French food focus - September 2018
A focus on food in France
Meet the producers
Peta and Michael Hamilton live in the Haute-Vienne and like eating meat but are also strong believers in animal rights. “Industrial farming where animals are kept in large hangers and never even go outside is not ethical,” says Michael. “In fact it’s cruel.”
“So we decided to produce our own pork,” says Peta. In France it is possible to raise a pig for your own household consumption without having to declare yourself as a farm. “But we don’t think it’s right to keep a single pig. They’re sociable animals,” she continues. “So our neighbours decided to join us in the venture, so between us we are fattening three Royal Berkshires, a heritage breed from the UK.”
They buy the pigs in as 20kg weaners in the spring and take them to the abattoir in the autumn, by which time they weigh around 90kgs. In the intervening months, the pigs have the run of a large enclosure and a stretch of woodland where they can root for grubs in the shade of the oak trees.
They also have a warm shelter where they can sleep if it rains. “It’s a very happy and natural life for them,” says Peta. “And they come to call, so when it’s time to load them into the trailer, we just whistle and they follow us up the ramp.”
She admits that it was hard at first, eating pigs they had reared themselves, but feels very strongly that it is important to get over it. “We don’t give them names, and we try not to differentiate one from another. They’re just pigs. We’re used to that fact now. We love them, but they are meat animals.
“We go to Confolens abattoir because it has the best reputation in the area. Last time we went, we were left to coax them out of the trailer and they literally walked behind the man into a straw lined stall, as if they were a couple of dogs going for a walk (no pain or stress). What we have been told is that they play music to cover any sounds that may be made and each animal is processed separately so that they don’t see anything either.”
She says the group of friends have all learned to make sausages, paté, and cured meats. “At first our farming neighbours weren’t sure about our pigs but when they tasted our boudins (black sausages) with apples they changed their minds!”
Artisan cheese of the month: Laguiole
Laguiole (pronounced lah-yull), also known as Tome de Laguiole, is a cousin of Cantal and Salers, and is produced in the Aubrac, an area spanning sixty communes of the Aveyron, Cantal and Lozère departments.
It obtained an AOC in 1961 and is largely produced by one company, the Jeune Montagne cheese cooperative.
Made from raw, whole cow’s milk, it is a firm, pressed and uncooked cheese with a thick, dry rind. It can be eaten at various stages of maturity but it is perhaps best known as one of the principal ingredients in aligot, an Aveyron speciality comprised of mash potatoes mixed with cheese, cream and butter.
Local specialty: Coucougnettes
Coucougnettes are artisanal, hand-made sweets made from Pau. They consist of a toasted almond coated with dark chocolate, which is then rolled in an almond paste flavoured with raspberry, ginger and Armagnac.
Coucougner means to cuddle – they are said to be named in honour of King Henri IV, a keen ‘cuddler’ whom historians say had 54 mistresses and 27 children.
Available from www.bienmanger.com, €8.95 for a 135g packet.