Going Whole Hog

20 10 2009

From Nose to Tail was the title of the seminar here at the Sante Restaurant Symposium 2009 in Lake George, NY.  Chef Jamie Bissonnette of Toro and the soon to open Copa in Boston, MA was on hand to demonstrate not only the butchering of a pig but also the unique ways to use a whole pig.  With the popularity of salumi and charcuterie as well as the importance being placed on sustainability, it is no surprise that more and more restaurants are butchering whole animals.  Of course it takes a great deal of training and skill to know how to butcher, but it also takes planning and some research.  Bissonnette cautions those interested in taking the plunge to be careful.

Bissonnette explains that butchering a whole animal must first be profitable.  His restaurants offer small plates and a menu with about fifty items so he has the luxury of offering items at all different price points.  An example is he will butcher multiple animals and save the parts for future specials that he can run when he accumulates enough.  Do not forget the time commitment necessary to hang the meats and age them, this is in effect resources tied up in inventory, it takes up room, it could be aging for a significant amount of time.

Go local.  Knowing your source and the farmer is vital to ensure you understand the breed and provenance of the animal.  You will know what the animal was raised on and can get to know how this affects the flavor of the product, fat content, etc.

Be safe.  if making salumi be sure to follow recipes.  Bissonnette insists that nitrates were made for a reason, and care must be taken when making charcuterie to prevent illness.  Use resources such as recipes and books from reputable sources to ensure you do not waste time, money and energy.  This also prevents the danger of experimenting which could produce disastrous results.

The restaurant size will determine how big of an animal you are able to butcher, at Toro they have limited room so are unable to bring in multiple animals at a time.  Storage of course can also become an issue, if the walk-in is not big enough you may not be able to store a full pig and may need to butcher immediately upon delivery.  This relates closely to the size of the animal you bring in.  The pig Bissonnette butchered was only sixty pounds, and for example a pig that size does not provide a large slab of bacon.  It is important to estimate your needs and portion sizes as they will relate to the size of the pig you will need to purchase.  Bissonnette suggested that the sizes of cuts we are familiar with come from animals between four and five hundred pounds.  This may be impossible to butcher in house.  The method of breaking down the animal will vary also according to your resources.  Bissonnette uses cleavers and knives since they do not have room for a bandsaw or mechanical saws.

Bissonnette explains that only if you use the entire animal butchery can become profitable, if you focus on the primal cuts you will miss out.  No scrap is wasted.   Pieces of fat are smoked and used to flavor stocks and broths.  Random bits make lard that can be used to make lardo.  He even takes bones which he boils and then rolls in rice flour and fries for a hearty hands on snack.  The funny thing is there is one piece that will not make it to your plate if you go to Toro, and that is the small pork skirt.  He fries that up for himself.


Napa Harvest

12 10 2009


Napa Valley in the heat of harvest is something very special.  The last few weeks I have been spending some time in the valley, for the Staglin Music Festival for Mental Health, and classes for the National Pork Board and last week for Mastering Wine I at the Culinary Institute of America Greystone in St. Helena at the northern end of the Napa Valley.  The valley is absolutely bustling with the excitement of harvest and grapes are not the only thing being harvested!

While fermentations simmer and the threat of a big storm in the Bay Area looms, the last few weeks have been balmy and downright cool, a very unusual harvest, but as I reported to my class last week, it really seems that the grapes know what is best and man just has to be paying enough attention to do the right thing.  I remember being awakened on the day of the Staglin Benefit for Mental Health to the sound of thunder (my WORD!) and raindrops, so unusual for the valley.  I had heard that veraison (the point at which grapes begin to turn color and ripen) had been early, but this was truly unique, to have an overcast cool day for this event had not happened in the nine years I had worked it.  Overall the season was cool and in the last week I heard from many vintners that Brix levels (level of sugar at harvest) are lower than normal but with exceptional maturity.  This means lower alcohols with just as much flavor!  (to read more about why go to http://www.winebusiness.com/wbm/?go=getArticle&dataId=17093)  It just goes to show that sometimes the vines have forewarning as to when they should get their fruit ripe and hunker down for winter.  From what I hear many were spooked by the storm warning predicted for Tuesday and have harvested.  For Twitter updates head to @NVGrapegrowers to find out who is harvesting.

