Wild, Isabelle Foncel? “Savage“, admits the breeder who loves the outdoors, like her pigs. To tame him, we had to show his credentials. Promise him not to bother him for too long and to take some pictures as quickly (1). And then, come with the chef Patrick Lopez, to soften the angles. They met years ago. Patrick was second in the kitchen at the Five Seas in Cannes. The chef at the time, Arnaud Tabarec, had started a research process of local products.
“The first time we came to the farm, we stayed there all morning. We needed that to better understand things. Because, in particular, that you can’t have what you want to order. That nature has its laws, that we must respect them”insists Patrick, who is now head of the Chai, in Cannes.
It’s because here, in this steep corner of Saint-Vallier-de-Thiey, 800 meters above sea level, Isabelle Foncel’s black Gascon pigs, black piebald pigs and free-range pigs live for more than ten months almost -autonomy, in the open air.
scratch the ground
And that it rubs its back against the grass, and that it stings a cushy snooze in the shade of a tree and that it searches for acorns with the tip of their elongated snout, and that it scratches the ground… By their presence , limited to around thirty heads for two hectares, “they also maintain the site”, observes Isabelle.
We are a long way from intensive battery farming. Agribusiness that no longer respects the natural rhythm of animals.
Outdoors. Time here, and as is often the case with good food, is a big deal: “If we let the pigs grow for less time, four and a half months for example, as in factory farms, we would only get fat”, said the breeder. Then it’s not really the kind of house to rush things. Isabel smiles. Retrace the path taken.
Before Saint-Vallier, before her operation Les Cochons de la Côte d’Azur, she managed companies. Of plumbing. Insurance. From pub.
Flour from the small mill
She wished to raise a pig – “this super smart animal” – At her place. “Rillettes (the first of the line) was bored so I took another pig and they made babies.”
Here it is: the breeding starts in 2014, year of the pig. Not in Chinese astrology but for Isabelle. Placed under the sign of the love of animals, above all. To the first born, she gave little names. Then stopped. Too hard then.
Apart from that, she pampers them just as much. Feeds them exclusively with certified organic food, bran and white flour ground in a small mill in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. Zero antibiotics. On this very manual operation, powered by solar energy only, where only rainwater and spring water are used, the piglets are never separated from their mother. “Here they suckle for up to four months. In factory farming, they are weaned after a month.”
So many attentions that make the difference, then. in Saint-Vallier-de-Thiey, there is no question of producing too much, Isabelle works only on orders. Those of individuals. Those of good restaurants – La Passagère at Belles rives, in Antibes; The Canon in Nice. The wholesaler Balicco and the town hall of Mouans-Sartoux are also interested in this virtuous exploitation for school catering, all organic since 2012.
Around the Saint-Vallier-de-Thiey pig, ideas jostle in the head of the head of the Chai, at Le Suquet in Cannes, Patrick Lopez. In fashion “pulled pork”, shredded, with juniper. In house-dried filet mignon… It’s finally a recipe for hay-smoked pork chops, with a creamy polenta flavored with eucalyptus and olive trees – “tracers that allow us to project ourselves into the place where pigs grow up” – that he offers us.
A simple, effective and local dish, just like this chef who has worked at the Bistrot de l’Hermitage, Le Five Seas, Le 3.14 and the tables at Fétisson in Mougins.
Ingredients for two people:
– Two beautiful pork chops (about 250 g each)
– A clove of garlic
– Two knobs of butter, olive oil
– 100 g of polenta (cornmeal)
– 500 ml of milk (semi-skimmed or whole)
– 5 g of dried eucalyptus leaves, 5 g of elderflower and 5 g of olive leaves (the chef gets the dried herbs from L’Or des Plantes, at the Forville market in Cannes).
– 100 g of parmesan
– Meat stock (ready-made or to be prepared, see tip)
– A square of 90% dark chocolate
– Two handfuls of organic hay (in organic stores or pet stores)
Boil the milk. Once boiling, add the dried herbs. Bring back to the boil then remove from the heat and cover for 5 minutes. Filter. Return the flavored milk to the boil. When it boils, add the polenta and stir. Turn off the heat when it has a very creamy consistency. To book.
Season the pieces with salt and pepper. Heat a little butter and a drizzle of olive oil in a pan, add the crushed clove of garlic and a few sprigs of thyme to flavor the butter. Cook the ribs over low heat for ten minutes on each side, basting regularly with cooking butter using a spoon. The ribs should be nicely colored.
Add the square of dark chocolate to the meat juice (about ten tablespoons), heating everything in a pan.
Smoking and dressage
Reheat the polenta in the pan, adding a knob of fresh butter and the parmesan. Smoke the ribs (see below) with the hay for 5 minutes. Place the polenta at the bottom of the plate. Then the pork chop. Drizzle with sauce. You can, like the chef, decorate your dish with glasswort and grilled buckwheat.