Archive for the ‘Artisanal Purveyors’ Category

Balsons Bacon

RJ Balson & Sons bacon Since 1535

It was Thanksgiving morning when I decided to open my first package of RJ Balsons bacon. This is not merely any British Bacon, it is a piece of history, dating back to the time of King Henry the VIII. I can just imagine what it must have been like back in the time when RJ Balson and sons opened their doors in 1535. A family of butchers passing down their skill, recipes and techniques from one generation to the next and now I hold in my hand the culmination of all the previous generations. The oldest butcher shop in the world. Fantastic!

Balson Bacon 3

The Flavor and the Sizzle if you could only smell it.

I could digress and go into a complete history of RJ Balson and Sons and how they opened up a second shop here in the states so we yanks could have the opportunity to indulge ourselves in the authenticity that is British Bacon. I will say this, after coming to America to play professional soccer in Atlanta, Mike Balson, son of Donald Balson,  realized that he couldn’t find any British bacon that had the same flavor or quality that he was used to. So he along with his son Oliver decided to solve that problem. They opened a branch of the family business here in the states. The process began with the sourcing the proper hogs with the right feed combination. The next was to source the same quality of spices and curing ingredients they use back at their home shop in Birdport, Dorset, England. Through this process they successfully created their beloved bacon and other products that were, until 2007, only found in the original Birdport shop.

Unlike American bacon the British version is mostly meat with little fat. The bacon is made from the loins of the hogs rather than the belly, which is traditional for American bacon. Cured and smoked to perfection through centuries old methods RJ Balson and Sons has created the perfect recipe that brings out the sweetness of the meat with a hint of smokieness that lingers on the palate.

The bacon is cured using the same methods that have been passed down for generations and then subtly applewood smoked to create the delicate and sweet flavor of their bacon.

Bacon & Eggs

Finished ready to eat Balson Bacon & eggs & leeks

I ended up serving it with scrambled eggs and leeks to compliment the bacon and yet keep it rather simple. The final result was a breakfast that was so full of amazing subtle flavors and could satiate any palate.

RJ Balson & Sons products are available online at http://www.balsonbutchers.com

In the weeks to come I’ll be sharing more about their bangers and a lot more about their history.


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Antica Macelleria Falorni is the oldest butcher shop in Italy. In 1729 Gio Batta founded the Macelleria Falorni Butchers in Greve Italy. In 1840 the word Antica which means ancient was added and still hangs today. It’s in the Chianti region of Tuscany. Through the generations the techniques, recipes and “secrets” to the incredibly high quality products that they produce which have been passed down from father to son. Today it is being run by the 8th generation grandsons Lorenzo and Stefano Falorni. Their attention to quality begins with using the highest quality local certified meats, Chianina for Beef and Cinta Senese for Pork and wild boars that come from the woods of the Chianti region. Spices such as fennel, laurel, juniper, garlic, parsley, sage, rosemary and more are used and all come from the local region. With this plethora of local ingredients it couldn’t be helped to create the Salumi – Salted meats, ham, salami prosciutto and more that are are characterized by the unique smell known only to fine Italian products. Even the Chianti Classico is added to some of the preparations of sausage and salame that are typical to the region of Greve also contributing to the nature of the product.

Bistec Fiorentina

Mark Schatzker said in his book “Steak, One Man’s Search for the world’s Tastiest Piece of Beef”,  the Falorni is as much a busy butcher shop as a living ode to its butchering past. Out front, facing the town square stands a butcher block that was the primary meat hacking surface from 1820 to 1956. The interior is filled with tools of the butchering trade, a stuffed wild boar, old copper scales, black & white photos of Chianinas, a bright red meat grinder and a sausage stuffing machine from 1930.

The attention to detail even goes as far as to what kind of wood is best for grilling the beef. The recommend oak and Stefano will go as far as cutting his own wood and bringing it to friends homes to make sure that the meats get their due respect.

This is one of the wonders found in the Chianti Region of Tuscany Italy. A wonderful place that we will be visiting on our Photo/Culinary experiences. Come join us in 2011 and explore the culinary wonders of this rich part of the world. Early discounts available here’s the link – Experience Italy

* Photos courtesy of Vivandare.it, Informacibo.it and Antica Macelleria Falorni

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Frog Hollow Farms Warren Pears

I love pears. The firm crisp ones that many people think are a bit under ripe. I’m not a soft or mushy fruit kinda guy. It’s a textural thing about me but I like my pears and apples to be firm and have some crunch. I’m not looking for unripe fruit just fruit that I like. So I find myself at the FoodBuzz Blogger Festival Taste Pavillion in early November and I come across the Frog Hollow Farms table and meet Jeff. He offers me a piece of a Warren Pear it was a heavenly experience. The texture was firm and crisp with the sweetness of a Bosc pear and some of the tartness of the D’Angou pear. I had to have another these were wonderful. Then he turned me on to a Taylor pear which had a slightly softer texture yet was sweeter than the other. It too was a great pear but the Warrens had a special place in my heart. Another wonderful find there was their olive oil. It has a buttery texture, smooth with bold olive flavor minus the bitterness or pepper found in other olive oils.

