In 2015, in a corner shop of an up and coming neighborhood, sits a shiny and clean well-appointed whole animal butcher shop, run by a small team of hardworking folks trying to bring quality and technique to artisanal butchery. The animals are locally sourced, and the shop’s European-inspired charcuterie is known throughout the region.
I’m not gloating about the a notable shop in Santa Ana. Instead, I happened to stumble upon the ECB doppelgänger, LePaturage (The Pasture in French), in the swanky community of Puyricard, a suburb just outside of Aix-en-Provence. The irony is that this big-hearted butcher shop has been right under my nose for the past four years, only kilometers from where we stay each summer.
LePaturage is a boucherie de carcasse that purchases the entire animal (beef, lamb, pork and veal), and educates its guests about “eating around the entire animal,” and utilizing every delicious morsel.
Shop owner, Guillaume Tortel, looks more like a twenty-something football enthusiast than an optimistic and affable entrepreneur who opened his doors in 2015. He blushes when his team calls him patron (boss), but he is all business when it comes to bringing the best quality meat to Southern France. Thanks to a degree in business administration from Aix en Provence, and formal training in charcuterie atl’École Nationale Supérieure des Métiers de la Viande in Paris, he’s up for the job.
“Are you about price or quality,” he asks me in English. I figured I knew the right answer, but he interjects before I can response. “Here, we are about…I don’t know the word in English. En français c’est…finesse.”
I wanted to tell Guillaume we had that very word and its definition painted on our shop wall, and that his English was spot on. Instead, I was content that I’d found a second home.
With French labor and tax laws what they are, Guillaume has a lean team of just three employees. In addition to himself, he is joined by Eric, a strapping and smiley veteran of the legion d’etrangere (the French Foreign Legion). And Marion, a pixy-like recent graduate of agricultural management trying her hand at butchery for the first time.
After serving his country, Eric spent more than 15-years running his own mobile butcher shop. Think ECB meat case in a sprinter van. This is a concept I’ve been jones-ing to bring back to the US since I first saw it at a market day in Russillon a few years back. USDA, let’s get with the times!
Marion, provides most of the marketing know-how in the shop, rings up orders, and keeps smiling as guests arrive each morning. Walking me around the well-appointed cases, cheese display, and few freshly baked tarts, Marion also points out the local olive oil, soups and sauces along the walls before offering samples of charcuterie.
Of note was the pork Caillette a l’Ancience, a minced pork, liver and spinach crepinette wrapped in caul fat, cooked and served cold. The spinach provided an herbal, bitter compliment to the sweetness of the minced meat. It begged for a nice dry rosé to accompany it.
The next was their terrine au lapine de campagne (country rabbit terrine). Very simple ingredients: fresh rabbit, some sweated shallots, salt and pepper, and a little marc (the local brandy). It was perfectly seasoned with a texture not too spongy, and firm enough that it didn’t crumble under a sharp knife. The whole thing was perfectly topped with a thin layer of rendered pork fat. I could eat this as a start to my Provencal picnic any day.
The carnivorous crescendo was the saucisson a la maison. The best charcuteries have two things in common, fresh ingredients and flawless technique. This fermented French salami did not disappoint. Pork, fatback, salt, pepper, maybe a hint of garlic and cured for four weeks, the saucisson was impeccably seasoned and softer than most market day varieties, but not mealy. The unctuous bouquet and yeasty exterior made me impatient for another slice, which I took without peeling it.
With my second bite, I was convinced there was some secret ingredient. And sure enough, Guillaume had the answer. Not only did they use pork shoulder, when most locals prefer the cheaper leg meat, but LePaturage had a secret weapon, the Noir de Provence breed of pig that Guillaume raises with his father on their own land.
Similar to the Pata Negra, or black Iberico of Spain, this pig originally comes from Gascon in the Southwest of France. A heritage breed saved from extinction in the 1980s, it is more flavorful and fattier than most French pork. Guillaume and his dad have a pig nursery at their home in Eguilles, and then send the animals to La Bardeline closer to Marseilles where they live for at least 12 months in oak forest and pasture, feeding on acorns, grass and grain.
The big selling point at LePaturage is that all of its animals are BIO. This is France’s organic label, and it’s taken very seriously. In addition to forbidding the use of chemical pesticides, fertilizers, and GMOs, French BIO requires farming techniques that are more biodynamic and considerate to the soil.
The best part about visiting LaPaturage was the sense of excitement in the entrepreneurship going on there that is missing from much of French small business. Too often a proprietor is saddled with obligation, heritage, or familial duty, bound to do things the way they’ve always been done. It is nice to see a business built around an old idea, but making it somehow new, young, and energetic, comprised of people who have independently chosen their career path. Guillaume is the son of a stock brocker. Eric came to butchery after an honorable military career. Marion studied to help sustainable agriculture become more successful. These are folks with vision and passion, and who enjoy working with one another.
And so, as I left LePaturage, I was even more aware that I will be leaving “the South” tomorrow. I am grumpy to be leaving magical Provence, it’s vibrant food, enchanting sunsets, and pulsating rhythm of the cicada’s song. And now I will have to wait another summer before I can visit LePaturage again.
In the same breath, I am excited for the future. The business success of a shop like LePaturage is invigorating. The openness and joy of its employees, recharging. Maybe this will be the beginning of a wondering friendship, a fruitful sharing of skills and dreams, and at the very least, a celebration of finesse in a craft that is disappearing.
I don’t want to leave France, but I also can’t wait to get back to ECB to share what it has taught me.
LaPurtage: Artisan Boucher Charcutier BIO
LaPurtage.com | 279 Rue Principale, 13540 Aix-en-Provence, France | +33 4 42 67 69 60