One bite of Babette’s Table‘s saucisson sec or sopressata, and you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to the European countryside. Owner and butcher Erika Lynch employs old-world fermenting and curing methods to produce her charcuterie. In keeping with the French culinary values of high-quality food and regional variety, she sources her meat from a handful of small family farms in Vermont.
How did this former educator, born and raised in Kentucky, become the owner of a charcuterie company in Vermont? Read on to hear Erika’s story and why her products are some of our top sellers.
Q. You grew up in the South. How did you arrive in Vermont?
A. After graduating from the University of Kentucky, I moved to Boulder, CO. It was in Colorado that I earned my teaching certificate and met Julie, who is now my wife. Julie and I both worked in schools in the Denver area, but after several years living abroad and out west, Julie started pining for her home in the Green Mountains. We moved back to the area 12 years ago. She was worried that I might not like it, so she taught me how to cross-country ski. Now I can’t imagine living anywhere else, and despite my Kentucky roots, winter is my favorite season.
Q. After a career in education, you traveled to France to learn about curing and fermenting. How did you become interested in preparing dried meats?
A. After our move to Vermont, we became very interested in the local Vermont food movement. When my children were born, my job as an academic director for a program for students who’d dropped out of high school became a little too draining. I knew that I wanted to do something that supported Vermont’s food community, but wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. In my reading, I came across a report exploring the potential for artisanal cured meats in Vermont. I did a lot of research, and I decided that I wanted to learn more about cured meats and explore a business idea that would use local meat and quality ingredients to make artisanal salami, coppa, lomo and jambon.
Q. Why Gascony, France for your internship?
A. I located several places in the US that offered apprenticeships for butchering, but none for curing. After lots of research, I came across a program in France with master butcher and teacher Dominique Chapolard and cook Kate Hill. Julie and I had both had the opportunity to spend time overseas, and we felt like a big part of our ethos mirrored our experiences in Europe around slow food. We loved the tradition of meals that stretched on for hours on the weekends. We wanted to be a part of that and to bring some of that sensibility back with us to Vermont. As a result, I decided it would be worth the investment, and I traveled to France for a month-long course and another month-long stage, or apprenticeship, with Dominique and his family. My time there absolutely defined my business and inspired our approach.
Q. How did your southern upbringing influence your culinary and business pursuits?
A. As a kid, my fondest memories are of my family gatherings. If any of us in my family had a birthday or a celebration, the whole family would turn out to celebrate—at least 30 of us, and we’d all gather around something homemade. I remember visiting my great aunt’s farm, a beef farm she ran herself up into her 80s, and she’d wake up early to make the whole family the most extraordinary biscuits, bacon, eggs, and gravy. Food was a way we showed each other our love. Food brought us together.
Q. What inspired you to start your own business? (And we’ve love to hear the story behind your company name.)
A. Several years ago, I came across a report about the need for artisanal charcuterie makers in Vermont. It inspired me to experiment with curing at home and then to find a formal apprenticeship program in Gascony, France. At the time, I could find places in New York that would teach butchery skills, but I couldn’t find any programs where I could learn to cure. Eventually I found a program in Gascony, France where I was able to work with master cook, Kate Hill and third generation butcher Dominique Chapolard. I learned a lot about techniques there, but I also came away from the experience with a strong sense of ethos for my business. Dominique always said that before anything else, you should know your farmers well. That has defined our business and dictated how we grow—in tandem with our farmers. We make sausage for their farm stands and CSAs, and we buy their meat to make our own products too. It’s a symbiotic relationship. We like to think that we offer an alternative to industrial agriculture with a more cooperative model.
We liked the name Babette because it is French and reminds us of our time there.
Q. What products do you offer?
A. We make sausage, both for our business and our farmers, frozen pancetta (cured pork belly), guanciale (cured pork jowl), salami, and whole-cured muscles like coppa, lomo, and mini prosciutti.
Q. What sets Babette’s Table meats apart?
A. We’re proud of the fact that we only use local pork from farmers we know well. We work with Pigasus Farm in South Hero, Snug Valley Farm in Hardwick, von Trapp Farmstead in Waitsfield, and PT Farm in North Haverhill, NH, 5 miles from the VT border. We also make all our own products at our facility in Waitsfield, Vt. We use an artisanal approach to our production, so everything is unique.
Q. What do you love most about your work?
A. I often find production meditative. You get into a rhythm. I like taking the time to create high-quality products that will bring people together. I also like the community that we’ve developed by working with our farmers and other Vermont artisans as our business grows. I feel like strong, local food systems can go a long way in building healthier, more connected communities.
For more info: Babette’s Table (babettestable.com)
Local food nourishes us, supports our families, builds community, and benefits our environment. Local Food Is Love. We are so fortunate in Vermont to have access to such a wide variety of foods made and grown by neighbors we know and trust. This is what Local Food Is Love is all about. Every summer we celebrate the local growers and producers who enhance our lives and communities in countless ways. Stay tuned for more stories about these amazing people and the unique and delicious foods they bring to our tables.