So it’s not that I’ll actually miss the hams hanging in the wine room at our Leelanau County restaurant (near Traverse City), La Becasse. I mean, they’re not exactly pretty, and heaven forbid you accidentally rub up against one while looking for your bottle of wine (I have). But I love the idea of the hams. I see the hams and I see Guillaume (my husband and the chef/owner of La Becasse) and his insatiable need to create, to experiment, to pursue a passion. Guillaume loves charcuterie and has long wanted to try curing hams at our Northern Michigan restaurant.
Guillaume’s godfather, who lives in Loraine in the east of France, cures ham and sausages. For years Guillaume has talked of the idea of spending time with him learning the trade, which hopefully he will be able to do. In the meantime, a few years back, armed with a book on charcuterie and his Amish farmer, Guillaume began buying hogs—whole hogs—with the idea of using the hams to make his own prosciutto here at our Northern Michigan restaurant. This is the sort of hobby that requires much patience. They need to hang for a minimum of twelve to eighteen months before you can even see if you are on the right track. Undeterred, Guillaume persevered, buying a hog every month or so for a while from Northern Michigan farmers. He would drive early in the day to Manton where he’d meet the farmer, Duane Keim of Emerald Acres Farms, and the meat processor at L&J Meat Processing. There he’d load up his hog and head back to the restaurant. Somewhere in the course of his daily prep he’d butcher the pig. It was a lot of work, but he can’t tell me he wasn’t having fun.
Anyone who has ever talked with Guillaume about the project, or been taken down to the wine cellar in our Leelanau County restaurant for a viewing, can attest to his excitement, his sheer delight in the entire process. One of the up-sides is that in addition to the two hams, the hog provides a lot of meat. Guillaume cures bacon, makes sausage and serves these amazing pork chops and breaded pork tenderloin medallions and all manner of things pork. For me the exciting part is in finding a source for good local meat and being able to support a local Northern Michigan farmer. It’s been a while since he has bought a hog for the purpose of adding to the prosciutto hanging in the wine cellar. The existing hams have sufficiently cured, and now they must come down to make way for the wine shelves Guillaume is building in order to neatly store and easily access the wine he has accumulated.
I asked Guillaume what he thought about this first go-around with prosciutto-making. He surprised me by telling me he’s already gone through three of the hams. He likes it, says the meat is “gorgeous.” When I asked if he would do anything differently the next time around I got an emphatic, “oh yes.” He didn’t elaborate..
The Northern Michigan Restaurant La Becasse is in Maple City, at the corner of C-669 and C-616 between Traverse City and Glen Arbor. For more information: 231-334-3944; restaurantlabecasse.com.