House Warming Gifts are often meant to be objects that last, objects that convey a sense of permanency. When someone moves into a place there is the idea that they will live there for a long time and that a house warming gift is something that should also be around for awhile….
Author: Patty Lee
Paul Wetzel, visionary charcutier of Gramercy Tavern — Danny Meyer’s pioneering, Michelin-starred seasonal restaurant in Manhattan — is like a troubadour of cured meat, traveling from town to town to share the ancient art, listening and learning as he goes.
“I’ve gotten to the point at Gramercy that I have a strong team that supports me – so when I take time off, I plan trips to go to Italy to see salumi being made, or I visit butcher shops and processing plants… I grew up on a farm in North Ohio, and that was the foundation for what I’m doing now… it’s great not to just come from just the chef aspect, — a lot of chefs don’t understand what its like to be on the farm 365 days a year, getting up at 5 am, everyday, what it takes to raise an animal… , you can’t just say, Oh I want the fat this way, when you don’t really see how it happens.”
There is a charcuterie renaissance happening in America, and Paul is at its very foundation. Like his mentor, Swiss-born charcutier Francois Vecchio, Paul takes a “holistic approach” to his art — his respect for the animal goes back to the farm. “In just the past 6 or 7 years there’s been a shift in whole-animal butchers shops and artisanal charcuterie. There are more small producers doing fine product and it puts pressure on big scale producers who are basically cut off from the earth. This is where a lot of our problems have come from. They don’t understand that animals need to be grazing and healthy.
“And we try to buy nose to tail for a lot of reasons —we try to use as much of the animal as possible , from confit to sausages to curing meats, maximizing utilization. It’s less money than buying parts, of course, and it drives menu development — If you are just buying bellies and chops, you’re more likely to stay in a rut.”
One of the more stressful things a new New Yorker faces is the taxing apartment search. The neighborhood you choose defines your day to day commute and those who will venture over to hang out. Is the closet big enough? Does the room get enough light? Will my commute be ok? Can I live with this roommate? Will our lives be more reflective of a silly sitcom than reminiscent of a horror movie? These are the questions you ask yourself as you travel around the city looking for the elusive apartment “of your dreams” but more so just a small place to call your own in the expansive city.
But when the you find your dream place and finally sign on the dotted line it is time for celebration and a gathering of friends. The perfect celebratory party is kicked off with lots of champagne, all your favorite people, many different cheese and our very own Casella’s prosciutto. Because after a search like that, it is time for a celebration! Some prosciutto inspiration below!
When you see Red Wattle pork on a menu, what you are seeing is a five-state, fifteen farm network dedicated to raising a storied breed that was once upon a time nearly extinct.
Larry Sorrell is one of the heroes of this story, an avatar of the heritage food movement, a salt of the earth farmer, a true believer who was destined to become the Guardian of the Red Wattle. He is proof positive of the ethos that when it comes to endangered livestock, “you have to eat them to save them.”
In the beginning, back in 2004 when Patrick Martins began Heritage Foods, a market for the Red Wattle was built on handshake agreement with Mark Ladner, then the chef at Mario Batali’s Lupa, who recognized the high-quality and undiminished taste that came from a Red Wattle pig raised on-pasture, chemical free, humanely, using traditional farming methods. The deal with Ladner, and the partnership with Larry and his Lazy S farms, were truly the origins of Heritage Foods.
“We traveled 18,000 miles to get started,” Larry says matter-of-factly about a Heritage Foods Odyssey whose mission was to search out rare Red Wattle sows and collect a viable genetic lineage of this incredible pig whose American legacy goes back to 17th century New Orleans. “When we began, we had two Red Wattle gilts and a boar, and we had to travel all over the United States to start a herd.
“The Red Wattle was on their way to being extinct, we had to rasise ‘em to eat ‘em or they were going to disappear, that’s where it was at. When I started delivering hogs for Patrick, he had just started Heritage. He’s the one that really got the breed going – he got the meat to the chefs. They loved it and it grew from there….
“Now I’ve kinda retired from raising animals, but we have fifteen Amish growers working with us, and I pick up the hogs and pay for them, and then bring them to the processor, Paradise Locker. I drive a tractor trailer and go around picking up three-hundered pounders, fifty head a week. We have farms in Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa… that’s a lot of traveling, We may have four or five pick-ups every week. You wear out a truck pretty fast.”
Larry, now “pushing eighty,” still does all the driving. “I’ll have to quit sometime but right now it’s going pretty good. The driving is easy. The hard job is you gotta keep fifteen Amish families happy, picking up their hogs, coordinating farmers on the phone, monitoring the size of the animals and making sure we have the right amount— each week we round up fifty pigs. And we’ve been doing it for fourteen years now.”
