Behind the Meaty Wanderfeast

Travel Oregon just concluded their 10-week Oregon Bounty Wanderfeast series, which features beautifully shot and edited videos that give you fascinating behind-the-scenes insight into the phrase “farm-to-table.” Olympic Provisions’ salumist Elias Cairo‘s “Meat Week” masterpiece, which posted a few weeks ago, was shot at Sweet Briar Farms in Eugene at the end of August, and we went with him to see what it was all about. So I suppose this post is a behind-the-scenes look behind the scenes? Or something like that.

marchepatioThe evening prior to the Travel Oregon shoot, Eli, his sister and Olympic Provisions’ co-owner Michelle, OP co-owner and chef Tyler Gaston, and myself headed down to Eugene, and after checking into our lodgings, we went to Marché for dinner. We sunk into a booth in the comfortable 75-seat dining room, and ordered a dozen oysters with champagne mignonette and a bottle of Gruet sparkling rosé, which is a lovely cost-effective sparkly.marcheoysters

A few summery salads followed, heirloom melon with ricotta salata, prosciutto and mint, and a jewel-toned heirloom tomato salad with fresh basil and mozzarella. They were a nice testament to Marche’s commitment to using seasonal product.

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Next up was a heap of hot wood-oven roasted Totten Inlet mussels in a tomato-saffron sauce, with grilled bread. They went fast, so it was good that the chanterelle and corn risotto came shortly thereafter.

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Then, a golden toasted-breadcrumb topped grilled sardine bucatini and the ricotta gnocchi with burst cherry tomatoes and grano padano.

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We ended with a luscious cheese plate and bourbon. The boys bonded.

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The night was young, so we went searching for local color. Eugene didn’t appear to have an exceptionally vibrant Monday nightlife, so we ended up at a dive bar with a seriously karaoke-obsessed clientele. Pitchers of Bud Light were ordered, and Tyler and Michelle showed them a few moves. When in Rome…

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It was a pity we’d already eaten, as the kitchen promised Steak Diane in honor of Fancy Food Monday.

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The next morning, we were scheduled to arrive at Sweet Briar Farms at 8am for the shoot, but we were slightly tardy, for many reasons, involving karaoke hangovers, a desperate coffeehouse hunt, and questionable navigation. Eventually, Eugene’s dense outlying neighborhoods thinned until we were in the country, and soon Sweet Briar and its big red barn came into sight.

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Sweet Briar owners and lovebirds Keith Cooper and Petrene Moreland met us in the driveway, first via their rubber piggy representations, then in the flesh.

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Eli got to work being charming for the cameras.

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elifieldWe toured the farm and all its squawking and squealing wonders.

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We met Mr. Wrinkles, the handsome and astonishingly well-endowed farm stud.

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Part of Mr. Wrinkles’ allure lies in his unique smell–Petrene described him as smelling of incense, and oddly enough, he did. He lives in a pen with a harem of four or so rotating sows and his sole purpose in life is to impregnate them. It’s an antiquated and sexist system, but it appears to be effective.

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There were several litters of piglets in the barn, varying in age. I held a three day-old squealer. Piglets do not appreciate being handled–the term “squealed like a pig” took on an enhanced meaning for me–but Petrene showed me a trick–cover their eyes with your hand, and they calm down immediately.

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It worked. We were new best friends. I know these animals are not pets, but I very much wanted to put him in my handbag and take him home. Look at that little snout.

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Holding the tiny squealers, you can’t help but think about the fact that we’re eventually going to eat them, and it’s sobering. Visiting a working farm is always thought-provoking–they are ruggedly beautiful, but not idyllic places. Yes, there’s fresh country air and lush grass and cute barnyard creatures running amok and a certain romanticism swirling about it all, but when you talk to the farmers and experience their farms and get a sense of their every day existence–the intense hours, relentless demands, hard work, and constant uncertainty that surrounds their livelihood, and then you actually hold your wriggling future dinner, it adds a great deal of meaning to and respect for your food.

After Eli finished shooting his video, Petrene and Keith entertained us with pound cake, stories, and well, bacon, and then we were off.

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On our way out of town, we changed out of our dirty farm boots and visited Cafe Arirang on East Broadway, where we porked out on some delicious Korean food. There were steamed pork gyoza, pork shu mai, a “Kimchi Meet the Pork” stir fry, spicy pork bowl, and enviable bibimbap–as in, Tyler was the one who ordered it, and we were all envious when it arrived. Mercifully, he shared.

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We weren’t ready to leave yet, so we stopped into Marché Provisions, a specialty market a stone’s throw from Marché restaurant. We acquired a bottle of Pascal Janvier 2008 Cuvée du Rosier and a few Béquet sea salt caramels and sat in the pretty little courtyard.

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And that concludes my Behind the Wanderfeast posting. If you haven’t seen it already, here is the finished product.