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“Miraculous crispy pig ear”: an analysis of the Charcutepalooza tweets January 3, 2012

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Charcutepalooza.

This isn’t a food post – apologies – but it is sort of food related, as it contains an analysis of tweets using the #charcutepalooza hashtag. Never fear! Food posts will resume shortly.

When I’m not making brain-shaped headcheese or silly detective cookies, I work as an archivist. Some of the stereotypes are true – I do work in a basement, and sometimes I wear cardigans. However, archivists and records managers aren’t just interested in old stuff, and serious time and research has gone into looking at methods of preserving electronic information – which increasingly includes information contained on social media sites. The capturing and use of social media records is something I’m interested in, and the charcutepalooza twitter archive provided me with the opportunity to conduct some analysis.

I originally set up the charcutepalooza twapperkeeper archive in February so I could look back on the scheduled twitter chats as they were always held at a time when I couldn’t attend. In December, I was reminded that I’d set this thing up, and sure enough, it had continued to merrily tick along, capturing all tweets using the #charcutepalooza hashtag. Since I had this great data source to use, I thought I’d see if I could do some basic analysis and see if any trends emerged. I closely followed some of the analysis methods used by Dr Axel Bruns as part of the Mapping Online Publics project, after I saw him speak earlier this year.

Capturing the tweets

I originally created the Twapperkeeper archive on 14 February 2011. At that time, Twapperkeeper was one of the main ways I’d heard about to capture tweets on a particular keyword or hashtag. However, in March of 2011, the ability to export Twapperkeeper archives was removed, as this was deemed a violation of Twitter’s terms of service. This removed one of the most useful features of Twapperkeeper, but at least the tweets were still being captured. Then in early December 2011, Twapperkeeper announced it had been purchased by HootSuite, and that existing twapperkeeper archives would not be available after January 6, 2012, unless you moved to the (paid) HootSuite model.

Luckily (and thanks to twitter!), I was directed to the blog of Martin Hawksey, who had written a script to extract twapperkeeper archives into a google spreadsheet. I lost no time in immediately exporting the existing charcutepalooza archive to a google spreadsheet, and then set up a new google spreadsheet to continue capturing tweets using the charcutepalooza hashtag (thanks again to Martin Hawksey). This will continue to capture any tweets using the #charcutepalooza hashtag into the future.

Basic information

  • The following analysis was done on tweets captured from 14 February – 28 December 2011 (so does not include the announcement of the finalists on 29 December and subsequent tweets)
  • The archive contains all tweets tagged with the hashtag #charcutepalooza but not tweets which do not have this hashtag. This means if you have replied to a #charcutepalooza-tagged tweet but have not used the hashtag, it won’t be in this collection
  • It contains manual retweets (ie if you have used “RT”), but not retweets done using the automatic twitter retweet button

Some statistics

  • Total number of tweets: 15,244 – which means an average of 1270 tweets per month and 48 tweets per day
  • Number of words contained in tweets: over 235,000
  • Number of retweets (using “RT”): 5042, meaning about 33% of the tweets were retweets
  • Total number of tweeters: 1524 (including people who only used the hashtag once)
  • Number who used the hashtag more than 10 times: 149
  • Number who used the hashtag more than 50 times: 50 (while I haven’t cross-checked, I would suggest this would correspond with the final 33 participants, those who completed the majority of the challenges, plus leaders/advisors such as Mrs Wheelbarrow, Kim Foster, Michael Ruhlman and Bob Delgrosso.

Trends over time

Not surprisingly, there were many more tweets towards the start of charcutepalooza than in November-December. I suggest this is because many people signed up for charcutepalooza, and were very enthusiastic towards the start, but as people dropped out, and there was less publicity surrounding charcutepalooza month by month, the overall number of tweets reduced.

Tweets over time - click through for a bigger image

While the overall quantity of tweets reduced as the months progressed, there was a definite spike on the 15th of every month – corresponding, of course, with the time that everyone’s posts for that month had to be in. There was a larger dip in posts in July (while it still spiked on the 15th it was less dramatic than other months): it seems that the blending challenge did a few people in.

