of so many other stores, design, marketing and presentation is everything. Chop have a wonderful, bold honest feel to their brand – and when I met with Eric later I could understand how reflective the brand was of his values.I headed across town to Chop’s second store at The Hub, I didn’t have much time to wander, but the Hub appears to be a building made up of an amalgam of food businesses. Chop is tucked away in a back corridor next to a bustling eatery called Tasty n Sons. The store again was impeccable but with a greater bias towards charcuterie and sandwiches. I enquired whether Eric was in, and was kindly invited into his realm at the back of the store. Here they have their USDA approved salami production facility and you can see the salami’s drying in the ageing room through a glass window in the store itself. Like the Link Lab facility I’d visited in Seattle, the space was an excellent exercise in minimalist design – the space was utilised to its fullest and there was nothing to clutter the space other than the tools needed for the job – I can learn a lot from Eric!I had the full tour of the facility and we spent the best part of an hour chatting. We share some common values when it comes to producing good, honest, simple food. It was good to talk breeds too with a butcher, more often than not breed is dismissed – there’s an obvious difference between undeveloped breeds like the Mangalitza and modern breeds but there are also subtle differences between developed breeds which share many similar characteristics. I was pleased to hear praise for the Mangalitza, which they’ve sourced from Heath Putnam. Feed, husbandry and slaughter conditions are all equally valid when it comes to meat quality but breed is often dismissed unless something specific such as a Mangalitza is being used (sorry for keeping on about them, but I’ve got to publicise my pigs!).

Kitchen Cru: The Return

Having missed owner Michael Madigan on my initial visit to Kitchen Cru he extended an invitation for me to call in for a quick chat on my return North. As I stepped into the kitchen, the first person I saw was Mark from Tails and Trotters who I’d met two weeks previously at the PSU Farmers Market. He was busy at work trimming some cuts, he gave me a tour of their produce, and showed me a monster pancetta which was ageing.

Michael gave me a great insight into the Portland food scene – and a little background. When he moved to the area some 20+ years ago, the farm to fork culture was in its infancy. A handful of quality restaurants were breaking through, and young chefs who passed through those kitchens moved on to start a movement of their own. Bit by bit Portland’s name as a foodie capital grew to what it is today.

Michael introduced me to one of his clients: Sara from Pieku, I’d tasted some of her treats a few weeks back at Salt and Straw. She uses lard rendered by Tails and Trotters at the same facility for her pie crusts – a perfect example of collaborative working. I think there’s a real need back in the UK for facilities like KitchenCru. Not only do they provide a space for producers to work but they also facilitate a space to grow a food community. I currently use the services of the Food Centre Wales for my production development and processing, KitchenCru fits a different niche – in the context of meat production it’s more about direct sales, starting small, selling at farmers markets and providing a space to start a business. It also provides those with no experience of the food industry with an introduction, people like me, struggling in the dark slightly 12 months ago! I’ll be passing on Michael’s details to some of the bods back home (you know who you are King of Agri Food), fingers crossed we can get something going, and if not perhaps further down the line I might think of establishing something similar myself.

Driving the 101 (Part 3)

Final day on the 101 before heading back inland to Portland. The road weaves its way in and out from the coast, it’s a mix of beaches, rocky cliffs, coastal forest and the odd small town with a huge steel bridge crossing an estuary. Before dusk I reached my final coastal town of the day – Cannon Beach. As I’m sure you’ve gathered by now, I’m quite the film geek. Cannon Beach (and Astoria further North) have a special spot in my heart, they both provided locations for one of my favourite childhood films The Goonies. I donned my coat for the first time on the trip and stopped for a quick walk on the beach. Heading inland towards Portland I spotted a pretty produce store, I did a quick u-turn and returned. The place epitomised autumnal America for me, bright orange pumpkins, squashes of all shapes and sizes, big juicy apples and pears and dried coloured Indian corn. Basically, the Autumn edition of a Martha Stewart magazine.The pièce de résistance for me though was their warm apple dumplings, a whole baked apple surrounded in the most deliciously buttery sweet cinammony pastry and topped with a sugary glaze. I was in heaven, and it took a great deal of resolve not to go back for a second helping.

Driving the 101 (Part 2)

