The Daily Dish

Carving a pig from head to tail at Formaggio Kitchen

By Adam Centamore
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Last Wednesday evening, Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge gave class attendees a rare opportunity to witness what most foodies only read about: the actual carving of a pig.

In the spirit of Cochon555, a traveling competition centered on the appreciation and creative preparation of all things porcine, Julie Biggs and Jason Lord reduced a 110-pound heritage pig into cuts of meat easily recognized in your local meat case. Picnic hams, tenderloins, Boston Butt cuts, spareribs, pig’s feet, and jowl were all on the menu.

As attendees arrived for the class, they found themselves in the presence of a carcass that had been initially prepared; the head was separated from the body, which was cut cleanly in half. It took some a few moments to adjust to what they were standing next to, but there were no real surprises. Biggs commented, “These people know why they are here, and they know what they are going to see.”

Biggs and Lord’s sheer passion for their work quickly mitigated any slight discomfort.

Biggs, Formaggio’s charcutière, and Lord, the chef for Formaggio South End, were excited to conduct Pig Butchery 101: Primal Cuts from Head to Tail. “I love how cool pigs are today,” said Lord. “People are more educated and interested in what they eat.”

Neither Biggs nor Lord has any formal training in butchery per se. “I never learned butchering in culinary school,” said Lord. When asked how he acquired the considerable skills he was demonstrating throughout the evening, he confided, “I learned from sticking around [East Coast Grill, in Cambridge]. I just got involved.” Biggs is still learning. “I’ve always wanted to learn,” she said. “I love the idea of going to a farm, picking out an animal, and seeing it through to the end myself.”

Throughout the class, attendees sampled dishes made from various parts of the pig. The starter was a simple sausage roll; a light pastry shell filled with browned sausage with a hint of garlic. Next came “head to tail” posole, a traditional Mexican stew made from “bits and pieces” of pork livened up with hominy, cayenne pepper, cumin, and other spices in a robust pork broth.

For those feeling a little more adventurous, pig ear salad came next. This was many people’s first experience with pig ear, and most found the salad to be a pleasant balance between salty (from the roasted pig’s ear and capers) and tangy (from the citrus vinaigrette dressing). The final tasting was a Chinese-styled pork belly, sliced and served simply, letting the flavors of the meat’s fats melt in their mouths. During each course, Formaggio manager Vince Razionale kept guests’ glass full of rich, dark ales and stouts to complement each of the dishes.

A recurring theme during the evening was respect. “As long as you respect and appreciate what the animal is doing for you, you’re in the clear,” Lord said. Several times he leaned near the animal and thanked it in a hushed tone.

Watching Biggs and Lord treat the animal with such reverence summed up the spirit of the event. In dismantling their heritage pig, they were completing the journey of an animal in the food chain for our benefit, and while the results were tasty and the mood light, they never lost sight of what was actually happening. When asked why an experience like this was so important for people to have, and why he loved participating, Lord said it best.

“It’s real.”

Adam Centamore is the guest author for today’s Foodie Blog. Read new WGBH Foodie posts every weekday, where we explore myriad ways and places to experience good food and wine.

Book review: Cleaving by Julie Powell, sequel to Julie & Julia, has plenty of spice

By Cathy Huyghe
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Julie Powell must certainly have considered cooking her way through volume two of Mastering the Art of French Cooking as the follow-up sequel to her wildly successful Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously.

Some writers would have done just that. It would have been a predictable next move, maybe, but one that came with a fair guarantee of readership by the legions of Julia Child fans – many of whom have been Child devotees since WGBH’s groundbreaking cooking series, The French Chef.

But instead of cooking her way through Mastering (Volume Two), Powell apprenticed herself at a butcher shop in upstate New York. It was a bold, creative, and decidedly unpredictable move, and I applauded her courage and lack of orthodoxy. Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession was my book club’s March’s pick, and we met last week at Cornerstone Bookstore in Salem to discuss it in detail.

I was, I rush to say, keen to discuss Powell’s descriptions of dismembering steer and disemboweling pigs with the group, fellow food lovers all. But, if speaking honestly, it must be said that we all were more interested in what else Powell writes about.

What else she writes about is sex.

In Cleaving, Powell writes candidly and in detail about her highly charged affair with “D.” She writes about her troubled marriage in a tone that oscillates between indifference and agony. She writes revealingly about the emotional and psychological troubles of a life she complicates to the extreme.

It was a racier book than anyone in our group had anticipated. What it had to do with Julia Child – the reason at least some of us voted to read the book in the first place – was tangential at best. And as discussion within the group began, thoughts of Julia or, indeed, of butchery in general, fell quickly by the wayside.

There was a little of this at the start: “I was amazed by what it takes to cut meat.” And this: “I liked the parts where she went to other countries and connected with people over the meat.”

But the tempo of the conversation picked up considerably when we turned inevitably to the subject of sex.

