Cathy Strange’s role as global cheese and specialty foods buyer for Whole Foods Market® puts her in the unique position of travelling the world to not only discover and encourage the world’s great cheesemakers, but also to help advance the artisanal food movement and investigate the world’s emergent food trends. If a new preparation technique is causing ripples in Berlin, or a centuries-old curing tradition is gaining a foothold in Seattle, Cathy knows about it.
Specialty Meats, Especially Delicious
Charcuterie, the art of preserving meats (whether through salting, curing or cooking), is showing a strong resurgence lately. It’s an ancient food preparation technique that is more prevalent than you might think. That bologna or salami or pack of hot dogs in your refrigerator? Yep, charcuterie. From ancient times up to the early 1900s, due to lack of dependable refrigeration, charcuterie was an act of necessity.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve noticed a distinct renaissance in the world of charcuterie in the US – thanks to old world traditions crossing the seas, we’re seeing a surge of US artisan cured meats inspired by these old traditions. From piquant, tangy salamis to rich, nutty patés, from peppery, olive-flecked mortadella to tender, paper-thin bresaola – the incredible flavors and textures of charcuterie reveal a lot about where the meats were cured. Wonderful specialty meats, carefully crafted using time-honored, sometimes ancient recipes, are appearing with increasing regularity at butcher shops from coast to coast.
A Tasty Sense of Place
Terroir, that wonderful “taste of place” imparted to wines and aged cheeses through the unique characteristics of the land and environment in which they grow, shows up magnificently in specialty meats. Unique grasses and vegetation eaten by the animals, certain minerals found in local water, and most importantly, distinct yeasts and molds floating through the air, all play a part in creating particularly delicious and complex flavors in aged meats. That dusty white coat on your fermented salami contains millions of mold and yeast cells accumulated as the meat has aged, creating a dramatic effect on flavor. Local yeasts found on salami aged in Berkeley, California, for example, impart rustic, “barnyard” flavors, while regional yeasts found in Italy’s Piedmont region yield sweeter, mushroomy notes.
Spotlight on Salami
I first met Cristiano in San Diego at the International Fancy Food Show – although the reputation of his products preceded him. His passion for food and particularly meat was immediately evident. The art of making dry-aged salami has been in salumiere Cristiano Creminelli’s family for generations. Learning about the Criminelli family history was incredible and I am glad that he is still following traditional methods and creating new ones for all of us to enjoy. His handcrafted uncured salamis burst with bold flavors and satisfyingly firm textures crafted with old world tradition. Creminelli’s Americano salami, inspired by flavors of pork chops and applesauce Cristiano discovered while travelling the southern US, surprises with a spark of cinnamon in the finish. Creminelli Cacciatore salami richly serves up slightly sweet notes of juniper berry and clove. Creminelli Whiskey salami includes whiskey as an ingredient, mingling notes of caramel and honey with the salty tang of pork.
While the common cheese pairing for these salamis would be a shaved or chunked Parmigiano Reggiano, I think they’re wonderful on a charcuterie plate with a softer cheese. A triple-créme brie, like Cowgirl Creamery’s Organic Mt. Tam would be perfect here. Adding olives, almonds for their sweet counterpoint, and a spicy fruit spread like a mustarda will transport you to charcuterie heaven.
Stop by your local Whole Foods Market for a taste of the varied textures and flavors of charcuterie. And tell me, what’s your favorite charcuterie meat?