Round Two in Gascony was meant to give me a thorough knowledge of traditional French charcuterie and luckily I scored a two-month apprenticeship with one of the best charcutiers in the country - Dominique Chapolard.
Dominique’s family owns a 50-hectare farm just between Nerac and Mézin. His grandfather originally purchased the farm from a dying winemaker after the Great War. He and his wife began raising dairy cows on the property and added apple, peach, and prune orchards until a large storm in 1968 destroyed much of the fruit trees. By this time, Dominique’s father and uncle had taken on the bulk of the responsibility of the farm. The second generation decided to try their hand growing melons, cucumbers, and tomatoes.
Eventually, Dominique's father gave up on the fruit and vegetables and invested in Blonde Aquitaine cattle known for their delicious beef. Like most French families, he always bought two piglets every year for his family’s personal consumption. When the region’s pig farmer passed away, Dominique’s father seized the chance to move into pork – he bought two sows, built a small farm laboratory and became a pig farmer and charcutier.
As a child, Dominique worked on the farm and watched as his family labored over fruits and vegetables for such a meager living. So when the time came, Dominique chose to pursue a life in academia instead of agriculture. He didn't stray far from the farm, though. After he married his wife Christiane, he took a position teaching Forestry at the Université Toulouse. From there he accepted a position as headmaster at another agricultural school before finally returning to the family farm to help his three brothers, Mark, Bruno, and Jacque, with the pork operation.
Today, each brother pitches in around the farm, but each has his own specific role to play. Dominique concentrates on the walk-in cooler and turning half carcasses into various forms of charcuterie. He also mans the family stand at the Lavardac and Nérac farmer’s markets.
Jacque raises the pigs and looks after the crops. Bruno and Mark help with the crops, the butchery, and additional farmer's markets. And then there is a wide assortment of spouses and children that fill in to help the farm turn a profit. As if grain crops, pigs, and charcuterie weren't enough, two of Jacque’s sons have started a dairy operation.
Flots Blancs is hands down the best milk and yogurt I’ve ever tasted.
The Chapolard family was gracious enough to take me in and teach me their family recipes and way of life. Under Dominique’s careful watch, I have gained a firmer grasp on this component of craft butchery. Hopefully, by the time I leave, I will be able to call myself a charcutier.