Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Porc-ing Out At COCHON Heritage Fire

Butchering demonstrations.  Heritage pigs.  Foraged mushrooms. Wild fowl.  Whole roast beasts.  These primal, back-to-basics trends in ingredient sourcing have an event all their own, and it's coming to Napa's River Terrace Inn on Saturday August 25th, 2012.

Photo courtesy of COCHON Heritage Fire
COCHON Heritage Fire is the second-largest COCHON 555 event, focused -- as the name suggests -- on our delicious heritage in food and cooking.  Heritage Fire celebrates the old-fashioned breeds of pig, goat, sheep, and rabbits that are now making a comeback, thanks to their (re)discovery by modern chefs and consumers more interested in optimal flavor than optimal farming efficiency.

Demonstrations of traditional butchering techniques and wood-fired, whole-animal roasting will put these tasty heirlooms at center stage for the event, while foraging specialists, artisan food companies, craft breweries and family-owned wineries round out the feast among the vines on the banks of the Oxbow River. 

I can't attend this year's star-studded event, and this makes me very sad indeed because the party will feature the Grand COCHON winner Jason Vincent from Nightwood in Chicago, as well as this year's "King of Porc" John Stewart and Duskie Estes (of zazu farm + restaurant, and the Black Pig Meat Company), and COCHON Napa winner Lars Kronmark of the CIA Greystone.  Tim Goodell (Food & Wine Magazine's Best New Chef) and many other outrageously talented chefs and food producers will team up to produce the day's delectable menu.

Stemple Creek (in Marin County) and Belcampo Meat Company (in Oakland) are supplying the heritage animals this year, and Dave the Butcher of Marina Meats in SF will host the butchering demonstration.  Peter Jacobsen of Jacobsen Orchards -- which supplies The French Laundry with premium Yountville-grown produce -- will guide the "Team Toast," with Dave's able assistance. 

Last but certainly not least, Todd Spanier, the "King of Mushrooms" (and truffles), is bringing his foraged funghi and charming self back to wine country, adding an earthy element to the Fire feast.  (Fun fact: Todd is the godson of the language professor who taught virtually my entire family how to speak basic Italian.  Turns out Todd now lives fifteen minutes from my brothers, but I never met him until we ran into each other at the inaugural Napa Truffle Festival.  Strange world, this.)

How will you wash down all this meaty, fiery bliss?  Magnolia Brewing, Anchor Brewing, Anchor Distilling, Templeton Rye, and a slew of family-owned wineries will be there to help.

Tickets for the afternoon feast are $150 each, and avaiable here.  Tickets cover you, your food and your libations from 3:30 to 6:30pm -- but keep an eye out for the after-party afterwards at Restaurant Cuvée, just next door. 

Follow @cochon555 on Twitter, and check the website and Facebook page for updates as they happen.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Portlandia, I Love You

THE wings.
Every time I visit Portland, I have to rethink my decision not to move there.  Partially this is because I always manage to visit during their glorious summer, but mostly it's because of the city's incredible food and beverage culture. 

I never cease to be amazed at how much creative deliciousness is available, all over the city, at every price point.

On my most recent visit last week, I was struck by the popularity of "drinking vinegars" -- something I had only recently discovered thanks to the "Spring Shrub" cocktail at Goose & Gander.  In Portland, these fruit vinegars aren't just at cutting-edge temples of mixology; you'll find them at the downtown farmer's market and neighborhood Thai restaurants, among many other places. 

One of the tastiest beverages of my trip (an extremely competitive field) was the non-alcoholic tamarind vinegar soda at Pok Pok Noi.  Tart, savory, and refreshing, this was the ideal pairing for the restaurant's famed Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings, Spicy style.  The punchy acidity made me think I was sipping a cocktail and should ease up on my drinking speed, but no matter how fast I drank or how many I had, I was going to be fine biking home.  And in Portlandia, that's essential.

Tamarind Som.
The Pok Pok restaurant group calls its vinegars "Soms," and now distribute 16-ounce bottles of the standard flavor assortment online.  Another Portland company called Blossom Vinegars proudly hawks its own interesting selection of drinking vinegars at farmers' markets around town.  Think blueberry-basil, and apple-jalapeno vinegar.

Why is wine country behind trend on this? With so much olive oil, grape juice, and culinary talent, you'd think we would be leading the infused vinegar movement.  But Portlandia is leagues ahead of us here.

Discovering the Sahagun Ka-Pow "coffee bar" in a random cafe also humbled my Bay Area food snobbery.  As you can see from the picture, this thing looks like any other premium dark chocolate bar, but it's made entirely of coffee beans, sugar, and cocoa butter -- no cocoa mass at all.  The interior texture reminded me of a Kit Kat with its crystallized honeycomb of crunchies, but the flavor was pure coffee -- Extracto Roasters' Ethiopia Sidamo Adem Chilcho coffee, to be exact. 

In brief, it is absolutely delicious.  And, naturally, highly caffeinated. One bar contains just a bit less caffeine than a shot of espresso. 

We need more of these things in California.  And also, THIS:

"And it's delicious!"