Top topics

When I first took a grab of the Twapperkeeper archive on December 11, I created this chart of the top words in the charcutepalooza tweets. This was done using wordle then some simple manipulation to get it into an appropriately-themed image. The size of the words relates to how often they were used.

Charcutepalooza keywords - click through for a larger version

I removed several symbols and words, such as “RT”, “@” and URLs. As you can see above, the top words also included people’s twitter names. I used a program called wordstat (you need to pay for it – I used the demo version) to analyse the text in the tweets. Here’s the top words in the tweets, once the word “charcutepalooza” and the names of participants were removed.

Top keywords - click through for a larger image

Not surprisingly, everyone announcing their new posts each month meant that “post” was the top word (I assume this was pushed higher by other people commenting saying “great post” and similar). Both Ruhlman and BobdelGrosso were also mentioned quite a lot; I suggest this is because of the twitter chats conducted each month, and people generally asking them questions. Most of the other words related to charcuterie ingredients or techniques (Wordstat also let me look at the top phrases – things like “corn beef” is probably no surprise, but my overall favourite was “miraculous crispy pig ear”!).

Here’s another look at the top words – the size of the bubbles indicates how frequently the words were used, and the different colours indicate the words were used together, or grouped frequently.

Click through for a larger version

Top tweeters

Finally, I wanted to look at who was tweeting, and the frequency. This is a graph with all tweeters who used the charcutepalooza hashtag more than 50 times.

Top tweeters - click through for a larger version

Not surprisingly, Mrs Wheelbarrow led the tweeting charge, by a fair amount. Some tweeters changed user names during the year; I grouped them together as the twapperkeeeper harvest had no way of knowing these were the same people (apologies if I missed anyone changing their name).

Another way of looking at the network between tweeters is to use the tags explorer, again developed by Martin Hawksey. This is set up to run off the google spreadsheet, so is only from December 16 onward, and does not contain the full charcutepalooza tweet set.

Network of charcutepalooza tweeters - click through to the live version

This is a live network – it will continue to expand with charcutepalooza tweets, and allows you to replay any users’ tweets and connections from December 16 onward (click on the username to be taken to the replay screen).

This map also tracks top contributors, which we already know, and something we don’t already know: top conversationalists. This looks at how many connections participants have with other participants (ie, how often they are replying, retweeting and generally interacting with other charcutepalooza participants), rather than total number of tweets.

Click through for a larger version

Here we have the interesting case of Janis Tester, who, while not being the person with the top number of tweets, has the most number of connections within the charcuteplaooza twitter network. This means she is probably directly replying to charcutepalooza tweets (and replying using the #charcutepalooza hashtag), and generally actively engaging with other charcutepalooza participants by commenting and retweeting their tweets. On a purely anecdotal level, I would say that Janet being the top conversationalist will not come as a surprise to any charcutepalooza participant 🙂

There’s definitely more analysis to be done on the charcutepalooza twitter collection but I’ll leave it there for now. Thanks for putting up with a non-food post!

Charcutepalooza grand finale: A (literal) nose to tail dinner December 6, 2011

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Charcutepalooza, Innards, Pork.
Tags: , ,

The menu

To start
Pig’s ear salad (recipe: Fergus Henderson)
Pig’s liver pate (recipe: Darina Allen)

Black pudding with apples and onions (recipe: Michael Ruhlman & Brian Polcyn)
Confit of pork shoulder (recipe: Ruhlman & Polcyn)
Steamed buns with boiled pork belly and chutney (pork belly recipe: Henderson)
Crispy pig’s tails (recipe: Henderson)

Chocolate cake pigs with crispy pig skin ‘tails’ (recipe mine, all mine)

When considering what to prepare for the grand finale of Charcutepalooza, I weighed up lots of considerations. Duck is always a favourite, and there are lots of interesting things to do with fish and chicken. However, when I came down to it, the main ingredient for me for charcuterie will always be the humble pig.

