What do you do when you’ve got a whole lot of meat to photograph? Well, here at D’Artagnan we turn to Ted Axelrod, a local photographer with an appreciation for good food and a meaty sense of humor.
Ted’s studio is in his home, which is crammed with all kinds of cool props, from cutting boards to glassware, vintage dishes to copper pots. He’s got perfect natural light in his sunroom and a spare refrigerator, which came in handy for us.
With piles of products ranging from raw Wagyu beef short ribs and rack of lamb to truffle butter and charcuterie, we set to work on the two-day shoot. Turns out it’s not so easy to make raw meat look appetizing! Our hats are off to all the food stylists and photographers out there whose work makes us drool.
Ted’s dogs, Gracie and Ella, were so well behaved; they didn’t snag a single duck breast off the table. And considering they had to endure the smell of raw meat all day, that’s a small miracle! We will admit to tossing them a few trimmings from the steaks and chops…and the innards from the chicken and pheasant.
On day two we set up a huge panoramic spread that represented nearly every type of product we sell. With a camera suspended on an arm directly overhead, we tweaked and previewed and reorganized until everything looked perfect. Then we unwrapped it all! As soon as meat is exposed to the air, it begins to oxidize, which makes it dull in color. You’ve got to move fast.
Naturally, we left the fridge full of food! Ted and his wife Susan, who is a food writer and editor, have been cooking up a storm with it all, and posting some of the results on their blog Spoon and Shutter.
We love their braised pheasant post, with step-by-step instructions, and the great photos (we’d expect nothing less!). Check out their progress as they try to eat their way through our catalog!
Look for Ted’s photos to be posted on our website soon.
Time Out New York released their Best New Burgers feature last week. We were super excited to see this years picks – not only because we’re serious burger connoisseurs but because several of our chef friends made the cut. Chef David Malbequi from Prima Strada and Chef Chris Rendell of Whitehall Bar + Kitchen both scored big using D’Artagnan meat. Check. It. Out.
Charcutepalooza, The Year of Meat. Who could imagine that a single cookbook would inspire a nation to preserve meat competitively for a year? If it’s Michael Ruhlman’s classic book “Charcuterie” and Cathy and Kim, then Charcutepalooza is the result. A year ago, they threw down a challenge to a few dozen fellow food bloggers. Make one charcuterie item per month for a year, and blog about the experience. They figured a few online friends would poke around in the kitchen and learn together. But their numbers grew to over 300 participants around the world. It seemed like everyone wanted to be in on the fun!
We were happy to support the meaty needs of the Charcutepalooza-ers with discounted pricing all year, and to serve on the judges’ panel. The author of the best blog post—it’s hard to taste charcuterie over the web!—would win a week in France, and the admiration of fellow charcutiers. Not to mention the happy side effect of eating lots of charcuterie all year. The stakes were high, the world of meat was watching.
Photo courtesy of Peter Barrett
And since we were not anxiously waiting for duck prosciutto to age on a deadline, it seemed like the Year of Meat flew past. Before we knew it, we were reading the final blog posts. They spoke of victory in the kitchen, education at the farmers market and the highs and lows that you encounter when cooking. While all the blog posts were impressive, educational and even moving (yes, curing meat can be emotional!), the ultimate triumph went to A Cook Blog by Peter Barrett.
Peter Barrett Outstanding in His Field
We congratulate Peter on his creative, charming, knowledgeable and stunning post Gratitude is the Attitude which clinched the win. It left us breathless and hungry! His blog has always impressed us with its clever turns of phrase and ambitious recipes, and we look forward to reading more from his corner of the world. And we expect a full report from France on his blog later this year.
He’s new in town. He’s rich. He’s handsome. American with a French accent. And he’d love you to bring him home for dinner.
He’s our new duck! Exclusively ours! The D’Artagnan Rohan™ is a proprietary hybrid of several duck breeds including the Heritage Mallard and the Pekin, and is raised just for us on a farm in New York State.
The duck is named after a family of dukes and princes who lived in the Rohan area of Brittany, France, and made the name, and a native duck, famous. The Rohan boasts juicy, tender, rose-colored meat with a mild taste that lends itself to practically every duck recipe.
Never administered antibiotics, hormones, or steroids the Rohan duck is raised cage-free and fed a diet of corn and soy. The duck is available in two sizes: 5-5 ½ lbs and 5 ½-6 lbs. Because it is air-chilled, that weight is all meat and bone, not water retained during processing. This means that the skin crisps up nicely however it is prepared and the flavor is pure, unadulterated duck.
