It’s taken me until this month’s Charcutepalooza challenge – the penultimate – to figure out what it’s really it’s all about. It’s not about perfection – indeed, a few things didn’t quite go as planned for us this time around – it’s about the journey. Every day at school, I tell the boys that the end result doesn’t matter – it’s about how they arrive there and this month, I realised that, especially in the kitchen, I do need to practice what I preach more often. A failure is a learning experience. A glitch is a teachable moment. I mean, it’s taken me nearly 2 years to get the macaron right and even then, it’s unpredictable. It’s only since I started teaching classes that I have realised how important not dwelling on perfection is – in fact, instant perfection is boring, right? And it’s not like making meat is easy, not by a long shot.
This year of meat has been challenging to say the least. I’ve dealt with bits of meat that I never thought I would be going anywhere near. Thank goodness for my in-house Master Butcher, Mr Neil, without whom I would be nowhere near completing this year of challenges. And certainly not contemplating six different dishes showing a bunch of different techniques for our “Last Supper” this coming Sunday. No siree. This year has been all about working as a team and much as Neil probably thinks all I do is take the pretty pictures (though let’s face it – some of my meat pictures have been less than pretty!), this was definitely a team effort. With a specific goal in mind, you see….
Every time I open our copy of Charcuterie, this is what I see:
(and before you start going on about the grammatical error here – Dad, I am looking at you! – I KNOW there’s an error and it’s on purpose. It’s a bit of a family joke that my sister and I always say “Me and…..” JUST to annoy my dad!)
Uh huh. We’ve had the book since June 2009. When my blog was just a baby (less than a month old). Michael Ruhlman’s blog was one of the first I ever read and he just happened to be challenging people to make BLTs from scratch. Yeah – the bacon, lettuce, tomatoes, bread, mayo – the whole shebang! Well it took us the whole summer and an army of friends helping but we produced the tastiest BLTs ever. Oh we had plans to work our way through the book, for sure. And despite our deep desire to make saucisson sec (our favourite French charcuterie item) from scratch, like so many of our cookbooks, it kind of got lost in the shuffle. Until last December when a few tweets between Cathy and Kim about making charcuterie turned into a worldwide, meat-making phenomenon that both Neil and I have been so pleased to be a part of.
So each month this year, we have dutifully followed the instructions (even whilst battling a viral infection, or when we were in two different countries and even when someone forgot to put the blade into the meat grinder – nothing could stop us!), impatiently waiting for the saucisson sec to appear on the challenge, knowing that Cathy was guiding us through the book and each technique in a very methodical order, so that by the time we got to the dry-cured sausages, it wouldn’t be intimidating in the least.
Ok so that part wasn’t intimidating. Maybe making the noix de jambon was a little. Mostly because it involved a giant piece of pork leg and a giant knife. I particularly like the image below and the headline in the paper under said giant piece of pork leg. Excess? In Charcutepalooza? Never!
Once they had reached their desired 30% weight loss stage, albeit way quicker than they were supposed to, I brought a couple up to test on some unsuspecting guests. Oh, and of course our taste tester had to get involved. She was VERY interested. And no, my first reaction was not to grab the camera, I already had my phone in my hand having just tweeted something along the lines of “Wow, this tastes real!” and I turned my head for 2 seconds and Miss Cleo was in there…
And you know what? So did we. Even though we had some – shall we say, issues? Some holey (definitely not holy) meat. And some uneven drying.
Check out the photo below on the left. That was our basement in June. Yes friends, our basement. Not a cellar. Just a huge old room with a ton of wine all over the place. Stressing out Mr Excel Spreadsheet no end… On the right you see the key. To the new, temperature controlled cellar. It’s locked. Obviously. I live in the house. And this, my friends, is the reason our dry cured sausage didn’t work perfectly. Seriously.
Now the basement has been “finished” (i.e. it’s not a big old room with concrete floors and piles (of very important documents) everywhere, the humidity is much more controlled (i.e. much lower) as is the temperature. So whilst the temperature was a beautiful stable 15˚C as it is supposed to be, the humidity was way too low, meaning the saucisson dried much faster than it was supposed to. So we have imperfect saucisson. But you know, we have a cave of wine and some imperfect saucisson. And we know why it went wrong (nothing to do with said cave of wine except its existence).
Ok, enough already, I hear you saying. If this is about the journey and we KNOW why it went wrong – how does it taste????
Pretty amazing, actually. The saucisson, if we ignore the look of it, tastes exactly like a real one. And the noix de jambon is simply sensational.
Watch out for the FINAL Charcutepalooza post next Tuesday featuring the Last Supper. Though hopefully not for anyone who will be enjoying it with us.