“When we began,” Patrick says, “farmers were willing to sell their Red Wattle pigs since there was no market for them. Larry went out and helped us begin spreading the word on existing farms, and also got new farmers interested. What Larry has done to promote the Red Wattle breed has literally saved it. Red Wattle is still considered a rare breed by the American Livestock Conservatory, but has been upgraded off their ‘critical list’ to ‘threatened.’
“This is our most powerful statement. People associate Heritage Foods and Red Wattle – no one else sells this breed. We work with fifteen farms and each bite is an epiphany. The New York Times food critic Frank Bruni, in his final article for the paper, wrote that the Heritage Red Wattle country rib at the Brooklyn restaurant Vinegar Hill was one of the best bites of food in his entire career.”
It’s been a long strange trip for the Red Wattle — Legend has it that French colonialists brought the pigs to Louisiana all the way from New Caldonia, so favored were they for their flavor, bold enough to stand up to any local cuisine. Now they are the toast of the town in New York City and gaining popularity across the United States, served in some of the most discerning restaurants, and becoming the go-to pork chop for demanding home cooks.
All talk of animals aside, there are dozens of people involved in bringing thousands of Heritage Red Wattle pigs to market each year, a remarkable consortium of like-minded folks from diverse American cultures, from Larry and his wife Madonna (their nine kids left the roost years ago), to the fifteen Amish family farms who raise these beautiful beasts; the team at Paradise Locker in Trimble, MO, the exalted processor of all this meat; and Patrick Martins, the Pig Man of Brooklyn, who somehow holds it all together. So how does Larry get along with everyone? “Well,” he says, with the coyness of an old-school Kansas farmer, “You can’t work for somebody for fourteen years and not like them at least a little bit.”
We talk a lot about restaurants, probably too much!
As much as we love the luminaires who put Heritage Foods front and center on their menus, we want to sing the praises of something just a little bit closer to street level: the supermarket!
And not just any supermarket – the Bi-Rite family of markets in San Francisco is at the heart of their communities. Almost Sesame Street-like in its neighborhood friendliness, Bi-Rite remains an idyllic outpost of what an old-fashioned market should be. Customers talk to each other while waiting on line. Across the street is their legendary ice cream shop, the Bi-Rite Creamery.
Chili Montes is Meat and Seafood Buyer for the Bi-Rite family, and head of the Bi-Rite butcher program where for over twenty years he has distinguished himself not only as an educator and advocate, but as an ally, and one of our favorite guys ever to wear a white apron.
“Every month of the year in San Francisco there is some sort of food-centric holiday — except for August,” says Chili, “so for the last two years, we’ve worked with Heritage Foods on “Hog-ust,” and bring in as many breeds as we can during that month. It gives customers a chance to try them all and celebrate the differences between animals that may have been at the brink of extinction. It has been a huge conversation starter. People really get into it.
“Heritage Foods, as much as they are a business partner, they are also a facilitator in education — I have visited their famers, they’ve helped me learn what it takes to produce meat, and the difficulties and rewards of agriculture, especially on a smaller scale with farmers committed to doing things the right way — a focus on quality rather than quantity. I buy a lot of pork from Heritage, but we’ve bought turkeys, goat, steer. We also have local farmers and ranchers we support, and I spend time with them as well.
“There is a very specific consciousness in the way we converse with our guests at Bi-Rite — early on there needed to be a justification for why our product wasn’t the same price as in a chain supermarket, but once they purchase our meat and produce, the taste and the flavor speak for themselves, They just needed a connection to understand why things are a few dollars more.
“I’ve got the best job in the world. At Bi-Rite our customers reward us for the work that we put in with their support for us and what we do, and their willingness to engage in conversation, to have a dialogue with the people who produce their food – It’s amazing, especially in an age when people don’t like to talk to other people!”
California is the Promised Land where dreams really do come true — Hollywood, Disneyland, and Farmstead at the Long Meadow Ranch in Napa Valley.
“Farmstead is the culmination of many things that came together,” says Farmstead’s executive chef Stephen Barber, “this is where the rubber hits the road. It’s a lot to explain, it’s a complex operation. We raise our own beef, we grow our own vegetables. We make wine. We have the apple orchard in Napa, and an olive farm. We have 500 chickens, fruit orchards… there are so many different elements. And our restaurant, Farmstead, is where it all comes together. For lack of a better term, it is pure “farm to table,” — it’s been overused, but best describes what we are doing. This is the best case scenario — total control of our food supply from start to finish. The vegetables are from our farm, it is our wine you are drinking, our olive oil finishing your plate.
“We have Scotch Highlands cows — Ted Hall and the Hall family (who took over Long Meadow in the 1980s, after a storied past that drifted through the Civil War and Prohibition) — fell in love with this breed. They are gorgeous animals, very long hair, very lean, tasty, rich flavorful beef that does well in the hills here. We have some angus, too, and we use a rotating paddock system that we graze our animals on.
