By Paris Wolfe, Writer/Traveler
The cheese platter is so yesterday. It’s been enhanced, even replaced, by charcuterie — the dried, cured, fermented and otherwise processed meats of yesteryear.
Dried and cured doesn’t mean a plastic-wrapped Hickory Farms summer sausage from Christmas last year or fabricated luncheon meats from the deli counter, but hand-crafted fennel salami, dried lamb chorizo, kabanosy meat sticks, kielbasa and other forgotten fare
You’ll find options at restaurants from downtown Cleveland’s Butcher and Brewer to Madison’s Laurentia Winery. From M Cellars in Harpersfield Township to Hansa Brewery in Cleveland’s Ohio City.
“People will stay interested in charcuterie as long as the rustic vibe is trendy,” says Chef Mia Humphrey of Laurentia Winery. She lists canning, pickling, and fermentation as part of that vibe.
The resurrection of historic processing, which includes cured meats, gives today’s butchers and chefs an opportunity to use every part of an animal, notes Humphrey. So, with a growing number of chefs doing whole animal butchering in house, the lesser used cuts now have a purpose.
She notes that artisan charcuterie is usually high quality and uses fewer additives.
A leader on the local scene is Nate Fagnilli at Crosswinds Grille at Lakehouse Winery in Geneva-on-the-Lake. A staunch supporter of all-things-local and a craft butcher, Fagnilli started NaKyrsie Meat, a commercial butcher shop, in Geneva, in 2014. (In the tradition of celebrity name combinations, NaKyrsie name combines Nate with his wife Kristin’s names. )
Making charcuterie is part of his work. The process starts with a whole, local, sustainably raised beef, hog or lamb. After popular cuts are removed for menus at Crosswinds Grille and other local restaurants, he uses the remaining meat to create charcuterie.
The process sounds simple — grind, season, stuff, cure. But care and control are key. Improper curing can wreak health havoc. Fagnilli has a smoker the size of a coat closet and drying chambers larger than a walk-in to prevent trouble. It’s not so easy for makers at home. And so, Fagnilli holds monthly sales to offer hard-to-find products to the public.
Local food establishments are also tapping his supply. “Adding charcuterie to our menu is a natural progression of pairing local products,” says Matt Meineke, owner/winemaker at M Cellars. “And, it’s a natural fit with the wine.”
Doug Katz, chef/owner of Fire Food and Drink in Cleveland’s Shaker Square makes his own products including pork bacon, beef bacon, duck confit, chicken sausage, ham, mortadella and pastrami. And, he buys dried meats from NaKyrsie. He sees the charcuterie trend growing from popular return to historic food practices:
“With the cost and popularity of the typical cuts of meat in restaurants, charcuterie allows them to serve less costly cuts of meat in more interesting ways,” he said. “It also gives the scratch kitchen an opportunity to practice classic culinary techniques and to pass those techniques down to the next generation of chefs.”
Katz continues, “Charcuterie is a menu item that allows us to connect with our community and family heritage as these were dishes that were popular in many ethnic kitchens in the Cleveland area. It brings these practices back to life and allows us to connect with our immigrant past.”
That past is especially important to Dan Kovacevic who started making cured meat products on a lark, then turned it into a job after the financial downturn hurt his custom homebuilding business in 2008.
Kovacevic, a Serbian-American whose parents and in-laws relocated mid-century from what’s now Croatia, says, “My late father-in-law taught me a lot of this. In the fall you’d go into the basement and make sausages,” he recalls. “In his backyard he had a cinderblock smokehouse where he’d cure our meats. They would be there all winter long. I wish I would have paid more attention to why he opened some vents or smoked some nights and not others.”
Still, he learned enough to build on. In 2013, he opened Europa Charcuterie in Parma. A mechanical engineer by trade, he bought or applied experience to build curing cabinets where he controls the climate to age products from sopresseta to finocchiona, from kulen to culatello.
While he doesn’t sell at the shop, his meats can be found at area farmers’ markets – Countryside in Peninsula — and The Old Brooklyn Cheese Company in Cleveland. He expects products to eventually make it to eastside suburbs.