In line with Charcutepalooza and also in accord with my general nose to tail philosophy, I decided to create a literal pork nose to tail dinner, using a selection of different pig parts.

Porky platter

In choosing what I wanted to cook, I used a selection of things I’d cooked before and really enjoyed – such as headcheese, black pudding and steamed buns – and things I was curious about, in particular, using pig’s liver instead of chicken liver in a pate, making pork confit, and using pig’s tails. It was a great opportunity to bring all the things I’d learned during Charcutepalooza.

As well as teaching me a great deal about preparing and preserving different types of meats, Charcutepalooza has reminded me of another important lesson: that I am blessed with fantastic produce and wonderful markets here in Melbourne. This particularly struck me as I stubbornly asked at every meat stall at the Preston Market if they stocked pig’s tails. While my beloved Little Saigon Market could supply me with pig’s heads and blood, there were no tails in sight. Luckily, a stall at Preston had pig’s tails still attached to their backbones, and once I convinced them that I wanted the tails, but not the bones, I claimed my prize.

Crispy pig tail

I started the preparations a few weeks ago, making pork shoulder confit and the pig’s liver pate in one weekend, and blood sausages and headcheese the following weekend. I admit I snuck some pieces of confit straight after it was done, before leaving it to cool in its fat. The pate, too, was very interesting, blending pig’s liver, belly, cream and spices together before slowly cooking it in jars in the oven.

Pork and cream ready for pate

Pork confit in its fat

Making blood sausage is becoming a favourite this household, and again with the use of 4 hands (H lending his to the exercise), the sausages were rapidly filled without the hint of a bloodbath. I gently poached them; we ate some on the spot and saved the rest for the grand finale.

Making the black pudding

Black pudding after poaching

While the blood sausage was cooking, the headcheese was happily simmering away on the stove. Like last time, it was a simple matter of pulling all the meat off, adding the liquid and letting it firm up overnight.

Headcheese preparation

On ‘the day’, there was some final cooking preparations to do before arranging everything to serve. The pig’s tails were roasted in a wine and stock mixture, before being crumbed and baked further until they were crispy. I fried up some pig’s ears and pieces of skin, and snuck some tastes while I was finishing everything else. I also made a salad of endive, radicchio and capers to go with the pig’s ears – I felt it was wise to have at least some vegetables!

Fried pig's skin and ears

Tails cooling after being poached in wine; some fried pieces of skin

I boiled a piece of pork belly for a few hours, until it was soft. I love cooking pork belly in this way, although of course there is no crispy skin. I made a chutney with apples, chili and onions, then chopped up the belly and added chutney and pieces of belly into the dumplings. I steamed them for about 10 minutes before cooling them.

Making the chutney to go into the steamed buns: apple, onion and chili

Pieces of boiled pork belly

Pig liver pate with pig imprint, steamed bun, piggy cake and pig tail

And the cake! I made a sheet of chocolate cake and cut out some pig shapes with my pig cookie cutter. I didn’t bother to ice them, but instead added a crispy pig skin ‘tail’. While the idea definitely amused me and was worth it for the presentation alone, I was also thinking of the combination of chocolate and salt and thought it might match well.

Pig chocolate cake with fried skin tail

As for the eating: while it may have been a good opportunity to share with friends, I thought for the actual grand finale the best plan was for me and H to share the meal. He has helped me on each of the challenges, taking photos, adding an extra set of hands when needed, and not getting horrified when the kitchen is covered in pork fat – or blood. We enjoyed plates of dumplings, blood sausage, and everything else! – before finishing with chocolate cake.

Nose to tail plate

Charcutepalooza has been a terrific learning experience for me, not only in terms of the skills I’ve learned, but also in relation to the power of community – in particular, the power of a community which develops over a medium such as twitter. It was infinitely reassuring to know I had a veritable hive-mind willing to assist me, answer any question or negate any worry I may have had about my meat.

