For over 10 years, friends of mine have owned a mill in rural France (in the western Loire Valley) that they converted to a luxury country inn. And every year, I lead groups of ICE alumni and other food aficionados to eat, drink and study cuisine in France with a diverse group of chefs, butchers, bakers and pastry chefs while we stay at Le Moulin Bregeon (The Mill).

Every year I add new culinary activities for participants to enjoy – so even if you’ve come before, each ICE Cuisine Course in France can be new. Le Moulin Bregeon has been butchering its own meats and freezing them to offer its guests organic, locally raised meats more economically. For example, some nights we ate “true” spring lamb, and there is nothing like it – fresh, young meat like that has amazing flavor, juiciness and tenderness.

After years of hearing stories by Mill owners Bernard Levenez and Chef Pascal Merillou “waxing poetic” about butchering a pig that they raised through the winter, we decided to add this activity to our classes this year. The animals are raised on a nearby farm and the Mill’s chefs know the farm owners and how the animals are treated.

This year, we worked directly with a retired butcher to fabricate an entire 6-month old, 125K pig. It happened to be raining that May afternoon, so we set up under an overhang from the barn and sampled things as we went: boudin noire, bits and pieces from the cooked head for the rillete. In charge of the process was a guest butcher, Claude, who worked with The Mill’s Chef Guy Izambard. Before he retired, Claude was a supermarket butcher whose customers followed him from one market to another.

Our dinner at The Mill that night, cooked by Chef Guy, included typical country-French (peasant) pork dishes:  neck chops sautéed in butter with salt and pepper, French style bbq sausages with herbs picked from The Mill’s organic gardens, potatoes cooked in pork fat, pate de tete with vinegar on whole wheat baguette, and pate en croute with cornichons and grainy mustard. Delicious! From a cultural experience – some of the American students were surprised that we were not being offered the typical tenderloin or pork roasts we see in the US. Instead, we ate the pork “treats” that are deemed the best to eat first by the people who worked so hard to fabricate the cuts of meat.

To enroll in the 2013 trip (departing NY on April 30th), please contact Chef Kathryn at ICE (kathrynlmg@yahoo.com). To learn more about The Mill, check out www.moulinbregeon.com and www.moulinbregeoncuisinecourses.com.

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