In keeping with the nose-to-tail philosophy of cooking, the duck is sold with neck and giblets, both of which are handy in making stock and adding rich flavor to sauces.
Rohan is a name of strength and speaks to the heritage of this hardy and delicious duck, which is now available for professional chefs and home cooks alike, only at D’Artagnan.
Perhaps there is no dish in Southwest France more iconic, cherished, and controversial than the cassoulet.
Cassoulet made from our recipe kit, sent in from a customer, Karine.
The name cassoulet comes from the word cassole, referring to the traditional, conical clay pot in which it is cooked (and which the potters of the village of Issel perfected). Cassoulet was originally a food of peasants–a simple assemblage of what ingredients were available: white beans with pork, sausage, duck confit, gizzards, cooked together for a long time. And although it is essentially a humble stew of beans and meat, cassoulet is the cause of much drama and debate. André Daguin, a famous chef of Gascony (and Ariane’s father) says, “Cassoulet is not really a recipe, it’s a way to argue among neighboring villages of Gascony.” Much like chili cook-offs in Texas, cassoulet cooking competitions are held, not only in France, but now even in the United States.
Sun rays shine through the window in this potter's studio in Southwest France. Traditional cassoles air-dry as they wait to be fired and glazed.
The dish has developed an almost mythological importance to the people of Gascony and Languedoc. Legend has it that cassoulet was first created during the Hundred Years War. The story goes that as the British laid siege to Castelnaudary, its people gathered up what ingredients they had left for a large stew to nourish and bolster their defenders. The meal was so hearty and fortifying that the soldiers handily dispelled the invaders, saving the city from occupation. While likely not the true account of the origin of cassoulet, this story establishes the importance of the dish as the symbolic defender of French culture.
Vintage postcard from Languedoc.
The origin of cassoulet is probably the result of more global interactions than the Castelnaudary legend would suggest. Some credit the Arabs for inspiring the dish. In the 12th century they introduced a mutton stew—perhaps the precursor to cassoulet. After Columbus’s voyage the white bean from the Americas was introduced to France and subsequently, Catherine de Medici, queen of France, facilitated the importation of the white bean, which started to be cultivated extensively throughout southwest France.
Cassoulet bubbling in a fire-burning oven in France.
Since its composition is based originally on availability, cassoulet varies from town to town in Southwest France. In Castelnaudary, cassoulet is prepared with duck confit, pork shoulder and sausage. In Carcassonne a cassoulet will typically have mutton, and the Toulouse version has duck confit, Toulouse sausage, and is breaded on top. In Auch, only duck or goose meat is used, and crumbs are never added on top. Even the type of bean is a point of debate. In the southern areas, it must be the Coco, or Tarbais bean, a large and somewhat flat white bean that grows at the foot of the Pyrénées Mountains. A little further north they use flageolet beans. But everyone agrees that, come spring, the last and best cassoulet of the season is made with freshly picked fava beans.
Selection of cassoulet in the market.
The sanctity of cassoulet is taken so seriously that there is even a brotherhood–the Grande Confrérie du Cassoulet – that defends the glory and quality of cassoulet in Castelnaudary, in part by conducting surprise taste tests of the cassoulets offered by local chefs. And there is an Academie Universelle du Cassoulet, whose members promote the cassoulet and its significant cultural heritage (they even have a theme song).
Plaque on the outside of a residence in Castelnaudary.
In 2011, France-based British actor, David Lowe, pulled a prank on the people of Castelnaudary putting their pride and defense of the dish to the test. He set up shop in the town market and dressed in British regalia, waving the Union Jack, attempted to hawk British Cassoulet. Needless to say, the people of Castelnaudary fiercely proteced their status as the unofficial world capital of Cassoulet and the video went viral.
Originally the cassoulet was cooked in the hearth, or a bread baker’s oven, using residual heat. The low heat allowed the beans to break down and all the flavor and fat of the meat to melt into the beans.This can be replicated in the modern kitchen and the process will take only a few hours. Some think cooking a cassoulet is intimidating, but in fact it is quite simple. When making a cassoulet use as many confit meats as possible, which will impart the most flavor, but use only unsmoked bacon, like ventrèche. Don’t hesitate to cut open the upper crust to check if the cassoulet is drying out too much inside as it cooks. If so, add some liquid, like stock or demi-glace. The idea is to form a crusty top on the cassoulet, while maintaining a moist center, so breaking the film that forms as the beans cook is a good thing. Some cookbooks claim that it must be broken seven times to get the perfect cassoulet, but even breaking it and allowing it to reform twice will create a crusty and delicious finish on top (no crumbs needed!). Click here for our version!
