The first Belgian beer I ever drank, long before it became a regular fixture in British supermarkets, was Leffe Blonde. It was served to me in a Brugges bar, shortly before it was joined on my table by a hefty slab of rare steak, served on a wooden board, blood running into the groove around the edge.
I’d never seen or tasted anything like that combination before. The beer, with a rich bodied and honey tinged malt, the now familiar perky Belgian yeast and an addictive peppery spice, served in its own overgrown wine-glass, kick-started a personal craze for Belgian beer. And the Belgian meat ‘n’ ale combo is one that has been revisited many times over.
But rather than steaks it has been plates of charcuterie meat that have been my beer grazing food of choice over subsequent visits to Belgium. Nothing goes better with a yeasty brew than a peppery chunk of sausage. Just ask Leffe…
Recently, the brewery has been promoting a series of films under title ‘Leffe Slow Time’, showcasing various artists and artisans dedication to their craft and their relationship with time. One of these expert craftsfolk is charcuterie maker Adrienne E Treeby, who has produce some amazingly tasty cured meats using Leffe Brune – blonde’s darker brother. We were lucky enough to be invited to interview her about the project, while I reacquainted myself with a glass of blonde and plate of her delicious charcuterie…
What’s the secret to making good charcuterie?
First and foremost I would say patience. Although all the time and patience in the world will net you nothing if you don’t make your cured meats with the best quality meat (which usually comes from the most well-reared) and the finest quality spices. At the end of the day (although in curing terms, that’s more likely to be the end of the year!), cured meat is extraordinarily simple; meat, salt, a few herbs and time. So if you don’t start with something extraordinary, you won’t end up with anything better. And quite likely something worse! After that, it’s just patience. You have to be calm with cured meat because the steady passage of time is really what makes the magic happen.
You use lots different alcoholic beverages in your produce. How do they enhance cured meats?
Alcohol works a two-fold purpose in my opinion. Firstly, by mixing my herbs into it, I make a paste that spreads those spicy flavours more evenly into the meat, more evenly than can happen by simply adding them dry. For that purpose, I suppose I could simply add water… but water adds nothing. Why add nothing when you can add subtlety, depth and richness by using a beer instead?! And that’s the second purpose in my eyes. Good alcohol, beyond working as a good base note (alcohol, like fat, can help carry flavours further) carries a great deal of depth. Leffe, for example, has whiffs of honey, coffee, malt, vanilla, all working in combination. By adding the beer, I can add all of those notes without overwhelming the total flavour of the sausage, as they would if I added them individually.
How did the partnership with Leffe come about?
I was approached by film-maker Gary Tarn, with whom I had worked previously on a project, and he asked me if I might consider working Leffe into one of my recipes. I was excited to try, actually, as I think the beer is very tasty – and a great example of how beer can offer just as much sophistication of flavour as wine, the more common add-on in my line of work.
Curing meat is an ancient practice, but you’re bringing a modern, experimental approach to the art. Have you found sausage nirvana yet?
Well, I love the term! But no – and truthfully – I hope that stays my answer forever. I think it is my constant striving for nirvana that gives my sausages (plus my life!) verve and fire. Curing meat is an ancient practice, and one thing that I think they knew better then than we do now, is that food can be amazing, even if it isn’t, shall we say, consistent. Every animal, when you work with properly free-range, grazing animals, will offer its own personality into the mix, so every batch of cured sausage I make will be slightly different. Rather than condemning that variability, I celebrate it! Because I am making something that truly tastes of where and what it is made of. Accepting that, and having my customers appreciate it, does offer me a sense of bliss. Even if it doesn’t last forever!
Few things in life are better than a plate of sausage meats and a glass of beer. What’s your ideal environment in which to enjoy them?
Oh! Well, I think that depends on the season… In the winter, give me all that and a smokey, fire-warmed pub any day! In the summer? Nothing makes me happier than enjoying both of those on a sunlit patio or while picnicking in a park. The great thing about cured sausage is that it is always ready to eat, no fancy utensils or refrigerator required. So grab a few sticks of something delicious, your beverage of choice, and I think that anywhere that makes you feel at home, can make a great spot for a snack.
Take a close up look at Adrienne’s skills in this Leffe Slow Time film…
Brewery: Leffe, Leuven, Belgium
Beer name: Blonde
Thanks to Hannah for arranging the interview and pinching our sausage and beer from the Leffe vaults
To get hold of Adreinne’s charcuterie, visit her website here