The vineyards of Bandol in Southern France have been producing wines since Roman times. Normally I would have guessed a Pinot Noir to accompany our matanza pork roast. But my brother-in-law, Tom, Pinot skeptic and eonophile that he is, had selected a choice bottle of Bandol from the Tempier domaine near Toulon, on the Mediterranean coast of Provence, to accompany our loin roast.
Before I start sounding like Robert Parker, I want to stop right here and note that Tom, a librarian by profession, is a bit of what I would call a wine snob (sorry Tom). Since I have forsworn wine snobbery, and since I rarely spend more than $10 for a bottle of wine, this puts me in the category of someone who knows practically nothing about wine any more. I say any more because back in the day I did know quite a lot about California wines. That was when you could spend a week and stop at just about every vineyard in the state for a free tasting. Those days are just a wisp of memory. And while I have a rudimentary knowledge of French wines (I spent some of my student days there, so I know the pleasures of sitting in the lee of some plane trees with a hunk of pate, a baguette and a bottle of vin ordinaire), and while I have toured many times the caves at Pommery and have even taken part in the champagne grape harvest at risk of pneumonia, and while I have experienced a range of the German, Swiss and Austrian vintages, and while I have watched with some befuddlement the emergence of Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Spain and Italy as centers of wine refinement, I am basically a wine ignoramus.
All of which is simply another way to say that we are completely dependent on Tom for making wine choices to go with our food.
So after all the work I described in my earlier posts killing and butchering pigs at our friend's farm in Southern Maryland, last night was our first opportunity to taste the pork we brought home. I froze about half the haul we received for our help at the weekend matanza, or pig slaughter, two weeks ago. What I had sitting in the refrigerator was a bone-in pork loin roast of about five ribs and a bag of 10 Hungarian sausages. I also had about six pounds of homemade sauerkraut at the peek of ripeness, as well as a couple gallons of cream of cauliflower soup from the food classes I teach. So we invited my sister and her husband Tom, along with our friend Shelly and her husband John, to help us deal with all this food. Then our friend Darren called at the last minute and we invited him over as well. This is the menu I came up with:
Cream of Cauliflower Soup w/ Asiago Bread Croutons & Garlic Chives
Hungarian Sausage & Sauerkraut Braised w/ Onions & Apples
Pork Loin Roasted w/ Sage & Garlic; Parmesan Mashed Potatoes; Caramelized Brussels Sprouts w/ Tennessee Smoked Bacon
Tom brought a dry Alsatian Riesling for hors d'oeuvres, while I purchased an Alsatian Pinot Blanc to go with the soup. Tom said he really favors heavier wines these days over the Pinots that never quite measure up to his expectations any more. So we were saving the Bandol for the loin roast. A blend of Mourvedre, Grenache and Cinsault grapes, and with an alcohol content of 14 percent, the Bandol certainly is a powerhouse of a wine.
I've mentioned before probably a dozen times at least that supermarket pork simply does not measure up in my book. The pork industry years ago decided to cut the fat out its pork and sell the flesh from beasts raised in dismal, putrid confinement lots as "the other white meat." In the process, they completely eliminated the fat and flavor that many of us remember from the pork roasts of our childhood. You can recapture some of that flavor by seeking out Niman Ranch pork, a cooperative of farmers using more flavorful breeds and more hospitable living conditions for the pigs. Or you can look for a local source of pork.
I was incredibly curious how pork raised by our farmer friend Brett on his spread in Lexington Park--the same pork we had killed and butchered ourselves,--would look and taste on our dinner plates. The Hungarian sausages, with paprika and golden raisins, paired exquisitely with the braised sauerkraut. I was concerned that the sausage might prove overpowering, but the flavor was subtle. The loin roast exceeded all expectations. Unlike anything you would find at the grocery, it was streaked with fatty unctuousness and layers of dark and pale meat. I had stuffed the roast in several places with a mix of garlic, salt and sage that I pounded with a mortar and pestle. I had then browned the roast in an iron skillet before placing it in a 350 degree oven. So there were many complimentary flavors happening in that roast along with some very assertive flavors and a bit of gameyness that I had not expected. The sturdy Bandol wine matched it perfectly.
Shelly is a great storyteller. All you have to do to get her started is pour a Bombay Sapphire martini. She had just returned from a business trip to New Orleans, so we were all anxious to hear her impressions. Tom brought a half-bottle of Muscat for dessert. We drank it with my wife's famous creme brulee. That part is a bit or a blur for me. I remember going upstairs to read a bedtime story to our daughter. I remember reading very, very slowly. But then the lights go dim...
We have struggled with the idea of becoming full partners in the annual matanza because it would mean owning a 325-pound pig and storing the pork from that pig somewhere within the confines of our urban dwelling. But after last night's tasting, I'm starting to think that an investment in a large freezer chest might not be such a bad idea.