Here’s a tasty tune to get you cooking!
New Bumpers Jazz Revival Band playing Cassoulet Stomp!
This rich, heavy bean dish is best enjoyed in cold weather, with a group of family or friends. Part of the magic of a cassoulet is the conviviality that seems always to surround it at the table. Nobody makes just a little cassoulet, so it will generally feed a crowd. The satisfying flavors are complemented by the wines of the Southwest region. A deep-red Madiran is considered the ideal wine to drink with cassoulet, as they both resonate with the same essence of terroir—“sense of place.” One needs little else than a thick slice of country-style bread to accompany cassoulet. And plenty of the aforementioned Madiran wine.
We're ready to dig in!
As Julia Child, the original American who went to Paris and brought back a culinary revolution, memorably said, “Cassoulet, that best of bean feasts, is everyday fare for a peasant but ambrosia for a gastronome, though its ideal consumer is a 300-pound blocking back who has been splitting firewood nonstop for the last twelve hours on a subzero day in Manitoba.” Bon Appetit!
We were very lucky this December to have three generations of Daguins in New York for the holidays; Ariane’s parents, her daughter Alix and for the first time in several years, her brother, Arnaud.
Now and then… deux of a kind!
Arnaud is a Michelin-starred chef and proprietor of an upscale auberge called, Hegia. Located in Hasparren, France, the 1746 converted farmhouse is perched on a hill in the beautiful Basque countryside (only 30 minutes from coastal Biarritz). There are five guestrooms, each mix original, rustic architectural details with austere modernist design. Hegia’s website has some beautiful photos – take a look! Taking advantage of local raw goods, Arnaud cooks in a pure and simple style that allows each ingredient to shine. Adding a good measure of the famous Daguin hospitality, he hosts an aperitif before the guests sit down to a convivial meal at a communal table. Now that’s the kind of vacation we crave!
Arnaud has been gracious enough to submit a recipe to the D’Artagnan site which will be up in the near future (so check back!). In the meantime, if you read French, pick up a copy of his book, a collaboration between Arnaud and their father called, 1 Canard 2 Daguin.
Here’s an inside look, courtesy of the books photographer, Isabelle Rozenbaum.
Are you a fan of ours on Facebook? If not, you should be! “Like us” for your chance to win delicious rewards! Each month we’re holding a random drawing to give away some D’Artagnan goodies to our loyal fans. November’s winner will receive a 10 piece Gourmet Food Lover’s Gift Basket! You could be next…
Hedgehog, fried chicken, cauliflower, canary, lobster. An odd menu, right? Well, not so weird, it turns out: these are all wild mushrooms available through D’Artagnan, the foie gras and truffle specialist and purveyor of other fine meats and mushrooms to restaurants around the country.
D’Artagnan’s founder, Ariane Daguin, is something of a mushroom expert. She peels off their Latin names the way other people call out their favorite bands. Over a recent fungus-laced meal, that began with wild mushroom soup and ended with white truffle ice cream, she discussed her job as fungus hunter.
Why are November and December such big months for mushrooms?
In the Northern hemisphere, it’s the end of the fall and in the Southern hemisphere, it’s spring. So both seasons are good times for mushrooms. What’s particularly exciting in the Northern hemisphere, especially at the end of November, is that the truffles are coming in.
How did truffles get to be so prized?
There are recipes from Escoffier where he is using 10 kilos of truffles and sometimes not even to eat—just as a decoration around the dish. So, there was a time when truffles were really plentiful. I wouldn’t say it was like potatoes, but there were more. Now, as cities get larger and the size of the woods diminishes, there are less truffles.
At D’Artagnan, how do you find what mushrooms are in season?
We have a purchasing team that is looking at the whole world as a sourcing possibility. For example, I always thought that morels came at the start of spring (because I was raised in France). But the more east you go — Russia, Turkey — the earlier they come. And we do that with every wild mushroom. Going back to truffles, there used to be none in the Southern hemisphere. Now, there are growers in Australia. So, we can have black winter truffles in the middle of the summer.
Do mushrooms have terroir, as in taste different depending on where they’re from? Read more