My second day on Highway 101 and I get my first glimpse of the stunning North Californian coastline. Dark sand, huge boulders and crashing waves. Having worked the Pembrokeshire coastline for years looking for film locations I know what gems we have at home. These beaches are completely different, our wild Atlantic coast, though windswept is lush and green with a colourful mix of flora and fauna, the coastline here gives you a thump in the stomach and tells you who’s boss, huge waves and the constant deafening roar of the sea.Next stop was a roadside tourist attraction – The Trees of Mystery. I’d stopped specifically to say hello to Paul Bunyan and Babe. In the car park there are two 35ft + statues of the two American folklore characters. Bunyan was said to be a giant lumberjack of incredible skill who was often accompanied on his travels by his companion Babe, the Blue Ox. I’d happily make a home for these two in my back garden.The Trees of Mystery are also home to a Native American Museum. They had cases packed with artefacts from tribes across North America. One thing in particular caught my eye – an intricately sewn parka made from seal intestine. I wonder if I could make a pork intestine coat?As I crossed the Oregon border, I stopped at my first indoor farmers market in the town of Brookings. There were five or six stalls outdoors selling fruit and vegetables and another six or so indoors selling local crafts, soaps and home baked goods. It reminded me of some of the small country markets at home.After buying some sugar free carrot cake I wandered across the road to an antiques mall. If I had unlimited baggage allowance half the store would have come back with me, however as I need to stick to my 20kgs I only bought two drawings. They come from the collection of Film Producer/Dirtector/Editor Elmo Williams. While working in England, any visitor to his office would be asked to draw a picture of a pig while blindfolded. Amongst the drawings on the wall were ones by Peter Sellers and Britt Ekland, I settled for some more modest priced ones by cartoonist Jack Davis and actress and author Helen Palmer Geisel (who was also the first wife of Dr. Seuss). The drawings are all wrapped up, so sadly there’s no picture to show you for now.Heading north, just before twilight I stopped at the Prehistoric Gardens. There are two animals that I absolutely love (in addition to pigs, obviously) – bears, and dinosaurs. The roads all along the coast are scattered with bear carvings, emblems, posters and all manner of depiction’s, so I’d had plenty of sightings to settle my appetite. Dinosaurs however were few and far between. The Prehistoric Gardens have been open to the public since 1955, 23 large dinosaur models are set within mature temperate rainforest. Considering it borders the highway, it’s a peaceful stroll through some beautiful woodland (with AWESOME dinos). Final stop of the day was a spot of Fish & Chips, American style (via Norway). It was good to have a taste of home, though I’m reaching the point in the trip when I can nearly count on one hand how many days I have left.

Driving the 101 (Part 1)

I had a few days between my visit with Mark Keller in Redding and my last few appointments of the trip in Portland. A few years back I’d driven from Portland to San Francisco with a friend via Highway 101 along the Pacific Coast. It was by far the best drive I’d ever done, so as I had the opportunity, I thought I’d do it again, but in the opposite direction. The direct Redding to Portland route is just over 400miles, my bespoke route would add another 400miles to the trip. So for the past 3 days I’ve driven just over 800miles. I’m pretty tired. By driving a smaller road back North, I was hoping to see a lot more of the country, and I’ve definitely done that. If I’d had a week or more to drive the route I’d have had much more of an opportunity to pick and choose where to stop. I didn’t have that luxury so I had to make the most of it.Driving from Redding I stopped in the semi-ghost town of Shasta. It still has a few houses, but the main street is littered with the ruins of the old storefronts. The buildings are now managed by the State Park and the old bakery, grocery store and courthouse are kept as living museums, sadly travelling out of season they were all closed. However I did get to nose around what was left of the butchers shop. The original shop, built of wood, has long since gone, what remains is their cold room – a brick built chamber burrowed into the hillside. Much like many an Ice House I’ve seen on country estates, towards the end of winter, snow and ice would be collected and packed into the chamber to chill the room for the summer months. During winter, while the temperatures outdoors were sufficiently cold to store produce out, the chamber was cleared and used as a smokehouse.Next stop along Highway 299 was the Bigfoot Museum, sadly once again it was closed due to it being out of season. A few miles North Roger Patterson had shot the famous footage in 1967 of Bigfoot walking through a clearing. Whether it’s a hoax or not, we just don’t know.

Having reached the coast I headed South towards Ferndale and The Blacksmith Shop. I’d seen some beautiful knives at Heritage Artifacts in Napa and was regretting not buying one, so having done some searching I found that they were also stocked in Ferndale. The knives are handmade by Michael Hemmer deep in the Oregon Coastal Mountains. Each knife is individual and I had the run of their inventory to hold and test the knives to find the perfect one for me. I went for a large chopper with a myrtle wood handle, I can’t wait to get home and use it! Like most boys, the two things I loved as a child was knives and matches, things haven’t changed.Further South I headed to the Avenue of the Giants, a stunning route through the coastal redwood trees of Northern California. I hadn’t driven that specific route before, and it was thanks to Shane from Suisun Valley Farm’s suggestion that I made the detour. I’m not a spiritual person, but I’d say that taking a walk through the redwoods is the closest I’ll ever get to having a ‘moment’. None of the pictures that I took reflect the silence and majesty of these trees, I was just lost for words.Having just experienced a near religious experience I then went and tarnished it by bowing to commercialist tack by driving through a tree.On entering the avenue I stopped at a produce stall, I’d already passed a handful selling home grown fruit and vegetables but I was drawn in by this one in particular due to their offer of blackberry popsicles. I parked up, took a walk into the store (a colourful shed), deposited my money in the honesty box and took a popsicle from the freezer. It was utterly delicious, lashings of crushed fruit frozen on a stick, perfect.