“I read the whole thing,” one member volunteered immediately.

“I finished it ahead of time,” said another.

“She hooked me right at the beginning,” said a third.

Sex manages to strike those chords. Not that we spent much time on the specifics of the acts, but we did delve into what the acts meant and how we related to them.

One woman related, with startling clarity, the merits of “a love that hurts.” Another zoomed into page 22, where Powell describes her grandmother’s lifelong feeling of pointlessness, something that was passed down from generation to generation, and her mother’s “bone-deep unhappiness or discontent.”

It wasn’t a pretty story but, frankly, neither is sex nor love nor life all the time. I found Powell’s book refreshing exactly because it did not have an ending all tied up in a bow. In fact, members of our book club disagreed on what exactly the ending of the story was. We read the same last pages, but our interpretations of those pages varied widely.

I say that’s a good thing.

Because a perfect thing, a perfect, pretty thing, is boring. Powell’s story, and how it strikes chords within our own, is life. It’s complicated. It has texture, and ridges. It’s coarse. And rough. Sometimes that’s just what you want. And sometimes that’s what you get, whether you want it or not.

Cathy Huyghe writes the WGBH Foodie blog. Read new WGBH Foodie posts every weekday, in which Cathy explores myriad ways and places to experience good food and wine.

Confessions of a wine-phobe: I choose wine based on what the label looks like

By Cathy Huyghe
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‘Fess up.

At some point in your life, you’ve bought a bottle of wine based on what the label looks like.

I say good for you. It means you’ve tuned into the whole aesthetic experience of wine, and let’s face it, a good-looking exterior – be it a bottle of wine, a car, a jacket, a certain someone – can be awfully persuasive.

Choosing a bottle based on the look of its label, however, also means that you’re participating in a well-considered marketing tactic that’s designed to appeal to our weakness for all that is visually good-looking.

A few times a year, a hefty publication called Communication Arts lands in my mailbox and each time I read it, I am impressed both by the artistry of communications professionals and by their strategy. In my experience with this periodical, wine labels are called out as choice examples of a category called Packaging.

Other examples of Packaging highlights range from candles to bottled green tea, and some of them, when seen in the context of design from a technical and functional perspective, easily could land in an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.

But it is the wine labels that I notice and consider most.

A brand called Meteor, for example, contracted a design firm in Richmond, VA, to design a label that “created the feeling of looking up into the night sky, searching for meteors,” a representative of the firm said. “We had never seen a 360-degree visual on a wine bottle, so that helped shape the design.” (From the November 2008 issue.)

Wine labels are prime real estate, and some wineries choose to use that space to highlight certain aspects or motivations of their brand. Vista Hills Winery, for example, wanted to promote “drinking for the common good. It’s an honest approach,” a representative of their design firm said, “and one consumers could get behind, so we put [their] mission to donate 10% of their wine profits to working college students front and center” on the label. (From the November 2008 issue.)

You might think that a winery who puts that much thought and effort into the outside of their bottle isn’t putting quite as much into what’s inside. That isn’t necessarily true, of course: witness first-growth Château Mouton-Rothschild, whose labels have been designed by different artists – including Picasso, Andy Warhol, and Salvador Dalí – every year since 1945.

Savvy? Sure.

Distracting? Maybe.

But paying attention to consumers’ attention to how a bottle looks is a realistic assessment that is – or perhaps should be – part of every wine brand’s business plan.

Cathy Huyghe writes the WGBH Foodie blog. Read new WGBH Foodie posts every weekday, in which Cathy explores myriad ways and places to experience good food and wine.

Scotch demystified: Five questions for Ricky Crawford, The Glenlivet’s national ambassador and educator

By Cathy Huyghe
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Want to know a bit more about Scotch? Today’s Q&A with The Glenlivet’s Ricky Crawford won’t unravel all the mysteries, but it does take an inside look at this amazing spirit from the home of highlands and lochs.

CH: What exactly is a single-malt Scotch?

RC: A single-malt is made at one distillery.

CH: What factors influence the flavor of a Scotch?

RC: Scotch is made only from water, barley, and yeast. The water source for the distillery is extremely important; The Glenlivet’s water source, for example, is Josie’s Well in rocky Speyside. The water filters through the rock and collects minerals, which will affect the chemical reactions and composition during the distillation process.

Another factor affecting the flavors of Scotch is the choice of barrels in which the liquid is matured, such as French oak barrels, American oak barrels previously used for making Bourbon, and Spanish oak barrels previously used for making Sherry. All three impart distinct aromas, flavors, and characteristics to the Scotch.

CH: Why is oak the preferred medium for maturing Scotch?

RC: Oak is a hard wood and very durable; its longevity is necessary for aged Scotch. Oak is also a non-resinous wood; its lack of sap means the barrels breathe easier since there is nothing to clog its pores. Oak from different parts of the world – the Ozarks of Missouri, for example, or Limousin in France – have different degrees of density and breathability. That variation, and distilleries’ use of the variety, adds complexity to the final product.

