Porcine Adventures

To kick off 2014, I went on a bit of a foodie sojourn for an experience I’ve coveted for some time.

Living in Boise, I’ve gotten to know quite a few people of Basque heritage – and they rival my Italian family for great foodie traditions. Case in point – the Annual Pig Killing in Central California.

My friend Julie Sarasqueta Hahn comes from a proud Basque family. While they now live in Idaho, their roots are in the agricultural mecca of central California. It’s where her mother’s and father’s family  - along with many other Basque and Patterson-area farm families – have been gathering since the 1960′s on a long weekend in January to slaughter, butcher and process pork. Of course, in a very hands-on, often traditional manner.

This year, the boy and I tagged along with a few other Boise friends and headed West – butcher attire at the ready.



The official PK2014 attire

Like all traditions that you randomly insert yourself into, it was a bit of chaos and a lot of ‘figuring it the heck out’ and ‘just jump in and do something’.

In other words, awesome.

This wasn’t a stand back and observe kind of foodie adventure. It was a roll up the sleeves and prepare to sink your hands into a lot of… stuff… kind of weekend. No, I did not participate in the pig slaughter. Though it was an interesting process to watch by some very adept butchers and fascinating contraptions. But I was there for the end of the 10 pigs lives and the start of their transformation into deliciousness.


Early morning observation of the pig slaughter


French Basque brothers John Baptiste and Jean Pierre stirring the boiling pot of body parts that go into the blood sausage

Making the morcilla

Making the blood sausage (aka morcilla)

First transformation - the morcilla (blood sausage) made on Day 1

First transformation – the morcilla – made on Day 1

I probably should mention we ate. A lot. Lunch and dinners were hosted by different families at the farm and were often grill-centered.

Now that's a grill

Now that’s a grill

The pigs slaughtered on Day 1 rested overnight in a cool barn off property, while we worked on prep work, like prepping sausage casings (intestines) and lots of garlic (for chorizo)

Getting handsy with intestines

Getting handsy with intestines

That's what they call a #$%!-ton of garlic

That’s what they call a #$%!-ton of garlic

Day 2 was all about butchery. There was the traditional way showcased by the French Basque brothers Jean-Pierre and John Baptiste.




And then the commercial butcher..

Knowing thy butcher

Knowing thy butcher

While I would have loved to practice some of what I learned at Portland Meat Collective, there was no way that was going to happen. First off – it is a tradition passed down through families and you have to put your time in to get to the head of that table. Secondly – I still have no real idea of what I’m doing without a lot of guidance. So I was quite happy to stare at the men making quick work of the sides of pork and get to wield a knife at the trim end of the table.




Of course, there wasn’t just one thing happening at a time… or even two. More like seven. While the sides of pork were being broken down into primals and subprimals in the front of the garage, cleaning and packaging of cuts was occurring in the back.




1604547_10202091335497225_820552537_nAnd in the small kitchen through the doorway, a crowd was sorting the leftover cuts and fat to cut down and grind for chorizo. At that same table a few hours later, the guys would get hands on to custom spice & mix the chorizo.


Mixing up the chorizo - custom spice blend per each family's direction

Mixing up the chorizo – custom spice blend per each family’s direction

The cuts of meat – mainly the hams and bellies – that didn’t get packaged to be frozen were tagged and tied and put to bed in delicious salt cures.

Me, the boy & a heck of a lot of hams

Me, the boy & a heck of a lot of hams

Holding onto bellies

Holding onto bellies

Going to rest in a salty slumber

Going to rest in a salty slumber

IMG_5193The final task on the morning of the third day was the all important chorizo-tasting (I definitely think the Boise Basques represented the best with some serious spice.) Our freezer is now stocked with a variety of cuts and bags of said chorizo.

IMG_5206Pictures and words don’t really seem the do the experience justice. It’s amazing to be able to truly see farm to table and witness the transformation of an ingredient like this. Especially when that occurs in the midst of a decades-long family tradition. Endless thanks to the Beltrans, Sarasquetas and Patterson farm families who invited us in and put us to work. Eskerrik asko!

An Idaho Foodie Feasting in Portland

Years ago, a former TV colleague of mine told me she and her husband planned their vacations around food events throughout the country.

I thought, ‘that sounds downright ridiculous!’

Fast-forward a decade or so and here I am. Sitting in an RV headed west to Feast Portland for what I call four days of delicious debauchery. Holy hell am I excited, and salivating, and prepping my belly and mind for the culinary overload that awaits.