While I probably won’t blog so incessantly about meat now that Charcutepalooza is officially over, rest assured I will continue with preserving and preparing meats in different ways. I know I want to perfect a blood sausage recipe. And there are many more meats left to cure!

I would like to thank Cathy and Kim for starting everyone on such a marvellous adventure, and also all the other Charcutepalooza participants. It’s a great experience to cure your own meats but it is made so much better with the encouragement, enthusiasm and inclusiveness of all involved in this community.

Making bresaola December 1, 2011

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Beef, Charcutepalooza.

Back to do some more curing and back to my trusty work fridge to hang my meat in. This time I thought I’d try making bresaola, as I’d not tried curing any beef before. There are so many delicious options when curing pork it can sometimes be difficult to move beyond it!

It took a bit of work, but I was finally able to describe to the butcher which cut I wanted, and I began the two week process of curing it in the fridge. I used a mixture of salt, sugar, curing salt #2, thyme and pepper, massaged it all into the meat and left it in the fridge for a week, flipping it regularly so the liquid was distributed. After the first week, I rinsed off the cure and reapplied a new batch, again returning the meat to the fridge.

After another week, it was ready to hang. I rinsed the cure off, patted it dry then tied it quite tightly. I couldn’t find any netting to use, which would have been my preference. Anyway, at least it looks like my meat tying skills are getting better!

I took it to work the next day to hang in my fridge. As before, I added a bowl full of water with salt in it to try and increase the humidity. Throughout the drying time I also used a handheld fan to increase air circulation, and opened the fridge door to also try and let more air in.

I admit I didn’t check on it as frequently as I should have (certainly not every day!) and was also more lackadaisical than I probably should have been about start- and end- weights. I decided it was done primarily on touch – when it felt firm and not at all squishy, I thought it was worth sampling.

The photo makes it look like it’s still raw, but rest assured, it was nicely cured! I got a smattering of dry white mould on the outside, but not a full covering. However, considering I didn’t rub or spray it with any sort of mould product,  I was quite pleased with my white mould! As for the all important taste test: I found this similar to pancetta, but with a deeper and fuller taste. I was pleasantly surprised with how well the thyme came through, and thought this was a great match with the beef.

While just eating the bresaola was great on its own, I decided to use it in a salad. I chopped up some apricots (first I’ve seen for a while!) and tossed them in balsamic vinegar.

I spread them on a baking tray and grilled them for a few minutes. To be honest, I got sidetracked sampling more of the bresaola and overcooked them a little bit…

I tossed the apricots with pieces of the bresaola and added some endive. I dressed the whole salad with more balsamic vinegar and some olive oil. It became a late afternoon snack!

I really enjoyed the salad. The sweet but charred apricots, the salty bresaola and the bitter endive were such a nice combination. Naturally I have much more bresaola left, so will be making more of this salad in the future.


Duck roulade October 15, 2011

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Charcutepalooza, Duck.

I was so excited by this challenge. Skin a duck then mince the meat and put it back into the skin to cook?! Brilliant. I started the same way as I did with the chicken – but following the instructions properly this time, so I ended up with a much larger piece of skin to work with.

I stuck the skin in the freezer while I worked on the rest of the dish. First I removed the duck breasts, and chopped one of them into strips. I seared them well over quite high heat.

When they were cooked, I put them in the fridge and cut up the rest of the duck meat, including the remaining duck breast, and minced all this with some pork fat, sage leaves, salt and pepper.

I cooked some chopped shallots in some sloe gin (no sherry, which is what the recipe called for) until they were quite soft, and put them in the refrigerator. When everything was cool, I added the onions and pieces of duck breast to the minced meat. I put this mixture back into the fridge while I scraped the fat off the skin.

Yes, you read that right. I took a sharp knife and began scraping the fat off the skin. I worked so slowly I ended up having to freeze the skin when I got about halfway through – the fat started melting, which made it a lot harder to scrape off.

I didn’t find this overwhelming or disgusting, but it did take a lot longer than I was expecting. Finally, I ended up with a mostly fat-free skin.

