The Ardèche isn’t just about saving dish water for the garden and sleeping out the heat. There’s also the time of year you butcher the pigs that keep the vendangers fed during harvest. Namely January.
Casse-croûte was at 10, the breaking and dipping of bread into last year’s bacon, boudin and dark-ochre eggs still crackling in a globe-sized paella pan stacked on pallets – and wine. The sun was out now, our pale faces to the sky. A group of eight friends were here at Sylvain Bock’s chai just like every year around this time, to process next year’s patés, terrines, broth and other bits and bobs in pots, sausages fresh and dry.
But I hear you. You’re looking for a bit of environmental leadership by those who make and drink natural wine? If the Pope’s been challenged to go vegan, then how come these guys get to kill pigs?
There is a clear responsibility for everyone to consume sustainably, be that in regard to clothes, food, plastic or wine. For winemakers to do otherwise is morally jarring, and for those drinkers who don’t have the environment in mind, I transmit greetings all the way from 2019, a time so far in the future that there are no more excuses: you should.
If you’re going to kill an animal you better use all of it. The tooth on my windowsill proves we did.
Eating meat poses moral problems in terms of the violation of animal rights, as well as the huge environmental damage caused by the industry. These are issues for rich and poor, not just people who smell like organic stores. That said, I don’t believe it’s a bad thing to keep a couple of animals in a comfortable space – for work, for keeping the grass down, for milk, for cheese, eggs, because you think goats are great – and then one day serve them as dinner. And when you do, you better use every bit.
The tooth on my windowsill proves we did.
The two pigs recently running very free were hung, drawn, quartered and further divided into different shades of pink and white, meat and cubes of fat in caisse at different stations spread around the cuves. We stuffed meat and poured cream into pots, rolled fist-sized balls called ‘caillettes’ through garlands of herbs and tied intestines plucked fresh like ghosts from floating water with brown string into knots. These were for sausages: a Jésus de Lyon as big as a baby and to be delivered unto us next Christmas; la Rosette, another very long speciality from Lyon, and one I didn’t catch the name of but which I’ll call The Universal Snail, a spiral of soft meat curled into infinity á la Da Vinci.
We peeled potatoes, rolled up endless lengths of sleeve and divided the cooked heads into ‘headcheese’. Meat was ground into slug-thick mince, spread pink like a patient whale beached on the table, while the rest of us massaged in the flavour to the soundtrack of sex jokes. Outside, pots of tripe, cheek, teeth and meat juice in cauldrons bubbled while two necks turned slow on a spit.
I used to think it’s a shame that, for winemakers, all the work comes all at once. Yes, there’s always something to do and never enough time to do it, but the bit they do everything for – the making wine bit – comes in a mad rush. And then everything. Just. Stops.
Wouldn’t it be nice, my city brain thought, if we could spread it out. If we could knock off the earliest hours of those late nights by stretching out the work. Start earlier. Get ahead. It wasn’t efficient, I thought, to have such highs and lows, fasts and slows. That you could sleep a good four months of the year while those last weeks of summer are all go-go-go.
I don’t think that anymore. I like that you can’t get ahead. That when it gets dark early you go to bed. The work is connected to the seasons and the seasons dictate the hustle, whether that’s one week to process the entire year’s harvest, or all the time in the world to break down a pig to make food for the rest of the year.