More adventures in the Pays Basque, wherein Pat sees how they make ham


Pat Basque 2016 Hams

Pork legs ready for salting at Jambon Baillet in Hagetmau in the region of les Landes.

After his visit to artisan cheese producers Agour, Cafe Presse chef de cuisine Pat MacWharter next took a trip to see exactly how the famous Basque ham, jambon de Bayonne, is produced.  One of the first things he learned is that to make jambon de Bayonne, you have to start with salt from Salies de Béarn, a town about 35 minutes inland from Bayonne in the foothills of the Pyrenees.  Salt from this source is the only salt that can be used in the productions of jambon de Bayonne according to its IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée, which is sort of like an AOC).

Bayonne Salies light

At the Fete de Bayonne, a display sponsored by the producers of salt from Salies de Béarn.

The salt from Salies de Bearn has been reputed for its quality for centuries.  The town sits on a huge underground reserve of salt that causes the town’s mineral spring to bubble up water that is 10 times saltier than sea water and loaded with tasty and healthy natural minerals.  Since antiquity, this spring water has been evaporated in open air salt pans to yield salt of remarkable whiteness and flavor.  (Note: If you ask a local for the story of how this salt source was first discover, they will invariably cite a tale involving Henri IV, a wild boar hunt, and a boar mumified in salt.   However, I am skeptical; Henri IV, a local count who rose to become the king of France and Navarre, looms so large in local history that more is attributed to him than can easily be credited).

Skimming salt from the salt drying ponds at Salies de Béarn.

White salt from Salies.

Pat Basque 2016 Salies

The salt production and packaging facility at Salies.

After Salies de Bearn, Pat’s continued to the town of Hagetmau, 45 minutes north and east of Salies, in the region of les Landes.  Located on the colorfully named “chemin de l’Abbatoir”  (route of the slaughterhouse),  Jambon Baillet produces traditional jambon de Bayonne usine the same methods that the family has followed for almost 50 years.  In order to assure the highest quality at every stage of the production, Baillet manages the process from the slaughter of the pigs, all raised in the surrounding region of the Adour, to the final aging of the ham.

Pat Basque 2016 ham 2

Hams undergoing salting, during which some the pork begins to become drier and denser.

The process for making jambon de Bayonne is simple and involves only two ingredients:  top quality pork legs and salt.  The hams are rubbed with salt, then left to drain for 10 days in a saloir or salting tub.  Then the hams are hung, dried and aged for another 12 months before being ready for market.

Jambon de Bayonne during its 12 months of aging.

Pat Basque 2016 sausages

Other traditional charcuterie made by Jambon Baillet include Basque-style boudin noir and smoked pork sausages.

Balliet makes use of other parts of the pig to make confits, fresh and cured sausages, boudin, boiled hams, pretty much anything you can do with pork, which are sold locally and throughout France.

As of today, none of the charcuterie made buy Jambon Baillet is available in the U.S. but plans are that that will change soon.  Director Pierre-Emmanuel Brotelande says that the firm has plans to begin exporting their jambon de Bayonne later this year, and one of the regions where it will be available is here in the Northwest.  At which time, we will have to taste it against the (excellent) jambon de Bayonne that we are currently serving at Cafe Presse and Le Pichet. You can be sure that the best ham will be the one we will offer our guests!

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Now on the menu at Le Pichet

Clams LP Aug 2016

Penn Cove clams sauteed with boudin noir, sweet corn, shallots, white wine and basil-lovage butter

Le Pichet chef de cuisine Dave Cooper has added new summer dishes to the menu!

Check out our current menu here.

Salad of curly endive, apple, kohlrabi, walnuts, bleu d'Auvergne cheese and creamy cider vinaigrette

Salad of curly endive, apple, kohlrabi, walnuts, bleu d’Auvergne cheese and creamy cider vinaigrette


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Have you tried our Tuesday Prix Fixe yet?

Mardi Prix Fixe Menu

Fixed priced menu available every Tuesday from 11am to 10pm.

Entrée + Plat  -or-  Plat + Dessert    $19.00
Entrée + Plat + Dessert     $23.00

les Entrées

Salade verte
Bibb lettuce salade with hazelnut vinaigrette
Petite assiette de jambon de Bayonne
Appetizer portion of air dried country ham from the French Basque countries, with cornichons

les Plats

 Sandwich ventrêche et piperade, pommes frites
Seared house-cured pork belly and Basque sweet pepper ragout on baguette, served with pommes frites
Fallafels, salade aux melons, aux concombres et aux figues
Crispy chickpea fritters, summer melon, cucumbers, red onion, figs, yogurt-honey dressing and harissa

les Desserts

Glace ou sorbet du jour
Two scoops of ice cream or sorbet of the day served with a cookie; ask your server for today’s flavors
Assiette de biscuits sucrés
A selection of house made cookies

No substitutions for this special menu…thanks for your understanding!

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Its too hot to cook!


Our famous whole roasted chicken for 2, to enjoy at Le Pichet, Cafe Presse your to take out for chez vous.

The weather forecast for this weekend in Seattle  calls for temperatures in the 90’s, which for a Seattle native feels like the Sahara (that’s right, we are hot weather wimps).

Here’s our stay cool tip :  Instead of heating the whole house by cooking, order a roasted chicken To Go from Cafe Presse.

Or better yet, come enjoy the air conditioning at Le Pichet or Cafe Presse…now that’s livin’.

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Making green walnut wine

After 7 weeks maceration with green walnuts and walnut leaves, the red wine has become dark brown and slightly viscous.