I trimmed the skin to make a more even shape, then added the minced duck mixture to the middle. I tied the whole lot up with some butcher’s twine and placed the duck on some precooked vegetables, and put the whole thing in the oven.

While the duck was cooking, I set to work turning the bones into stock and rendering the fat I’d scraped off the skin – I definitely used up as much of the duck as I could! After about 40 minutes, the duck was up to 60 degrees celcius.

I turned the oven up to brown the skin, and added some snow peas and beans to the vegetable mixture to cook. I turned the duck every 5 minutes, and after about 15 minutes the duck was nicely browned. I served it on top of the vegetables I’d cooked with the duck.

All the things I didn’t like about the chicken, I liked about the duck. The skin was flavoursome and moist, the minced duck was tasty, and the pieces of duck breast added texture and a nice seared flavour. The only thing I would change is maybe smoking the duck breasts before adding them to the roulade, to give even more flavour.

I love the idea of using the whole duck (almost) to make this meal. While I normally prefer duck meat in whole pieces, I really appreciated the combination of the skin, mince and pieces of meat in this dish.

Pate en Croute September 15, 2011

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Charcutepalooza, Innards, Pork.
Tags: ,

I must admit that this didn’t end up as pretty as I was hoping. First, I couldn’t find a pretty pate mould and had to use a small tin. The pastry had to be patched. The camera battery died in the middle of trying to take photos. I almost forgot to include the tongue! However, this still tasted ridiculously good with all the flavours combining well and the pastry being flaky and light – so I still consider it a definite success!

I used the basic recipes from Charcuterie for both the pork terrine with tenderloin inlay, and the pate dough. However, it’s fair to say that I used these recipes more as a guide and adapted and changed things along the way. To start with, I got my terrine mix of pork shoulder, pork fat, spices and sage, and ground them together. Incidentally, I found another supplier of pork fat and sausage casings while buying supplies for this challenge, so I was very pleased!

I cooked some garlic and shallots in brandy and sloe gin (my substitution for madeira) and, when they had cooled, mixed them into the ground pork mix. I got my piece of pork tenderloin and seared it well and also left this to cool while I turned to my pastry.

One of the nice things about participating in Charcutepalooza is having all the leftover things to use in other contexts. This time, I was able to use the goose fat I’d rendered after making these sausages, in the pastry crust for the pate. I substituted the amount of butter for goose fat, and left the dough in the fridge.

When I’d read the recipe for pork pate en croute, I’d been intrigued by the use of ham, which went between the pastry and the terrine meat. The purpose of this was to help insulate the filling from the pastry, so that the pastry did not get soggy. I decided to substitute the ham for slices of tongue. So, the night before, I cooked and peeled the tongue, and let it refrigerate overnight (no photos of this but here’s an account of when I’ve prepared tongue previously). Now I took the tongue and cut it into fairly thin pieces.

Next came the assembly of all the bits. And here’s where it went in the not-pretty direction… I started with rolling out the pastry and lining a loaf tin with it. Oops, the pastry tore; oh well, I’ll just patch it up…

Oh, the tongue pieces aren’t long enough to go all the way around the pastry; oh well, I’ll just whack in a few more pieces…

And now the pastry has torn when I’ve pulled the edges over; let’s just pretend that’s an air hole.

The good thing about these recipes is that they’re very forgiving, and don’t really care if they’re not pretty. I cooked the pate in the oven for a couple of hours, until the internal temperature reached 65ºC. I upended the tin almost straight after taking it out of the oven, and after it had cooled a bit, I was able to just lift the tin up and see the pate on the plate below.

The not-prettiness continued when I cut slices of the pate, only to have the pastry crumble off the edges.

However, the lack of prettiness didn’t matter when I was able to bite into the pate. The pastry was ridiculously good: flaky and rich. The tongue held everything together while the pork tenderloin added some lovely smoky flavours. And the terrine mix itself was flavoursome and on the sweet side, which contrasted nicely to the other elements. Prettiness notwithstanding, this was a great pate en croute.