Three Cheese Macaroni

Comfort Food: Lasagna

BBQ Grilled Cheese

Pork Sandwiches

Charcuterie School

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Charcuterie is a fancy word (it's actually French) for preserving meats; mostly pork. Before the time of refrigeration, humans had to find a way to preserve meat so that it would last longer and still be safe to eat. This was done by adding salts, cultures and/or smoke to the meat for an extended period of time. Other flavors are now added to specific varieties for an extra kick. The meats were in forms of salami, bacon, ham, pancetta, sausages, etc. 

Charcuterie interests me because of its similarities to cheese. Both involve some sort of cultures to create a desired taste and both can include aging time in a cave before consumed. Molds are also vital to the success of each.

I, along with my husband and two friends, attended Charcuterie school at Bolzano Artisan Meats in Milwaukee over the weekend. Bolzano Artisan Meats is the first company in Wisconsin to bring back the lost art of dry curing, and one of the only in the nation to make products from locally raised heirloom hogs as rare as the Hereford hogs from Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

The class was an hour and a half long session that consisted of the background of Charcuterie, a facility tour and a tasting of three salamis. It was taught by owners (husband and wife), Scot and Christin, and the rest of the staff *cough* micro-flora *cough*. The facilities is an old dairy building converted into a distillery converted to a meat processing plant. The size is simply perfect for what Bolzano is doing and I was very impressed with their use of space. 
As any food processing facility must - food safety is taken very seriously here. We got all garbed up in boot covers, hair-nets and lab coats. We all thoroughly washed our hands as well - all before entering the processing area. Bolzano's is a certified meat processing plant. That means whenever there is production, a state inspector is around. This all happens for your safety and confidence in the food that you eat.
There are two large coolers in the processing area. One is simply used for packaged meats, ready to be shipped or delivered. The other cooler is a state of the art unit that can go from very cold to uber hot. It maintains humidity and temperature constantly, which allows the meats to hang and cure in the perfect environment. Foil is kept around the racks of hanging meat to control the airflow through-out the cooler. This ensures even drying of each piece of cured meat.

Speaking of hanging and curing, this picture says it all. I was in salami heaven at this point. That white stuff is mold, but it's the good kind - just like you would find on the outside of a wheel of brie. The mold keeps the moisture in the salami and creates a protective skin that keeps the 'bad bugs' away.

Packaging at Bolzano is very simple. White paper and stickers. Technically, these meats do not need to be packaged, but due to consumer response, most Charcuterie producers will wrap the meats up in a food-grade paper. The meats do not need to be refrigerated unless they are in this paper. The paper would get soggy if it was not refrigerated.
One thing I don't have a photo of is the kitchen. There were no ovens or cooking units in the kitchen, because they're not needed. It was simply a rack of dried ingredients, lots of tubs for mixing the meats, sinks and stainless steel tables.

Finally, we got to taste three salamis that Scot is currently selling. The first one is called Old School™ and is a basic salami. It was very smooth and buttery and had some garlic and black peppercorn mixed in. The second is called Fin-oh-kee-oh-na. It was similar to the Old School, but a little bit more moist and had fennel mixed in to pull out the sweet flavors of the meat. Finally, Pamplona Runner ™ Spanish Style Chorizo. I must say, I really like Spanish Chorizo much more than the Mexican style. But I didn't know that until today. It's not quite as spicy, but still has a kick. All three were very excellent. We got a small glass of wine to wash it all down and enjoyed each other's company, while 'geeking out' about dried and cured meats. You're jealous, right?

These salamis would go excellent with some washed rind or sharp cheddar cheeses. Something with a lot of kick and flavor to complement each other. They are coming out with a new flavor next week, but I'll keep that a secret for now. Let's just say, it'll be perfect for the holiday season and I'm definitely going to pick some up for special occasions.

Bolzano Artisan Meats also hosts a Whole Hog Cutting class. I'm secretly hoping my brother in laws will come down for this one.

We finished off our day at Milwaukee Ale House on N. Water Street. They make some great pot roast and chicken pot pie (and beer, of course).


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