But Napa Harvest is not just about grapes!  One of my favorite things to do whenever I am in the valley is to hit the LMR Rutherford Gardens.  Operated by Long Meadow Ranch they are a produce pavilion right in the heart of Rutherford, across the way from Grgich Hills Winery on Highway 29.  While known for great wine and free-range beef the bounty at the gardens is the produce, and although summer is high-season, I love their fall offerings.  They have a newsletter that you can sign up for if you are interested in knowing what is in season in advance, but I prefer to be surprised!  Recently they had amazing nobby potatoes, five varieties of garlic, zucchini, an abundance peppers and possibly the last of amazing heirloom tomatoes.  If you hit the stand at just the right time you may be able to get some eggs!  I was lucky recently and grabbed a set of pullets, small sized eggs, in pastel colors that would put any Easter basket to shame.  And they were $5 a dozen and delicious!  Plus Long Meadow Ranch makes great wine!  They also offer jeep tours of their vineyards and cattle ranches!


Further down valley I make another stop as I turn towards Sonoma onto 121 headed back to San Francisco, Stanly Lane Marketplace.  This country store has amazing coffee, they do a fabulous iced Americano that almost lasts until I drive over the Golden Gate Bridge.  They offer some foods and seasonal crafts from local artisans including adorable gourd art for Halloween.  Its a fun way to break up the drive.  They also sell used barrels and if you are lucky staves and barrel tops, which I am fond of (I make them into lazy susans).  In the same parking lot they have a farm stand offering produce from many Bay Area farms, and are nice enough to specify the origin of every piece of produce on its sign.  In the height of summer they usually have Brentwood corn and nice heirlooms, peaches and nectarines in season.  My favorite time of the year, though, is when they create their incredible field of pumpkins for Halloween.  It is awash in oranges but they also stock multiple heirloom squashes in an array of untraditional shapes and colors, at much cheaper prices than most markets.  Plentiful wheelbarrows are available for rides for the kids and the pumpkins.  Pigs are on view carousing over smashed gourds for the kids to watch (and smell).  This year I was super excited to see that they added a corn and sunflower maze to the scene.  At five o’clock as the sun was exhibiting a much different angle in the sky than usual, it really made it feel like fall.  Hurry!  These places shut down seasonally!

LMR Rutherford Gardens 1796 So. St. Helena Highway Rutherford  http://www.longmeadowranch.com/Gardens/Rutherford-Gardens

Stanly Lane Marketplace 3100 Golden Gate Drive Napa, at the corner of Stanly Lane and Hwy 121/12, Napa 707 253-7512

D&S Produce Stanly Lane Pumpkin Patch, at the corner of Stanly Lane and Hwy 121/12, Napa 707 480-4479

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday 10-6pm, Saturday and Sunday 9-5pm


WhiskyWeek 2009

7 10 2009

Although I will be away I wanted to let the “crew” know about the 3rd Annual Whiskey Fest on October 16, 2009 at the San Francisco Marriott and Whisky Week.  Go to maltadvocate.com to get more information about the events in store.  Also Elixir is doing some really cool seminars, see below.  Charbay is having a party on October 10 that you may want to check out!

Charbay Annual Barbecue & Wine Club Party

12pm – 4pm
Charbay wines, ports, aperitifs & the favorite foods we’ve shared through the years.
Also:  Marko’s Private Port Blending Seminar 11am
Marko Karakasevic, 13th Generation winemaker and distiller
will lead you on a sensory journey of smell and taste as he
guides you in blending vintage ports from our library of barrel-aged ports.
Purchase Tickets & Information – Call 707.963.9327 ext 23 or visit@charbay.com


Exclusive Tastings, Local Distillers and Marketing Tips lead into 2009 WhiskyFest

(San Francisco, CA September 28, 2009) Seminars are strictly limited to 25 seats at $35 per person and tickets are available through a link at www.ElixirSF.com/events.htm