“But we can’t raise every bit of protein at the restaurant, so the next thing is to find responsible people we can work with. Heritage is as much a part of our story as raising our own beef. We use all the Heritage rare breeds, Red Wattle, Berkshire, Duroc. We actually took a shot at raising pork — Patrick helped us with some Red Wattle pigs, but gosh, we couldn’t get them to mate. I think he sent us some unsocialized pigs!”
Getting ready for housewarming parties can be stressful! Let me take a small load off of your shoulders by introducing our favorite recipe for a simple and delicious appetizer. Goatober (October) is my favorite month, so in celebration I’ve prepared a quick and no-fuss recipe for you.
For the Goat Meat Balls
3 lbs. ground goat
1 medium white onion, diced
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
2 whole eggs
1/2 bunch parsley, picked and chopped
1/2 bunch marjoram, picked and chopped
2 tbsp. salt, add more if you’d like
2 tbsp. curry powder (our mix is equal parts ground coriander, turmeric, mustard, cumin, fenugreek, cayenne, cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon)
1 tbsp. black pepper
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes, optional for an extra kick
For the Labne Sauce
1/2 lb. labne (we picked Arz Labne for this recipe)
1/2 bunch dill, finely chopped
1/2 bunch mint, finely chopped
1 lemon, juiced
Salt to taste
To make the labne sauce, thoroughly mix all of the ingredients in a bowl. So that all of the flavors meld together, mix the sauce together ahead of time – we made ours the day before the event.
Preheat the oven to 450°F
Mix all of the ingredients in a large bowl – we did this with our hands and latex gloves. You can also use a mixer with the paddle attachment. Try to work quickly and efficiently – you want to make sure all of the ingredients are evenly mixed without over-working the meat. Once all of the ingredients are fully incorporated into the ground goat, form walnut-sized balls – don’t worry, the goat meat is so lean that there won’t be much shrinking when baked! Lay the balls out evenly on a baking tray lined with a lightly oiled sheet of parchment paper. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes. We cooked our goat meatballs under a high broiler for about 12 minutes.
Serve each ball with a dollop of labne sauce!
5lb. goat shanks
2 tbsp. cooking oil
1 red onion, sliced
1 small kabocha squash, diced
1 – 40z jar green curry paste
1 bottle Chicken Bone Broth or Beef Bone Broth (we mixed half and half), boiled
1- 13.5 oz can coconut milk
Heat the oil in a small rondeau and brown the goat shanks over medium-high heat. Once the shanks are browned on all sides, remove them and set aside. In the same rondeau, sweat out the onions until they are cooked through. Add the kabocha squash dice and brown them on all sides (the dice do not need to be thoroughly cooked just yet). Then, toast the green curry paste in the pot, evenly coating the vegetables.
Re-add the goat shanks to the curry mix and carefully add the boiled bone broth. If the shanks are not completely covered, add hot water. Bring the braise to a boil and then reduce it down to a simmer. Allow the braise to simmer for about 90 minutes. At this point, the meat from the shanks should fall off of the bone. If not, don’t worry, just add more water! Continue to add water and simmer until the meat is tender enough to shred and fall off of the bone. Reduce the liquid until it is just looser than your desired consistency – the coconut milk will thicken the curry! Just before removing the braise from the heat, mix in the coconut water.
Serve with coconut rice!
I write this while eating soup. I’m home sick with no appetite, but still manage to crave soup. It soothes your throat, makes you feel a little better and it’s simple. Homemade chicken soup is my favorite, tomato soup is the runner up, but even a plain pho broth would do on a day like today.
I was thinking of posting a photo on my Instagram: home sick on my 30th birthday with a bowl of soup in my lap. But then I remembered an article I read last week about the difficulty – and importance! – of good food photography.
Soup may be delicious, but does it photograph well? Last week The New York Times ran a story (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/02/dining/food-photography-culinary-schools-instagram.html) about Insta-culture and the correlation between food photography and restaurant success. Maybe my post would get me some sympathy likes on my birthday, but would the photo actually be something I want to live on my Instagram page? After all, a photogenic dish, Mr. Potanovich of The Culinary Institute of America said, is “absolutely” likelier to stay on the menu. So I decided against it.
In retrospect, an Instagram story might have been the way to go. New York chef, Gerardo Gonzalez “admits to being tired of the Instagram photo feed because, he said, “just food can get boring.” He thinks that the key to his restaurant’s survival is the Instagram Story, either photo or video, that disappears after 24 hours and encourages people to take a look more often.”
I guess there is always the next birthday…
Our Cured Ham Shanks are a life-saver for any and all multi-tasking home chefs. My favorite application for this cut is SOUP. These flavorful shanks are the perfect low-maintenance cut – delicious and easy!
Enjoy this hearty soup with crusty sourdough bread – for our fellow Brooklynites, we are hooked on Roberta’s batard!