It may not exactly be self-sufficiency, but one of the best ways to increase the sustainability of one's lifestyle is to source one's food as locally as possible. And doing so also increases the quality and health of that lifestyle. We are on the right track with our fledgling vegetable-growing, but until we have that smallholding of our own, we are going to have to find some other true smallholder or local farmer to supply us with eggs, cheese and any meat we may consume (and the meat will probably still hold in the future, even, as though I can imagine us with chickens and goats, I'm not so sure about any larger livestock like cows, etc).
It has been a long time coming, but I have now officially resolved not to eat meat unless I know for certain that it was not raised in a feedlot or other industrial capacity, but lived in biologically appropriate surroundings, eating what nature intended for it to eat (i.e. pastured animals). This is not just for reasons of animal welfare, but for my own health (not to mention gustative pleasure) as well - from food safety concerns to avoiding hormone and antibiotic-filled meat to the nutritional content of that meat (pastured animal meats have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, etc). So unless I can find some good local producers, this decision is tantamount to going vegetarian.
Fortunately, we have just discovered a little shop about 7km away that sells all local produce. It is right next door to a 'pick-your-own' farm, whose produce it sells, and it has eggs, cheeses, whole chickens and a variety of meat products all from small farms in the area. Posters gracing the walls tell you the names of the farms and the living conditions of the animals (along with doing a little omega-3 preaching of their own). And unbelievably, the prices are similar or even lower than in the supermarkets (probably because you don't have all the middlemen taking their share and the supermarkets squeezing the farmers - I would imagine more of your money spent in this shop goes to the farmers as well).
Once we knew we had a glut of ceps, we made a little visit to the shop to get an essential ingredient for the lasagna. The recipe on the DVD called for 'parma ham', or in their case, River cottage cured ham, so we popped over to the store (in the car, but actually next time I think we'll go by bike) and got several beautiful slices of some cured ham. We were also seduced by a pâté à l'ancienne and a very creamy local cheese, along with a whole grain loaf of local bread. These we scoffed down for lunch in throes of ecstasy. I honestly have never tasted pâté that good. We also sampled a slice of the ham, my first reaction to which was (once returned to my senses and again capable of speech), "Ohhhh, so that's what pork is supposed to taste like!" Most cured ham you get only tastes of salt; this actually tasted of delicately seasoned pork, a flavor which was, I have to say, completely new to me.
Now this was an odd state of affairs. How often is it, once you get to adult life, that you experience a utterly new taste, one that sets your tastebuds in overdrive and your neurons firing as your brain grapples with that novel sensation? And I don't mean a different recipe, but a food, an ingredient unto itself that you have never before encountered. This may happen while traveling, in the form of an exotic fruit perhaps. But it was astonishing to have the experience in the first place right at home, and then to realize that that brand new taste experience was happening while eating a food that should have been eminently recognizable, one that you've supposedly been eating all your life.
This experience simply strengthened my resolve, even though I know it is likely to be a tough road ahead. But if the meat we are used to eating literally tastes nothing like what it is supposed to, then what exactly is it that we are eating? Not anything I want to put in my body.
Cep (Bolete) Lasagna
Several ceps or other boletes cleaned and trimmed
Shredded emmental cheese (and a little parmigiano reggiano)
Lasagna pasta (we intended to make our own but ended up using dried)
Cured (Parma) ham
Savoy cabbage (optional)
The original recipe didn't call for the cabbage, but Henry had the great idea to harvest the first of our Savoy cabbages and actually get some green vegetable into this dish. We blanched the cabbage (shredded) and Henry made a bechamel while I prepared the mushrooms, which I sliced as shown above (stems and caps separately in this case). Then we buttered a deep Pyrex dish and started with a layer of mushrooms, then bechamel, then the ham, followed by the shredded cheese, the cabbage and lastly a layer of pasta, then started over again with the bechamel first until we got to the top and finished it with the last of the bechamel, shredded cheese and some grated parmesan. We cooked it in a medium oven (~150°C/300°F) covered with foil for about 40 minutes, then removed the foil and turned the oven up so it would brown on top.
This was how Hugh did it on the show, and not to criticize his recipe or anything, but we felt like a lot of water came out of the mushrooms, and they weren't as flavorful as we expected. I think if, or rather when, we make this again, we'll fry some of the moisture out of the mushrooms first and get some color on them before we layer them in the lasagna. That said, it was still absolutely heavenly, with that beautiful ham flavoring those wild mushrooms and covered in cheesy, bechamel-y goodness.