CH: Why add water to the Scotch in your glass?

RC: Water breaks the surface of the pure ethanol of the Scotch in your glass. Water also lets the Scotch open up and release its bouquet. Adding ice to the glass will do the same thing, but as the ice melts, the flavor profile of the Scotch also will evolve and change.

CH: What is the best glass to use for drinking Scotch?

RC: A snifter. The narrow opening at the top of the glass funnels the aroma and targets the bouquet.

Cathy Huyghe writes the WGBH Foodie blog. Read new WGBH Foodie posts every weekday, in which Cathy explores myriad ways and places to experience good food and wine.

From France with love: Ratafia, the other drink from Champagne

By Cathy Huyghe
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A few months ago over dinner in Bordeaux, a man with playful, very pale blue eyes told me about a drink called ratafia, from the Champagne region of France.

“It’s made with the grape juice left over from making champagne,” he said. “Like France’s version of retsina.”

Retsina, of course, is that famous resinated wine from Greece — which happens to be one of the destinations for WGBH’s upcoming LearningTour: Mediterranean Voyage of Discovery. (Perhaps Diane Rehm and Scott Simon will even raise a glass with you!)

But in France, ratafia is crafted from Pinot Meunier juice blended with marc or wine brandy.

How bad could that be?

We made a mutual promise to swap liqueurs that are in some way distinctive of our countries, a perfect way to get my hands on what I consider to be the best of two worlds: champagne (which, if I’m unashamedly nonobjective, is my alcoholic beverage of choice), and a fortified wine which, as I came to realize, represents a considerable gap in my education.

The swapping had to be done transatlantic-ly — and a remarkably well-engineered package arrived earlier this week, complete with the promised bottle of Veuve Doussot Ratafia.

The bottle was sealed with a thick, red wax seal with the initials VD in a flourish, punctuating the bottle’s front label like the seals on hand-written parchment letters from long ago.

In the glass, this ratafia looks like pale copper, like freshly-made caramel before its sugars have darkened to burnt. It’s ratafia’s two-year aging requirement in oak barrels, I learned later, that lends it this color.

While I don’t know ratafia, I learned quickly that this is a fine, smooth example of it. My nose found aromas of citrus and a denser sort of elderflower, while on the palate I noticed dried fruits and crystallized fruits, something that for me suggests a certain kind of heat.

At first I poured just a little, my ignorance of fortified wines moderating my hand.

But before long, I poured a little more.

Sure, I was predisposed to liking it – I have a thing for playful, pale blue eyes – but this ratafia would have hit its mark regardless.

Cathy Huyghe writes the WGBH Foodie blog. Read new WGBH Foodie posts every weekday, in which Cathy explores myriad ways and places to experience good food and wine.

Lunch with the ladies: Swanee Hunt at No. 9 Park

By Cathy Huyghe
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Tune into WGBH on any given day, and you’ll find a lot of amazing ladies.

Ladies taking on the news of the day.

Ladies who know their music.

Even ladies championing “nerd pride.”

And while all this is going on in Brighton, No. 9 Park restaurant on Beacon Hill invited ladies of its own last week with its Ladies Who Lunch series, welcoming Swanee Hunt, former US ambassador to Austria. Hunt was the fourth guest speaker in the series, addressing the professional women who had gathered in No. 9 Park’s dining room to socialize and network.

“It’s hard for us to get out and meet smart, professional women,” said chef-owner Barbara Lynch at the beginning of the lunch, which is why she and her staff initiated the Ladies Who Lunch series last year. The phrase “ladies who lunch” may conjure certain retro images, but this event clearly was not about conservative traditions.

It was about breaking them.

“The United States ranks 85th in the world in terms of women’s representation in Congress,” Hunt said in her address to the audience. ”You have to ask each other to run for Congress. I want every table in this room to nominate one woman to run. Politics is a nasty business, but we will have a different world if we go into a situation where women are affecting public policy.”

As No. 9′s staff served a three-course lunch, Hunt discussed her work: “I work in war zones, in 40 different conflict areas like Iraq, Haiti and Afghanistan,” she said. “Women reach across. Women know how much a bag of rice costs, and we know where the unhappy 18-year-old lives who’s sleeping with a machine gun under his bed.”

It was a powerful image from a powerful woman. How many of the women listening will become politically involved as a result of Hunt’s encouragement remains to be seen, but it is difficult to imagine any of us being unmoved by the idea.

Find out more about Swanee Hunt and No. 9 Park.

Cathy Huyghe writes the WGBH Foodie blog. Read new WGBH Foodie posts every weekday, in which Cathy explores myriad ways and places to experience good food and wine.
 

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The Daily Dish brings you regular recipes from public media's favorite chefs.

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