Wales vs France

Due to head off to the last appointment of the trip(don’t worry I’ve got a stack of posts yet). I’m a bit bleary eyed having stayed up to watch the rugby. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such nervousness watching any game before now. My heart goes out to all the players. We played with some true grit, and hung on in there even being down by one player. I can see on Facebook that there are so many complaining about the referee, in the end, the game was there for us to win. We’re ever the plucky looser – my childhood was punctuated with games in the old National Stadium where we played well, with courage, and flair but ultimately lost to a better side. Now a little older and wiser, it’s heart breaking to watch Wales – we can’t capitalise on territory and possession. Yes, it was a hard fought battle but it was our game. A huge chance missed, utterly disappointed.

Busting a gut… well, kinda.

Today was my first day of work for weeks, I was up at 6am to get to the plant for 7am. When I say work, I didn’t really do all that much, I spent most of my day distracting Mark Keller of Keller Crafted Meats while he did all of the work. It’s one of my favourite days yet on this trip, talking shop is one thing, getting my hands dirty and seeing how something is done is another. Having visited so many varying types of business on the trip I’ve been given a lot of different advice, but one thing that I’ve heard on a number of occasions is – “find somewhere with spare capacity to work from”. That’s exactly what Mark does –  he processes from the Premiere Meats plant in Redding, CA. In theory it’s an easy thing to do, but Mark is testament to the fact, that if you want to do it, you may have to make some tough decisions. He moved from the Bay Area up to Redding just over two years ago.

Mark is very experienced in meat production having worked in varying roles both in farming, slaughter, production and consulting. He has an excellent personal view on food production; he’s all about family values. His pigs are his own, bred in Washington State to his own feed regime (no GM, no corn, no soya), his products are about good quality ingredients and although the products might not be organic certified, he does use a large percentage of organic meat, and all the dry ingredients that he uses are organic. His meat is also third party certified via the Food Alliance – similar to our RSPCA Freedom Food mark, it guarantees the humane treatment of animals but it also guarantees that the farms are managed correctly and that the staff on the farms are treated fairly. I’m mightily impressed with what they stand for.

Today’s production schedule involved making two types of bacon – a Rustic and a Maple Bacon. Bacon over here means something a whole lot different to what we think of as bacon – it’s always made from the belly, and more often than not it’s sweeter and it’s been smoked. Due to the way that the majority of it is processed here, using hot smoke, bacon is often a ‘cooked’ product, which gives it a much longer shelf life than our ‘raw’ bacon. Bacon production today was very similar to what I’d done on the Meat Science course in Iowa, only these machines were twice the size. I really enjoyed seeing machines made by AMFEC in use in the plant, it’s only a few days ago that I’d seen similar ones being fabricated back in their factory in Hayward, CA.

At lunch I got to taste some Mark’s product – his Hatch Sausages were incredible, flavoured with Hatch chilli peppers, which come from a small area in New Mexico. The sausages were meaty, succulent and fresh, with wonderful bright green herbs and chilli seeds dotted throughout. Although he sources some excellent seasonal ingredients for his products (like a traditional wild rice grown by the local Native population) Mark doesn’t market his products directly to foodie customers, he wants his food to be eaten by families. He uses the best ingredients possible to make an affordable quality product.

Berkeley and the Fakin Bacon

Last day in the Bay Area so I decided to take a good walk around the place that’s been my home for the past few days – Berkeley. When I arrived I was looking forward to a walk around the University campus, but I was a touch disappointed to find out that the scenes from The Graduate which were based at the University, were actually shot in Los Angeles.

The campus was stunning, and everything I’d imagined it to be. When I think of British Universities it somehow drags up images of drunkenness and kebabs (perhaps that’s based on my experience of University life), however life on campus at Berkeley is very different. The students were the youthful, fresh faced, intellectual types, they were there to learn, as much as to have a student experience. There was a real sense of exuberance, teams were practising parkour; jumping onto the library windowsills and clambering stairwells and the ridges of small buildings and while in the distance there was a drum-off in mid flow between two groups of Japanese Taiko drummers.On a street corner, where I’d seen an intense political discussion the night before, there was a lone protester, placard in hand. The spirit of the 60’s is still strong here, both on the street protesting and sleeping rough. Homelessness has been endemic wherever I’ve visited on the trip, but in Berkeley there seems to be a draw for intellectual types, perhaps they came to study and never left. A few days previously, I’d met Orlando, a street poet he was selling a newspaper to raise money for the homeless, much like the Big Issue back at home. He’d been homeless but both he and his wife now had a place of their own and were doing their bit in order for someone else to have the same chance as they had.

Choosing a venue for brunch was easy, I stuck with the whole feel of the place and decided to venture into a vegetarian diner. Although I love my meat, most people are usually surprised when I say how much I enjoy vegetarian food. I’ve been lucky, I’ve got a vegetarian friend who’s an incredible cook. Although I was going veggie, as it was on the menu, I thought it was worth trying some Fakin Bacon (it’s hiding beneath the potatoes at the top of the picture). Although it didn’t taste like real bacon, it was quite nice and I’d happily have a Fakin Bacon Butty again.