by Lisa Masé
“Let children develop an appreciation for good food,” mused Ariane Daguin, owner and founder of D’Artagnan, a New York–based company offering a range of gourmet products, from poultry and foie gras to truffle oil and coco tarbais beans. Her story of moving to New York from France and raising her daughter, Alex, to eat well-prepared food speaks to the ethics of her company.
“When we started 28 years ago, I had a good customer on Union Square to whom I would deliver every Saturday,” she said. After each delivery, Daguin and her daughter would sit at the restaurant’s counter and order a dozen oysters, along with anything else that struck their fancy. The young Alex would often sneak an oyster as Daguin chatted with the chefs. Even though some customers who witnessed this behavior were aghast that a child would be allowed to eat oysters, Daguin recommends that we should “never stop children from trying new things.”
D’Artagnan is not only the name of a meat company but also that of a valiant soldier hailing from Daguin’s home region of Gascony. Charles Ogier de Batz de Castelmore, Comte d’Artagnan, served Louis XIV in the 1600s, first as a musketeer and eventually becoming a lieutenant captain. Daguin sees him as a French hero, one who tried his best to “serve his people and do good things for them.” This morality is reflected in her company’s guiding principles.
From meat and game to truffles and mushrooms, this 28-year-old company started when good quality meat was not easily accessible to chefs in the United States. Chef Jean-Louis Gerin, now vice president of Culinary Operations and executive chef at the New England Culinary Institute (NECI), met Daguin shortly after taking over his first American restaurant in Greenwich, Connecticut. “I could not cook chicken,” Gerin lamented over our gourmet brunch at NECI, “because of its poor quality. Then, I met Ariane and was finally able to offer a menu with quality meats.”
This shared allegiance, both to choosing quality ingredients and to upholding culinary traditions, forged a lifelong friendship between Gerin and Daguin. This bond brought Daguin to NECI, where I was lucky enough to meet this chef and food producer. Her broad face leaned forward to smile at me as she spoke, and her hands gestured for emphasis, reminding me of my upbringing in northern Italy. Talking with her, I felt at home immediately. A pendant, forged from a fork and knife twisted together, dangled from her neck: a true food lover’s emblem.
Our conversation continued over brunch at NECI’s Main Street Bar and Grill in Montpelier. We sat with Denis Boucher, general manager of the restaurant, Gerin and his wife, Linda. I was honored to share a table with these connoisseurs, dedicated to teaching others how to prepare meals well, using high-quality ingredients. As Daguin joined the student chefs and served me a plate of the steaming cassoulet, I stood in silence, stunned by the variety of aromas and colors before me. “Go sit down and eat it before it gets cold!” Daguin urged. That sounds like something my dad would say after he had labored over a pot of minestrone.
Cassoulet is a French regional dish whose ingredients raise lively discussions among locals because everyone prepares it slightly differently. Daguin explains that the coco tarbais beans she chooses are essential. “Of course,” she reminds me, “beans were originally brought to France from North America by Columbus.” The French soil in which these beans are now grown lends the unique flavor and texture that makes her particular version of cassoulet so flavorful. “Terroir is essential,” she said. “This is why we import these beans from France and sell them with our meats.” The subtlety and tenderness of these meats reflects both the healthy pastures and the attention with which farmers raise and process animals.
D’Artagnan continues to partner with a circle of farmers in the Northeast. They raise meat in accordance to shared standards of humane care, high-quality feed and antibiotic- and hormone-free processing. “We work to reduce the animal’s stress at the time of slaughter,” Daguin explained. This consciousness is crucial to offering a high-quality product, free from the toxins that any living being releases when subject to stress. “A happy animal is a healthy one,” she said, and this simple truth is evident in the D’Artagnan meats used to make the cassoulet.
As I savored bite after delicious bite of this classic dish prepared by Daguin and NECI students, I was transported to my European home, where fresh, well-prepared food is still a way of life. Pieces of duck meat had fallen off the leg bone and melted into the sauce, just slightly creamy from the legendary beans, broken open to meld the flavors of sausage and duck with the confit in which they have been slowly cooked. I sighed, leaned back in my chair and turned to Ariane, speechless. “Thank you,” I said, “for educating people about the importance of traditional food.”
“C’est un plaisir. It’s a pleasure,” she replied. Just like D’Artagnan himself, the fabled fourth musketeer, Ariane Daguin is the humble and determined leader of a company that is “trying to be honest and act with integrity.” In a world of large-scale processed food, her persistence is necessary to help people return to their true sources of nourishment. “I enjoy a challenge,” she said with a smile.
If you would like to sample these products and gain an astounding variety of recipes for preparing them, visit dartagnan.com.
Lisa Masé is a food writer, food as medicine educator and folk herbalist living in central Vermont. For recipes and writings on the healing power of food, visit harmonizedcookery.com