The French Pig (from salt to ham)

What's in a Name?

So, tomorrow I go back to lurk around M. Guenard's breeding farm.  (Yes, the flight over was uneventful. Thank you for asking.)  Let's do a quick recap of what's happened so far.

 Trip 1:

We went to the source of the salt used to cure Jambon de Bayonne. I thought we'd be going to Bayonne — to the sea, for sea salt. But I was wrong. The salt comes by mandate from the ancient salt springs of Salies de Baern, the remains of a now subterranean prehistoric sea. Salt from before human time, harvested to preserve meat for the future. We met the ham maker, Eric Ospital whose supply chain we will follow from salt and piglet to sausage and ham.

Trip 2:

We went to see how piglets are conceived. But while we took lunch at the Taxidermy Cafe and followed the Pilgrims' trail, through some miscommunication, our breeder, M. Guenard was hard at work breeding. The next day, we got the full tour without the Al Green soundtrack. And that is how we met the two likely — now pregnant — mothers of our piglet. Pigs gestate for three months, three weeks and three days. Farmers can practically set their clocks to it. They inseminate on Tuesdays and deliver on Thursdays, or there abouts. When only a handful of people are responsible for 500 pregnant sows, it is handy to have a system and they do — an admirably efficient system.

We also visited the farm of American-born Basque animal scientist, farmer and cheese maker, Josette Arrayet. I will tell you her story later.

Trip 3 (Now) : 

So like I said, I'm back three months, three weeks and three days later. It's two in the morning and I am wide awake sitting in the dark, in bed in the "summer house" at Camont. Jet lagged. And Kate is also jetlagged from her return from Australia. But tomorrow we will drive from Camont to Lasse and see what we will see: the birth of two litters of piglets of which we will pick the biggest, healthiest, most ham-worthy male.

So, what's in a name?

Last week in preparation for the coming of my piglet, I polled you (my friends, my audience) . We compiled more than 60 names of which I added the most popular boy names in France this year (from a baby blog). I asked a smaller group of you to winnow the list down. You can vote for your favorite of these here. But I'm making all this up as I go. So, armed with your list and recommendations, I'll wait to see the pig before I choose a suitable name for him. I think that's what most parents do. And I might come up with a name that is not on our list. Because that is my perogative as an artist.

In our instant messages across several oceans, land masses and time zones, Kate has voiced an opinion that echoes others of you. "I think the name is less about a personality and a people name could be challenging for some at the slaughter and food eating Bob ham…sounds revolting." Some of you have told me privately that it is kind of disturbing to give the piglet, an animal we will eat, a human name. How can we eat parts of a being with the same name as people we know, members of our tribe? This is reflected in a certain proportion of your name suggestions which made light of the pig's final destiny. Names like Sausage, Hammy, Tasty Cakes and Bacona. But then again we often give names to babies to honor individuals we admire or to recognize our ancestors. Why should the animals we eat be different? 




It was foggy and frozen when we loaded my duffle bag of smelly clothes and memories into the back of the ham mobile. And foggy and cold when I bought my last pain au chocolat and baguette for the road. 

I've left behind the piggy kit in the summer house: a pair of clogs, a pair of rubber farm boots, a good tripod, a couple maps, and an electrical powerstrip. The summer house, aka the studio, aka the office is the cabin I sleep in on the grounds of Camont. It sits part way between the main house and the two camping trailers, and spitting distance from the poultry yard, and oh so conveniently located (perhaps 40-50 paces) from the goat shed. It is a small, white, clapboard, one room cabin with a porch tucked against the tall hedge against the road. Each night at bed time, I take my leave of the sisters Hill with a flashlight and tromp across the drive, beyond the wood pile, through the metal gate and over the little wood bridge, then through the yard past the bols court, and under the giant trees. Tromp, tromp, through the fallen leaves and frozen, muddy grass. The sky is almost nearly clear and dark and the stars sparkle with the kind of clarity one rarely experiences on the eastern seaboard of the US. Tromp, tromp until I reach the porch. Then up the one two three four steps to the porch where I reach for the broom and commence the delicate task of sweeping the pellets of goat poop off the porch (while holding a flashlight) before opening the door to the cabin. I think I will miss this nightly ritual most of all.

We spent our last morning in the Pays Basque visiting the Larre farm. The house is named Belarrea. I'll tell you more about that day in another post. Now two days (and several garbures) later, I'm waiting for an airplane. It seems I'm always leaving things behind. But life as we know it is experienced in a straight line. Tromp, tromp, tromp. One foot after the other. Retrospect is a luxury of memory. And art.

Thanks, Kate and Team Porc. I'll be back soon.