The last seminar The Lady attended at last week’s American Cheese Society conference was an introduction to charcuterie and was moderated by Tyler Hawes, Buyer for Artisanal Premium Cheese. Because cheese and cured meats are often paired, it seemed a natural for the conference.
The panel included Herb Eckhouse, owner of LaQuercia Meats located in Norwalk, Iowa. Since 2005, Herb and his wife Kathy have been creating premium quality salumi, which includes speck, pancetta, coppa, guanciale, lardo and prosciutto. Their prosciutto is dry cured without the use of nitrates or nitrites.
Their pigs are bought from non-confinement and sub-therapeutic antibiotic-free farms and are fed only a vegetarian, grain based diet (primarily soybean and corn which are grown in Iowa). They also offer an acorn-fed product to compete with European meats that feature acorn-fed pork.
During the Q&A time, a cheesemaker asked if Herb would be interested in buying whey to feed his pigs. Ironically, although pigs are omnivores and will eat just about anything that comes their way, for the charcuterie market, vegetarian-fed pigs are the only ones acceptable to most charcuterie makers.
By using only non-confined and sub-therapeutic antibiotic-free pigs, LaQuercia eliminates 99% of the pigs being raised for human consumption.
They also use the entire pig from head to feet in their meats.
They dry-cure their meats and are regularly inspected by State and Federal FDA regulators.
The three meats we sampled from LaQuercia were: Prosciutto, Speck (Smoked Prosciutto) and Prosciutto Picante.
Uber-Chef Mario Batali uses LaQuercia Meats and featured them in a recent cookbook.
The second panel member was Cristiano Creminelli of Creminelli Fine Meats LLC, which is located in Springville, Utah. Cristiano emigrated here from Italy and comes from a long line of salumi makers dating back into the 1600s. In 2007, he was awarded “Artisan of Excellence” by his peers and has won two “sofi” awards for excellence.
He uses only organic, natural raw materials including pork that is fed only white grains and raised on small family farms.
Fra ‘Mani’s founder, former-chef, writer and restaurateur Paul Bertolli, was the third speaker. His factory is in Berkeley. Before starting Fra ‘Mani (brother’s hands in Italian) Paul was a nationally-recognized chef in the San Francisco Bay area and best-selling Cookbook writer.
Like the others, Paul only uses antibiotic-free pigs that are fed a complete vegetarian diet.
We sampled his Mortadella and Salumi Toscano, which is aged eighty days.
He expressed his concern that the FDA is stepping back about oversight and wanting the makers to do their own policing. Along with the others on the panel, he fears more problems such as the tainted egg crisis of recent days.
Last up was Armandino Batali, the oldest of the group and obviously revered by the rest of the panel. His grandfather opened Seattle’s first Italian food import store in 1903. However, Armandino went to work for Boeing as an engineer. When he retired, he switched gears, learned to cure meats and opened Salumi Artisan Cured Meats at Pioneer Square in downtown Seattle. Recently he passed day-to-day operations to his daughter and son-in-law. His son is Mario Batali.
Armandino and family like to challenge the palate and “flip the salami”. He proved this with the samples he brought for the tasting: Mole Salami made with chocolate and cayenne pepper; Agrumi Salami which was made using orange and cardamom and a pepperoni with red peppers and anise.
All four men stressed the importance of good raw materials, cleanliness and humane treatment of the pigs and the pork. One told a tale about how inhumanely some stockyard workers treat animals and meat. All appreciate the government regulations and work with them positively.
A bit of trivia: Genoa Salami contains some beef and in the US must be cooked rather than cured due to the ecoli outbreaks over the last decade.