This is just a quick entry to direct you to BBC Radio 4’s podcast page to catch up on The Food Programme, an insightful, educational and exceedingly interesting series of half-hour programmes on everything from how the Sicilian mafia influenced food production on the island to the advent of edible seaweed, school dinners, and a review of children’s literature that made generations of kids excited about food. There’s not a day I don’t learn something new from listening to the Food Programme. It’s fab!
The last episode I listened to was about the Ark of Taste, an international programme initiated by the Slow Food movement and whose mission is to preserve the knowledge, production and use of small-scale, quality produce all over the world. It is, of course, in the interest of biodiversity, but also in the interest of taste, which includes the teaching of unique growing techniques to new generations, the transmitting of specific means of preserving food in a specific climate, working for the survival of rare breeds of animals that have been neglected by large-scale farming because they develop less muscle mass, or they have a slower growth rate, or they are fussier and need more looking after…
You can even nominate a product/produce yourself! If you know of something in danger of being destroyed or forgotten, here are the criteria for your nomination:
1. Nominations for inclusion on the Ark must be food products and may include: domestic species (plant varieties, ecotypes, indigenous animal breeds and populations), wild species (only if tied to methods of harvesting, processing and traditional uses) and processed products.
2. Products must be of distinctive quality in terms of taste. ‘Taste quality’, in this context, is defined in the context of local traditions and uses.
3. Products must be linked to a specific area, to the memory and identity of a group and to local traditions.
4. Products must be produced in limited quantities.
5. Products must be at risk of extinction.
A friend of mine – a producer of cured meats, ham, salami etc in the South of France – worked with a small number of farmers to save the black pig known as the Noir de Bigorre, a cousin of both the wild boar and the world-famous Spanish pig used to produce Pata Negra ham. In the 1930s, there were over 28,000 Noir de Bigorre sows in France, but after WWII, this race was largely shunned by farmers because it was not well adapted to the more intensive farming practises that were developing.
In 1981, they were down to 2 males and about 30 females. With the help of various sponsors (including Slow Food), a genetic preservation programme was mounted and the race was saved. In the 90s, the industry was restructured and consolidated, and now the black pig of the Bigorre – the area surrounding the city of Tarbes, in the Haute-Pyrénées – is once again a happy pig and its salted and dried ham is considered some of the finest in Europe.
Just look at it – doesn’t it look just like Pata Negra with its fine lines of fat threaded through the red muscle? There is more good news: the fat from the Noir de Bigorre has been analysed and (apparently) is a type of fat that does not deposit itself in our arteries and does not, therefore, contribute to our levels of bad cholesterol. How cool is that?
Source of the photos: www.noirdebigorre.com
Personally, I think fresh, uncured Noir de Bigorre is the best: get your butcher to cut “côtes doubles“, double-thick chops, and grill them until they are still pink on the inside. Just some pepper and fleur de sel, and you’ll never look at pork the same way again. (Of course, with the weekend’s revelations, David Cameron has already done that for everybody… Don’t let him ruin it!)