The first rule of Charcuterie Club: You do talk about Charcuterie Club.
The second rule of Charcuterie Club: you do talk about Charcuterie Club, often, and to everyone who might be interested in the art and science of preserving meat.
Jerry Francis and Chris Smith, beer home brewers with a soft spot for bacon, were motivated to start the organization by the less-than stellar results of their first attempts to make Serrano style ham. “We purchased a whole leg from New Creation Farm [in Geauga County], followed a recipe from a book, and ended up with a very expensive mistake,” said Francis.
“For our second try,” added Smith, “we got advice from someone who knew what they were doing, and decided that learning from others is a much better approach.”
This is not the pair’s first go-round with the benefits of networking. In 1990, they founded SNOBS, the Society of Northeast Ohio Brewers, a support group for amateurs like themselves.
The new club, which began meeting earlier this year, is called CHAOS: Charcuterie Hobbyist and Occasional Smoker, Cleveland. The monthly gatherings offer opportunities for novices and experts to socialize; swap information, recipes, and tips; sample products; and do their bit to keep this Old World practice alive. Francis and Smith are relying on word of mouth, a Facebook page, and this story to attract people who share their enthusiasm for grinding, stuffing, drying, salting, and aging animal parts.
Many local chefs, like their counterparts around the country, have already jumped on this particular bandwagon, offering selections of cured meats made in-house or from artisan producers. Melissa Khoury, formerly at Washington Place Bistro, decided to devote herself to the practice of charcuterie, starting Saucisson late last year. She’s currently working out of the Cleveland Culinary Launch & Kitchen, but Khoury and partner Penny Barend are looking for a permanent home where they can make, sell, and serve chorizo, cotechino, pancetta, and other products. Until then, look for their cured meats and sausages at various farmers markets, the Pork Chop Shop in the West Side Market, and across the street at the Market at the Fig.
“Cleveland has a long history with this craft,” explained Khoury, “It was brought here by European immigrants. But we represent a new generation that’s going back to an even more traditional approach. We don’t use chemicals and preservatives, and we start with locally sourced meat from sustainably raised animals.”
Adam Lambert shares this philosophy. He left a secure gig running the kitchen at Bar Cento to launch his own full-service butcher shop — the Meat & Curing Company — in Ohio City.It’s due to open before the end of the year in the former Culinary Arts Building, now dubbed the Palace of Fermentation, that’s being renovated by his former boss, Sam McNulty, and his partners. Until then, Lambert is perfecting his ability to turn out terrines, ventrèche (French-style bacon), filet sec (dried and aged pork loin), headcheese, and crespone (a salami of Northern Italian origin).
“The time is right for this revival,” said Lambert, “There’s so much great meat available from our farmers. I’ll be working with Ohio venison, quail, pheasant, guinea hen, lamb, pork, beef, and bison. I’m trying to develop some specific products and processes for the heirloom breed hogs that I’ll have raised specially for me.”
Both Khoury and Lambert volunteer their time and talents to do demonstrations at club meetings and have become mentors and guides for the amateur meatheads. Participants pay a small fee to cover costs for each session. And there’s usually some homework to “grade.”
“One guy brought a mason jar of liverwurst to a meeting that had been in his basement for seven months,” said Khoury, “I was a little anxious about tasting it. But when we skimmed off the fat (a natural seal), it smelled fine, so we spooned some out. It was fantastic.”
The easiest and safest preserved meats for beginners to tackle are the cooked versions — pâté, confit, rillettes, certain types of sausage, and mortadella. Carefully managed bacterial activity, aka fermentation, is required for solid muscle meats like prosciutto and the ground and dried Italian style salamis such as Calabrese and sopressata. Lambert explained that the calibration of salt, time, temperature, and humidity render these projects more challenging for the less experienced.
“I’ve had some strikeouts,” he admitted. “That’s why it’s best to try things in small batches until you know what you’re doing. But when the results are good, you get hooked. ‘Holy crap,’ you say to yourself. ‘I made that!’ It’s a wonderful feeling.”
Want To Get Started or Get a Taste?
To find out about club meetings and connect with others, follow CHAOS Cleveland on Facebook.
To keep up with Melissa Khoury and Penny Barend and place orders visit SaucissonCleveland.com.
To track the progress of Adam Lambert’s venture check out The Meat & Curing Co on Facebook.