Given its preoccupation with holy warriors and mandates from God, now might not seem the wisest of times to open the Middle East’s first charcuterie but then heterogeneous, heretical Lebanon is often the cocker of regional snooks.
Producing everything from prosciutto, pancetta, smoked sausages and lomo, to bacon, terrines and sliced ham, Les Fermes de Patrick is the latest venture by French chef Olivier Gougeon and his Lebanese wife Marie-Hélène, owners of Beirut’s très boutique hotel, the Villa Clara.
Trained, the old-fashioned way by one of the last traditional charcutiers in Corsica – a location he chose for its climatic similarity - Gougeon produces the odd European classic but his main aim is to create a range of products that are identifiably Lebanese.
So he has been experimenting with local ingredients like wild za’atar, dried figs, apricots and pistachios and has introduced araq, the sophisticated Lebanese take on pastis, to the preserving process.
Fed organically and sustainably on leftovers like whey and spent malt, the pigs are butchered at a relatively young age, lending their flesh a milky tenderness.
Attracted to charcuterie by what he calls the ‘magic’ of the process, Gougeon also enjoys being able to use every part of every pig, most of which are hand-raised at a monastery in the mountains north of Beirut.
“The monks don’t worry about time,” he says, explaining the partnership. “If you say you’ll be profitable in a hundred years, they say ‘perfect’. They’d rather get it right. That’s my kind of approach.”
Originally printed in Wallpaper
Photo © Joe Kesrouani