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There is a quote in a Polish cookbook I have from another Polish author of another book on Polish cookery and cookbookery (rabbit hole, right?!). My Polish is not as good as one would expect (pretty much nil), but the idea is that cooking and wine sit on the border of nature and culture. I like the thought of that. We Poles are a poetic lot.
In this issue I walk the knife’s edge of nature and culture with grapes turned to wine, hog butchery transformed into charcuterie, forest wood into culinary art, and a savory Tarte Flambée recipe that is a tale of two cultures.
Speaking of recipes, have you made any of the past recipes? I’d like to hear how it went, just comment on this blog post. Photos are always appreciated.
Vintner, Cook, Butcher Boy
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February is a welcome pause for the winery. Things are cyclical with winemaking, which I think is part of the appeal for me. The wines of the 2022 harvest are snug in barrels, biding their time. The French have a word for this, élevage. Something akin to “upbringing”, like raising pets, children, or a sourdough starter. The common theme is that “we”; vintners, winemakers, parents of two-legged or four-legged beings, or cooks, are the custodians as they come into their own. February requires a lighter touch in the cellar.
I’ve been making fresh sausages and pancetta at home for years now; however, it seemed time to expand my charcuterie repertoire.
I spent last Sunday in the atelier of Taylor Boetticher. Said atelier is known as “The Fatted Calf”. This was my second round at his shop, learning the ropes and the art of charcuterie. About a year ago, Jeff and I worked with six others at this mecca of meat to break down an entire 400-pound hog into trotters, shanks, legs, spare ribs, back ribs, shoulder, jowls, cheeks, and some head parts. Some went to make brochette skewers and a pretty tasty porchetta.
This last Sunday was instruction on salumi. On the menu: salame cotto, cacciatorini, and guanciale. I’m a fan of all things pork; however, my excitement leans toward the jowl, guanciale.
Jeff and I look forward to sharing some of these meat treats with you on your next visit to the Napa Valley.
Not all are skilled with a saw (and sandpaper, food-grade stain, DIY home repair, and a cocktail shaker), though Christina Hultberg has mastered all these. A woman of many talents, she is a culinary woodworker (and cocktail shaker) of mention. Not Honorable Mention, but full-fledged knock-it-out-mention. She also makes a mean gin and tonic; more gin, less tonic please, and a prickly pear margarita (that one is for Jeff).
She is the entrepreneur, artistic mind, and business acumen behind the House of Quail, her studio for culinary woodworking. She claims her business was born out of the pandemic; however in speaking with Christina, it seems the idea of creating with wood has been with her since she was a little girl.
Maybe the building blocks started to stack together when she studied Architecture at the University of Idaho.
In 2000, Christina relocated to Napa Valley to be closer to her family. She decided to take a break from architecture and work at the world-famous Mustard’s Grill in Napa Valley.
So, now we have sown the seeds of wine, food, and architecture. During the beginning of the pandemic, Christina enrolled in a woodworking class in Sacramento. She made cutting boards as gifts for friends and family for the holidays.
Christina has married her love of food and wine with her love of architecture, designing, building, and creating things with her hands. These handcrafted culinary pieces are built to gather with friends.
Joey Wolosz: How did we meet?
Christina Hultberg: We met at Mustards Grill, you and Jeff have been guests of Mustards Grill for years. I started working at Mustards Grill in 2000, but I didn’t begin bartending until 2007 so definitely by 2007 if not sooner.
JW: How did you make a connection to woodworking?
CH: I am a former student of architecture and culinary enthusiast, turned woodworker. Twenty one years ago I bought a 1910 Craftsman highboy bungalow in Sacramento. I have remodeled the bathroom and the kitchen myself. In 2020, I completed the kitchen remodel during the height of the pandemic. I even build the hood vent surround myself . In November of 2020, I took a woodworking class to just get out of the house. After the class, I made six Christmas gifts for family and friends. Well House of Quail Culinary Woodworking was born!
JW: What are your other creative outlets, aside from woodworking?
CH: I have painted in the past, but for the last 20 plus years it has been working on my house. I am always designing, creating, and changing it, both inside and out.
JW: What cookbook(s) are you currently diving into?
CH: The Tassajara Bread Book. I have even shared a recipe of Egg bagels with [you,] Joey.
JW: When did you first make a connection with wine and food?
CH: Oh my gosh, at an early age. It is some of my first memories of childhood. Food was always the center of our family. My mom came from an Italian family so it was a part of her culture. She was always cooking, baking her own breads etc. We were always in the kitchen with her while she was cooking. We learned at a very early age the significance of family, gathering, and delicious food and flavors. As children, we had these small little clay cups that on special occasions our parents would allow us to have some wine with the meal.
JW: What do you have a really good time doing?
CH: Watching basketball.
JW: Friends and family excluded, who are two people you’d like to share a long and lingering meal with?
CH: Barak Obama and Lady Gaga.
JW: What would you serve?
CH: Veal Scallopini.
JW: What is your spirit animal?
CH: A dolphin.
JW: What is your motto?
CH: Live today to the fullest because tomorrow is not promised. In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take.
Alsace sits on the border of France and Germany and its history, food, and wine have been influenced by both. It is the home to Tarte Flambée, also known as Flammekueche and Flammkuechen, depending on with which dialect you identify. Or, just call it a Franco-German pizza. Labels aside, it is super tasty.
Friends, neighbors, and passers-by have benefited from the abundant spoils, as I have made a few of these tartes the past few days, testing the dough recipe. This is a yeasted dough; however, you can also use a starter to make a focaccia-ish dough as well.
Jeff and I have been living high-on-the-hog, enjoying these tartes flambées with a little Chardonnay.