I first heard of Belcampo Meat Camp on the Nom Nom Paleo podcast (one of my favorite podcasts – subscribe asap if you love well edited, clever, food talk). Michelle Tam (Nom Nom Paleo) went to, I think, one of the first meat camps at Belcampo’s farm in Shasta, CA. It sounded unreal and so I logged it in the back of my mind with all the “that would be awesome if i was given a million dollars” dreams. Then, when they opened up new sessions the following year, I saw they were offering a BYOT option – “bring your own tent”. You get all the features of the all-inclusive price, except the actual bed/tent. Its still not cheap, but you’re getting schooled and eating so well, in a unique location. Imagine driving down I-5, seeing Mr. Shasta in the distance, and thinking “man, I wonder what its like to live out here” – at Meat Camp you get to, except you don’t have to farm or work hard, and you get to practice your grillin’ skills on $30 steaks, over and over and over again. AND there were baby pigs.
Belcampo Meat Camp
Belcampo Meat Camp is a three day, two night, all inclusive camp for adults. Instead of crafts and games, you do MEAT all weekend long. Tour the Belcampo farms, commissary kitchen, main offices, pastures, etc… and learn how Belcampo functions as a company, owning every facet from the land, to the slaughterhouse, the butcher shops, and the restaurants. The best part: hands on, learning knife skills, butchery, and open-fire cooking/grilling, tasting along the way.
This past May (2016) I went Belcampo Meat Camp! Yes – its as amazing as it sounds. As I described above we were first offered a tour and an understanding of what Belcampo is all about. I was the ONLY person not from California, where they are based, so most people were familiar with their business and had eaten at their restaurants. Soon after, we dove right in, learning how to butcher a rabbit, leg of lamb, and spatchcock a chicken. As we learned, one of the instructed quietly seared up a lamb steak, medium rare, sliced it up, topped it with a chimichurri and we were treated with the fruit of our labor as they cleaned up for the next task. This treatment continued through the weekend. Taste as you go, and then at sit down for a full spread at each meal. Grilled sweetbreads, beet pickled eggs, house charcuterie, open fire roasted squash, trotter-something beans, salsa verde and chimicuhurri, steaks, pork chops, goat, braised rabbit, grilled whole chicken, game hen, wine, beer, and a table full of people who love to talk about food.
- Butchering our own steaks and chops, building up our coals on open-fire argentine grills, and practicing grilling steak after chop after steak, and tasting each others, oo-ing and aw-ing at each others successes. This was the first time i’ve had pork, intentionally undercooked. You can cook a pork chop like a medium steak if you’re eating fresh, pastured, humanely raised pork. And i’m here to tell you they melt in your mouth like butter. I’ve never tasted anything like that. juicy and tender pork that is sweet, with crisped fat cap, sprinkled in salt – its like candy. I put those piglets out of mind as best I could and reveled in it.
- Charcuterie and wine pairing. Belcampo is working with someone (I feel terrible I don’t remember his name) on creating their own charcuterie. I believe what we sampled was the first “final product” and they have been working towards regular distribution. Not living in California, i’m not sure if you can buy it or if they serve it in their restaurants, but I sure hope so! Truthfully, there is very little charcuterie I don’t like (mortadella – you’re it. bleh) so I’m an easy sell. But after a day of grilling in the hot hot sun and a hike above the camp, sitting in the cool dark barn, tasting salty pork products paired with delicious italian wines…it was like heaven.
I left feeling so excited about what I’d learned, but also wishing that type of thinking, accessibility, standard of practice, etc… was the norm for more people. Why isn’t this type of slow, communal cooking, with thoughtful preparation and responsibly sourced meats and vegetables something that we all strive for? The simple answer is that we have lives. Busy lives in cramped places and a budget. But one day, i’d like to have enough space and financial means to host others like the Belcampo team did for us! Its a treat and a kindness that makes everyone happy!