Sunday, October 11th, 6pm to 8pm

David Blackmore, Glenmorangie Brand Ambassador

Join us at Elixir for an exciting and educational adventure through the aging process of one of the best selling Single Malt Scotch whiskies in the world. David Blackmore with the Glenmorangie Distillery will be on hand to lead us through a tasting of a selection of the Glenmorangie portfolio. This tasting will involve a full sensory analysis of the components found in Glenmorangie whiskies, helping you to better understand how to analyze and understand a spirit from every perspective. David is a native of Scotland, a Graduate of the University of St. Andrews, a former chair of the prestigious Tasting Panel at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society in Scotland and has spent time working alongside the famous ŒSixteen Men of Tain‚ at the Glenmorangie Distillery and at their sister distillery Ardberg.

6:00pm Meet and greet with welcome cocktail and appetizers
6:30-7:30 David’s presentation
7:30-8pm Q&A

8pm to 2am Glenmorangie dram and cocktail specials in Elixir

Monday, October 12th, 7pm to 9pm

Marko Karakasevic, 13th Generation Master Distiller, Marko K Spirits & Domaine Charbay

Marko Karakasevic is the 13th Generation Distiller in his family and has been distilling with his father for 26 years at Charbay Winery and Distillery.  Having distilled brandies, rums, tequila, and several new and classic styles of whiskies, Marko and his family have distilled every class of spirit and continue to push the creative envelope in the world of spirits. Elixir is the first whiskey bar in the world to have Doubled and Twisted IPA Light Whiskey. Join us to hear of the family history, taste Charbay Pilsner Whiskey II, learn about their unique distilling methods and the philosophy behind it all,  and try a cocktail or two.

7pm Meet and Greet with welcome cocktail

7:30 to 8:30 Marko’s presentation

8:30 to 9:00 Q&A

9pm to 2am Charbay and Marko K dram and cocktail specials in Elixir

Tuesday, October 13th, 7pm to 9pm

St. George Spirits‚ Master Distiller Lance Winters

In this second round of our local whiskey distillers, Lance Winters will present how they do it over in Alameda when it comes to whiskey. The famed Hangar One on that nearby island has been creating a wide array of ground breaking spirits, including the St. George Single Malt Whiskey. Their use of three woods in the aging process and eau de vie distillers’ approach makes for a unique American whiskey; one of the first in a new generation of whiskey distillation that moves beyond the borders of Kentucky and Tennessee.

7pm Meet and Greet with welcome cocktail

7:30 to 8:30 Lance’s presentation

8:30 to 9:00 Q&A

9pm to 2am St. George and Hangar One dram and cocktail specials during The Elixir Quiz

Wednesday, October 14th, 7pm to 9pm

Gardner Dunn, Yamazaki Brand Ambassador

What is Japanese whisky? Yamazaki Brand Ambassador and famed New York bartender Gardner Dunn will take us through the history and evolution of whisky production and presentation in Japan. We’ll taste some of the Suntory brands, including some unique wood finishes on Yamazaki and the first tasting of the new Hibiki 12 Year, being released in the US on that day! Gardner will give us a visual tour of their distilleries and cooperage as well as Japanese bartending tools and ice sculpting. Truly a unique whiskey experience.

7pm to 8:30pm Gardner’s presentation (including welcome cocktail)

8:30 to 9:00 Q&A

9pm to 2am Elixir Charity Guest Bartending event for The Bartender Relief Fund, benefiting Chicago Bartender Kyle McHugh and featuring Gardner, Elixir bartenders H. Joseph Ehrmann and Alicia Walton and Bartender Fund President Tony Devencenzi.

Thursday, October 15th, 7pm to 9pm

Peter Schwartz, Founder and President of International Beverage Company, Inc.

