Last weekends charcuterie workshop with Neil Jewell epitomised the reason that Lisa and I started African Relish Cooking School nearly ten years ago. A totally immersive foodie experience in a wonderful facility with really interesting people. There is something to be said about starting the weekend with a whole 110-kilogram pig and leaving 48 hours later satiated with sausages, rillette, roast loin, spare ribs plus the anticipation of the dry cures revealing themselves over the next year.
The bacon, chorizo, blood sausage, smoked trout, coppa, hams, salami are hanging quietly ensuring us that we will be reminded time and time again of this get-together.
The Charcutier is a storyteller.
Neil Jewell is an inspiration. Both accomplished chef and charcutier, he engages and shares a wealth of knowledge. He is a great story teller. Neil arrived in South Africa from the UK 17 years ago. He and Tina started Bread and Wine at Môreson Wine Estate and have been there ever since. His kitchen and curing facility are world class, the attention to detail impressive. Every gram of every pig is logged so he can identify the source and cost of each resultant piece of charcuterie. Who else does that? Special lighting systems zap his butchery so that no bug can survive an overnight stay. Tables are set at a specific height so that he and his staff do not suffer unnecessary back strain for the job at hand.
We were privileged Neil agreed to go away for the weekend and to share all this with us. His knowledge of curing is immense and peppered with anecdotes. Who would know that in a previous century the French butchers guild banned charcuterie from being sold on a Friday and this started a movement of creating smoked fish products.
The Pig and the Farmer from the Hemel & Aarde Valley.
This time Neil was a double act having brought along Charlie Crowther – pig farmer extraordinaire. For Neil there is no charcuterie if it does not start with an animal from Charlie’s farm. In his words, it is the only reliable source of free range pork of a quality that will ensure a good result. No gratuitous fat, clean flavours and a large size.
Charlie is a passionate farmer. Together with Julie his wife, they have created a market for this highly prized, premium product that ensures an ongoing supply. He tells me that he has 4-kilogram chickens that are the tastiest in the Cape. I am heading for the Hemel and Aarde Valley to check this out. I am also intrigued to see his forest of dying poplar trees. Charlie is turning some of these into finely trimmed logs that make up the structure of his barns and home.
Our guests came from all walks of life and some traveled long distances to stay with us. It did not take long for everyone to be in tune with the program and enjoying each others company. A craft beer maker, banker, shop keeper, film producer and electronic sales manager were amongst the sixteen participants. Hope to see you all in our kitchen again.
The heroes of the weekend were clearly the pig and the storyteller.
story – Philip Key
images – Russel Wasserfall