Pork Charcuterie On the Rise
Brought to you by the National Pork Board.
Whether it’s a sampler of handmade salami and pates or a little Danish smorrebrod sandwich artfully topped with ham, restaurant operators are exploring new ways to present house-made charcuterie to customers in search of the next food sensation.
In addition to showcasing the flavor and versatility of pork, such items dovetail with significant business trends, such as gourmet sandwiches, artisanal foods, whole-animal cookery and, in the case of smorrebrod, the emerging interest in New Nordic Cuisine as a culinary style.
House-cured pork products are a major underpinning of Old Town Social, a Chicago restaurant known for its upgraded rendition of bar food.
Customer appreciation of house-cured meats “has been steadily rising in the last few years,” says executive chef-owner Jared Van Camp.
Many of the 16 charcuterie items on the menu are aged in his temperature- and humidity-controlled, walk-in curing chamber. Two of the most popular are sopressata, a spicy, southern Italian-style salami made with Calabrian chili peppers and white wine and toscano salame, in the style of northern Italy, flavored with red wine, garlic and black pepper. All are prepared in house with pork from locally raised pigs. A serving of one charcuterie item is priced at $5; a collection of five kinds is priced at $18.
When an operator fabricates whole pigs in the kitchen as Van Camp does, utilizing virtually every part of the animal on his menu, the profit margin is ample, even after labor is deducted. “For us, it is more of an ethical stance, but the economic benefits are great,” says Van Camp.
This is not lost on other operators. “There is a charcuterie plate on almost every menu now, whether it is made there or outsourced,” says Cosmo Goss, head of charcuterie at Publican Quality Meats, a new upscale butchery and sandwich shop in Chicago opened by executive chef-owner Paul Kahan and the One Off Hospitality Group based there.
Goss says he fashions about 1,500 pounds of fresh pork each week into salami, coppa, pork terrines, hams, bacon and other specialties. They figure in signature sandwiches like Train to Tuscany, which combines toscano salame, ricotta cheese, puntarella, muscatel vinegar and honey on focaccia.
In Denver, Justin Brunson, co-owner and executive chef of Masterpiece Delicatessen and the Denver Bacon Company, a specialty meat brand, reports that the customer response to his dry-cured maple breakfast bacon, smoked over peach wood and hickory wood, has been so favorable that he is opening a second restaurant later this year that will delve further into charcuterie. Old Major, “an upscale neighborhood bistro that is pork- and seafood-centric” in his words, will have a curing room for salami and other artisanal pork products.
Cured meats also shine in smorrebrod, small, elegant Danish sandwiches. They are entering the consciousness of U.S. culinarians along with the rising prominence of Scandinavian chefs and their New Nordic Cuisine. Trend-wise, they are on target with small-plate dining, the local foods movement and lighter eating.
Lars Kronmark, a Danish chef-instructor at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena, Calif., describes smorrebrod as a multi-layered affair built atop a rectangle of good rye bread spread with butter, or in some cases, flavored pork fat. It is topped with small lettuce leaves, a main ingredient such as cold roast pork or cured ham and several small garnishes, such as red cabbage, a fried egg or shaved horseradish.
Smorrebrod should appeal to customers who enjoy sampling varied flavors. “I can’t see why this could not be on an American bistro menu,” says Kronmark.
Danish chef and restaurateur Adam Aamann-Christensen will showcase smorrebrod in his new restaurant Aamanns/Copenhagen, expected to open this spring in the Tribeca neighborhood of New York City.
He says he will serve much the same smorrebrod there as he does in his Copenhagen restaurant, with one important distinction: “We will use local products, such as produce from upstate New York.”
A typical smorrebrod features pork breast braised with rhubarb, honey and balsamic vinegar, served with lettuce, pickled rhubarb and walnuts. If the reception such items received at a tasting event at Union Square Greenmarket last fall is any indication, the public is ready. New Yorkers eagerly snapped up nearly 4,000 sampling-sized smorrebrod that day.
“They really loved it,” says Aamann-Christensen. “It was amazing that people would stand in a queue for an hour.”
For more information about flavorful ways to serve pork, visit the National Pork Board’s website, www.porkfoodservice.org, and sign up for their monthly e-newsletter, The 400.