Having 28 years of experience in the alcoholic beverage industry, Peter is a recognized authority and national speaker on the making, marketing, selling, and serving of whiskey, not to mention his excellent nosing and tasting skills. Welcomed in 2008 into the Keepers of the Quaich, the exclusive Scotch whisky society, Peter will discuss a survey tasting of the Scottish Highlands (Deanston), Isle of Mull (Ledaig and Tobermory) and Islay (Bunnahabhain and Black Bottle). We‚ll look at how they are different from other single malts and blends, the distillation process for each product and the difference of a non chill-filtered product and filtered product.

7pm to 8:30pm Peter‚s presentation (including welcome cocktail)

8:30 to 9:00 Q&A

9pm to 2am – Discounts on all products tasted by the dram or cocktail

Friday, October 16th, 7pm to 8:30pm


Marriott San Francisco


Los Angeles County Fair

2 10 2009

The Los Angeles County Fair ends this weekend!  I am usually there to say goodbye to the fair on its last weekend.  It is my favorite time.  I get to spend the last hours with the Sham-Wow and Ginsu knife salesmen hanging at the bar discussing the last few weeks.  This year they extended the fair by a week meaning that it conflicts with Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in Golden Gate Park, so I had to go last weekend, the second to last weekend.  I absolutely love the fair.  Perhaps it has something to do with me growing up in suburbia and not knowing anything about what a county fair was like, or if it even existed, and then reading Charlotte’s Web and wondering could that really happen?

I think that when I read the book I thought that the idea of a fair was fantasy along with talking pigs and spiders, but now I understand that the fair is truly an interesting and amazing relic in our culture.  The LACF as we like to call it is a huge organization encompassing all realms such as concessions, rides, events, concerts, exhibits, etc.  I happen to run the Los Angeles International Wine and Spirits Competition Spirits portion, but while we are judging spirits earlier in the year there are judges judging wines, beers, jams, pies, pickles, tapestry items like quilts or baby blankets, tablescaping (setting up a cool table for a party), etc.  Once the fair gets going they start judging a la minute the things that are a bit more timely like pigs, cows, etc.  While some might balk at the idea of a county fair the process although steeped in tradition really offers up an opportunity to embrace the culture of farming that used to exist in this country years ago.

I made a joke while teaching my wine class at the LACF that I had visited the goats and that they looked delicious and was accosted by laughs and raised eyebrows (about fifty-fifty) but the point is that our food has to come from someplace and to take your children to the fair really brings that point home.  If you have decided to  serve your brethren meat then I feel you should be comfortable in finding out where that comes from and showing them what that looks like and how it is sold.

The fair is such a wonderous place to me, I so enjoy the fair food, like my favorite character Templeton in Charlotte’s Web I find joy in the luscious foodstuffs that are presented to me!  My favorites are:

Dr. Bob’s Ice Cream ANY flavor, great stuff.  Tell Ruth I sent you if you go.

Roasted Corn: Best Spot is near the Fairview Farms add butter, chili powder, salt, etc. but bring lots of napkins

Steamed Artichoke with Mayonnaise: On the main food alley really pleasant to get your veg while enjoying the fair

Barbecue from ???? ask the fair workers who is serving the best right now, it changes year to year.  Get extra sauce and don’t forget the tooth floss, this is no classy knife n fork bbq, this will take effort

Wine Sampling: Head over to the Ralph’s Wine and Spirit Marketplace  to taste some of the gold winning wines and spirits!  Take classes to learn how to taste, this is unique to fairs across the country and offers you a great chance to meet up with fun wine lovers

Go to the booth near the racetrack to try the latest in fried food!  Although you might not be up for deep-fried frog’s legs or fried Spam you may want to camp out at the booth and try what they have to offer!  It’s amazing to see folks embarking on a culinary fiasco, so enjoy the view!

Animals:My favorite part of the fair is getting to know the animals.  This year I saw baby goats!  There were tons all jumping around, but the most amazing were the ones that were born while I was teaching my class on Spirits at the Ralph’s Marketplace!  They were 2 HOURS old!  The mother was still getting to know them and it was super cool.  The barns are incredibly well kept and clean and they even offer hand washing stations so after you get down and dirty with the farm animals you can clean up.

Head out to the fair this weekend if you are in the area of Pomona, CA and you will not be disappointed!