(Feast Portland is the flagship food and drink festival in the Pacific Northwest, capturing the current energy and enthusiasm driving America’s food revolution. Feast showcases local culinary talent and Oregon ingredients, alongside nationally recognized chefs and influencers during a four-day celebration. At the heart of the festival is a mission to end childhood hunger in Oregon and in our country. A state where food is so plentiful should not also rank as one of the hungriest in the nation. This is part of the four-day dynamic exchange of ideas, inspiration and dialogue Feast Portland creates with food enthusiasts from Oregon, across the U.S. and around the globe.)

Granted, we’ve been building up to this point. Every road trip we embark on and extended weekend or flight somewhere new involves me seeking out hidden gems to dine and imbibe at and often, to digitally archive and share the bounty. From exploring the Snake River wine country* to hitting up foodie festivals in Sun Valley * to signing up for locavore excursions – we explore our backyard then take the culinary curiosity beyond. I’m a firm believer in food porn and foodgasms – and I’m sure this weekend will deliver.

So here’s what we are going to experience at Feast Portland:

Oregon Bounty Grand Tasting
Portland’s “living room,” Pioneer Courthouse Square, transforms into the city’s dining room for two days as dozens of the region’s most celebrated wineries, breweries, vendors, and artisans take over Downtown Portland’s most prime real estate for the festival’s premiere daytime event. Experience the scene, meet the chefs you’ve read about, discover the best Oregon wines and craft beers, and enjoy cooking demonstrations from celebrated chefs like Chris Cosentino, Jenn Louis, and Gabriel Rucker at the KitchenAid Main Demo Stage. (FULL lineup)

Night Market presented by Snake River Farms
Extra excited for this since it is presented by Idaho’s fantastic Snake River Farms
Join locally and nationally renowned chefs as they transform Portland’s historic Ecotrust building into the nation’s liveliest outdoor celebration of global street food. Called the nation’s best event of its kind by Food Republic, the Feast Portland Night Market is imbued with the spirit of the great bazaars of Southeast Asia and the Latin world. Enjoy a who’s who of Oregon craft beer, wine, and spirits to fuel an experience that embodies the sights, sounds, and smiles of a world culinary journey. (FULL lineup)

Class: Modern Sauces with Martha Holmberg
Mix Magazine founding editor and James Beard nominated author Martha Holmberg will teach you how to make five sauces that will change your life. No, really, they will. She’ll not only demonstrate the recipes, but will explain the underlying techniques so that you can have a better chance of success in your own kitchen. Sauces include classic vinaigrette, beurre blanc, dried red chile sauce, crème anglaise, and salted caramel sauce.

Tasting Panel: Baby Got Beer-Back
The whiskey-with-a-beer-back has a long and hallowed tradition in the watering holes of North America. Take your beer-back to the next level by discerning the best pairing for a bourbon (pilsner or pale?) or an Irish whiskey (the obvious stout). We’ve enlisted four discerning palates to share their favorite pairings and help you hone your beer-back knowledge. (FULL Lineup)

Trent Pierce and Sarah Simmons with Domaine Serene

Source: FeastPortland

Dinner: Trent Pierce and Sarah Simmons with Domaine Serene
Called “Oregon’s finest seafood restaurant” by The Oregonian, Trent Pierce has taken life aquatic to new heights at Roe, the 30-seat restaurant in the backroom of Wafu, his Japanese izakaya. Pierce joins the professional in guest chef pairing, Sarah Simmons of the New York culinary salon, City Grit for an exciting evening of innovation and collaboration, with wines by Domaine Serene.

Basic Pig Butchery with Camas Davis

Source: FeastPortland

Class: Basic Pig Butchery with Camas Davis
Without a doubt, the event I’m most looking forward to, due to my love of sausage-making, charcuterie, and cutting things up. AND – a Meat Collective? Think I have my next idea for a Boise business.
Learn the lost art of home butchery from French and American-trained Camas Davis, founder and owner of the Portland Meat Collective. Split sides of pork into primals using the techniques of seam butchery and then learn how to cut those primals into subprimals like ribs, tenderloins, hams, chops, and coppas. Students will also learn how to cook and cure every single part of the animal. At the end of this very hands-on class, students will gather together over locally made charcuterie and wine.

*Disclosure: My agency Red Sky works with the Idaho Wine Commission and has previously worked with the Sun Valley Harvest Festival. FULL disclosure, had we not worked with them – I still would have happily dined, imbibed and mangia’ed)