French comfort food, made in Devon
Everyone has a taste that reminds them of their childhood. It probably says a lot about the middle-class nature of my upbringing that the taste that reminds me of my childhood the most is Rillettes du Mans.
What is it? Oh you wouldn’t like it. It is essentially salted pork meat cooked confit for so long that when it cools you can take it off the bone with a fork. It is then put into pots and the cooking fat is poured on top as a preservative and to add flavour.
As a child we spend almost every annual holiday in France (apart from 1996 when we went to Teignmouth, we don’t speak of that holiday any more). While us four siblings regularly made our parents hard-earned break a living hell, I have fond memories of the dinner table at whichever villa in the middle of nowhere mon parent had rented (basic principle was that on no account should there be an English speaker within 20 miles).
One of the reasons was the ever present French stick and a tub of Rillette du Mons, a meaty fatty mess that you spread onto a hunk of bread. Tres bien as the French (and Del Boy) might say.
Why do I share this pleasant reverie from my youth with you on an English food and drink blog? Well because I have just tried some Devonian rillettes and it was rather good. In the week, as those of you who pay attention will know, I went to Westaways at Newton Abbot to butcher a pig. This butchery was done under the guidance of one Marc Frederic, Lancastrian owner of an excellent moustache and a worryingly sharp selection of knives. Marc is a French trained charcutier and at the end of the day, which I will write about at length, he unveiled a little something of his own.
Marc runs Moorish Foods, which produces charcuterie from free-range beasties in a continental style. And he handed us a couple of pots of this rillettes (don’t pronounce the “ll” he said, sagely).
I tried it when I got home, with a bit of crusty bread and it took me right back to the early 1990s in France, eating lunch with the family before heading to the beach and trying to peek at the topless women without making it obvious (it was always obvious).
Since then I have had it for lunch most days (I found a couple more jars that “accidentally” fell in my bag as I left Westaways). It is great smeared over a hot buttered bagel, though not really kosher. It is the ultimate comfort food on a cold winter day, with a cuppa, as much as a great summer food with a glass of wine.