After 7 weeks maceration with green walnuts and walnut leaves, the red wine has become dark brown and slightly viscous. This wine still needs to go into the cellar for 6 months.

As described in an earlier post, last June I put  some green walnuts and leaves to macerate on red wine.  A few spices, some bay leaves and a piece of dried orange peel made up the rest of the ingredients, then the whole was  safely tucked into an old sauerkraut crock, was tucked into a cool cellar (the storage area in the basement of our condo, to tell the truth) for about 6 weeks.

This was the first step in my project to make vin de noix, a fortified wine that has its roots in the walnut-rich countryside of the French southwest.  With a rich, nutty earthiness and a slightly oxidized character, vin de noix makes a nice aperitif when poured over ice, or a sweet wine at the end of a meal with dessert or cheese.  Basically it fills a similar role that an aged port might play.

I finally got around to finishing up this batch of vin de noix in early August.  By “finishing”, I mean that after taking on the flavor of the green walnuts during maceration, the wine is ready to be fortified with a alcohol and sugar, then bottled.  I have included some photos of the process below. Continue reading

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Walnut Wine June 2016 2

Vin de Noix

Pressed iron pans

iron pan

French pressed iron pan in its original state.

A friend recently received this beautiful French pressed iron pan above as a gift and asked for my advice on how to season and care for it.  It occurred to me that other people might be interested in the same info, so I am including it here.

In a traditional French kitchen, pressed iron pans are one of the indispensable tools of the trade.  If properly handled, they  combine the even cooking characteristics of heavy gauge steel with the non-stick characteristics of a un-coated-but-seasoned pan.  They basically fill the role that cast iron does in an American kitchen – cast iron does exist in France, notably the very useful, exterior enameled skillets made by Le Creuset, but it is less common than here.  Pressed iron pans are the classic pans we think of when we talk about French omelette or crepe pans. I love them and they make up part of my ideal kitchen equipment list, along with cast iron skillets, enameled iron dutch ovens and stainless or tin lined copper saucepans. Continue reading

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Adventures in the Pays Basque, wherein Pat visits a fromagerie

Pat Basque 2016 brebis

Cow’s milk tome from the Pyrenees in the farmer’s market of Cambo-les-Bains.

Café Presse chef de cuisine Patrick MacWhorter is just back from a week in the French Basque Countries, where he had his first taste of the marvelously varied culinary riches of that region.  Despite the generally held belief among his co-workers that Pat spent the entire trip drinking and eating at the Fête de Bayonne (much more on that in a later post), he did in fact dedicate a large part of the trip to increasing his knowledge through visits to artisan producers.  Continue reading

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Menu for August Chef’s Dinner at Cafe Presse

Café Presse and Le Pichet invite you to fete

Summer in the Pays Basque

Tuesday August 30, 2016 6:30pm

Dinner including wine $75 per person

Les hors d’œuvres
Croquettas with spinach and Oussa Iraty cheese
Vinegar-cured anchovy filet, nectarine-basil tartare, sherry, hazelnuts, grilled baguette
Eggs scrambled with piperade, grilled jambon de bayonne, baguette slice

Salade aux tomates, a la morue, a la sarriette et ses œufs pochés
Mixed tomato salad garnished with salt cod, walnuts, summer savory, lemon-piment d’Espelette vinaigrette and poached egg

Calamars et palourdes à la sauce verte
Penn Cove clams and Pacific calamari sautéed with Txokoli and soft herbs

Haricots rouge mijoté aux blettes, garnitures au porc, piments en vinaigre
Red beans simmered with Basque cider, chard, peppers and smoked paprika, garnished with grilled pork collar, ribs, boudin basque and pickled guindilla peppers

Natillas aux pêches
Basque poured custard flavored with honey, lemon and cinnamon, peaches and almond short breads

Space is limited for the special event.  Please call to reserve your place.

Cafe Presse 206.709.7674



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A chef in the Pays Basque

Pat Basque 2016 Bayonne

Vieux ville or old city in Bayonne, the capitol of the French Basque Countries

For 5 days in July, Café Presse Chef de Cuisine Patrick MacWhorter visited the French Basque countries as the guest of Société Agour,  a producer of traditional Basque cheeses and jambon de Bayonne.  During this time, Pat had the opportunity to visit artisan fromageries, charcutiers and much, much more.  He also was in Bayonne for the famous Ferias de Bayonne, which is the largest Basque city festival in France.

Societé Agour asked Pat to come along because of their long relationship with both Le Pichet and Cafe Presse.  We have served their beautiful cheeses as part of our Assiette de Fromages for years, including the Brique Fermier Agour, P’tit Basque and AOC Ossau Iraty.  We were also one of the first restaurants in Seattle to offer authentic AOC jambon de Bayonne when it was approved for importation last year.  So when Agour was looking for American chefs to invite to visit their ateliers for a first hand look at how they work, our local Agour distributor thought of Pat.

Pat is already back at work behind the stoves at Café Presse, but we are just now processing his photos and hearing his stories.  Over the next few weeks, as they get organized, we will be sharing them with you.

And in honor of Pat’s travels, our Summer Chef’s Dinner at Cafe Presse, on Tuesday August 30, 2016, at 6:30pm, will feature the food and wine of the French Basque Countries.  Complete info about this dinner including the menu will be posted soon on this blog and on Cafe Presse’s website. Or you can reserve seats now by calling Café Prese at 206 709-7674.

Pat Basque 2016 flags

Bayonne decked out for the Feria

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