Frog Hollow Farms Olive Oil

It’s definitely a finishing or dipping oil. Full of olive flavor with a wonderful buttery smoothness. For the rest of the day I couldn’t get these pears  nor the oil out of my head. I knew that they were in my future.

When I got back to LA I knew I had to do something with the pears. I had an event coming up in December and decided to use the pears in two of the menu items. One a duck confit crostini with leek aioli, wild arugula and Frog Hollow Farms Warren Pears created the perfect blend of flavors and textures in one savory bite. I also had my pastry chef come up with small dessert. Since the pears we received were very ripe we decided to make pear puree triangles with a marscapone creme fraiche icing on a pate sucre base. The final result was a blend of the pear sweetness and some tart and sour from the icing and the base worked to add crunch and blend all the flavors wonderfully.

Warren Pear Puree Triangles

Duck Confit Crostini with Frog Hollow Farms Warren Pear

The crostini had the perfect blend of textures and flavors, crunch from the crostini, the mild bite and moisture from the leek aioli, saltiness from the duck confit, pepper from the wild arugula and the sweet, crisp juicy flavor of the Warren Pear added the perfect balance to complete the item.

Crostini Recipe – makes about 20 to 30 crostini

1 baguette

1/4C Evoo

2 leg thigh combinations duck confit

20 to 30 wild arugula leaves

2 Warren Pears

For the Aioli

1 Leek with lots of green

1 egg

Vegetable oil

1 tsp dijon mustard

1 clove garlic

juice of  1 lemon

1/2 tsp honey

S&P about 1/2 tsp each

Cut the green part from the leek and lightly blanch in boiling salt water for 30 seconds to 1 minute just enough to soften a bit and make bright green color – remove from water and place in ice bath immediately to stop the cooking process. Then remove them from the ice bath and put on paper towels to absorb excess water.

In a food processor place the egg yolk and white, dijon mustard, garlic, lemon juice, honey, leeks S&P and blend together until the leeks are well chopped up almost a puree. Begin to add oil slowly until it thickens to a mayonnaise consistency. Taste it and if necessary add more salt to bring out the leek flavor. Set aside.

To make the Crostini, slice the baguette into 1/4″ thick slices and place on sheet tray. brush each one with olive oil and season with a bit of salt & pepper put into 350ºF oven for 10 to 20 mins until lightly brown and crisp. Set aside to cool.  Note: for even browning turn your sheet tray 180º half way through the cooking process it’s also a good time to monitor the baking of the crostini.

You can either make your own duck confit or buy it premade. Pull apart the meat from the leg/thigh combos and tear/shred into small pieces. Toss with a bit of good olive oil to moisten a bit – Frog Hollow Farms makes a good one.

To assemble – spread a generous amount of aioli on the crostini, top with some duck confit and a slice of Warren Pear top with a nice wild arugula leaf

I always recommend tasting the first one you make so you can get an idea of the proper amounts of each ingredient to create the balance that you prefer.

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oldport-3751 The drive to Avila Beach is beautiful. It was a gorgeous clear day when I arrived at Pier 3. I walked down the long pier past the pelicans and some other vendors to the end where I found the Old Port Fisheries Company. I found Mike, whom I had been corresponding with via email and asked him to show me around. Mikes father, Barry started Old Port over 40 years ago when he saw a need to deliver the highest quality fish to his customers. theguys-3742Unlike most commercial fisherman at the time, Barry had a philosophy that all of his fish were to be handled with the utmost care which included hand filleting and packing with no preservatives. He was the first fish processor in the area to pack his fillets into boxes to insure the highest quality product went to his customers. In addition it gave him an edge over his competition at the time.

Today Old Port is run by his son Mike who takes care to get the finest locally sourced product available.


Fishing Boats in Avila Harbor

He works with the local fisherman including their own boat in San Francisco to bring in great seasonal product.

They also make their own smoked fish. I tried the smoked salmon and it was wonderful. It was moist unlike many smoked salmon that I have had which are dry for the most part. It has a rich smokey flavor that is well balanced and lets the flavor of the salmon come through.


Local Rock Crab and live Abalone

When I was there I left with an assortment of fish as well as their infamous rock crab that comes from the local waters. Some of the local species include, halibut, ling cod, black cod, rock crab, abalone and more depending upon the season.


Filletted Black Cod, Rock fish and Rock fish being Filletted

One interesting fact of the many that Mike told me about is that there a 3 types of ling cod white, yellow and blue. The flavor of each is similar but the meat corresponds to the fish skin color being either white, yellow or blue. When choosing rock crab it is best to get the crabs that have the smaller bodies and larger claws.

If you are in the area it is well worth going there. They take great care with all their customers.

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