Cover image: Rodrigo Duarte of Caseiro e Bom Gourmet House © WhereNYC
“I come from Italy but I fell in love with the Catskills,” Giuseppe Viterale the friendly, passionate owner of Ornella Trattoria in Astoria said with a thick Italian accent.
Directing me to the thin slices of fat-marbled prosciutto, he attributes the quality of his products to New York’s ideal climate. “You got the perfect combo of dryness and humidity.” His proscuitto is moist, refreshing without being too salty. It’s all natural he assures me. No nitrates or artificial preservatives, I greedily take another slice.
His philosophy of making the perfect ham of European tradition and local quality ingredients sums up the 2017 Charcuterie Masters, which featured some of the best-ever cured meats by fanatically devoted individuals who have put their own stamp on a very old tradition.
Preserving meats dates back millennia but the term ‘charcuterie’ entered our lexicon somewhere around the 15th century. With no proper refrigeration, salt was the magic ingredient to keep meat from spoiling. While the process is deeply rooted in human history, some charcuterie favorites have gotten a bad rap from the W.H.O.’s recent report linking bacon to cancer; however, it has to do more with nitrates than meat.
Worries aside, the hams, terrines, sausages and puddings at the Charcuterie Masters were truly exceptional.
The blend European ingenuity and American produce made an almost perfect love affair for the guests hopping from table to table devouring the meaty tastings on offer.
Indianapolis-based Smoking Goose Meatery’s French-inspired rabbit and pork cheek terrine was the absolute show stopper. The balance of lean and fat, offal and herbs with faultless seasoning made it a joy to eat. Pair with a glass of dry Muscadet and a cornichon or two for the perfect dinner party canapé.
Flying the Basque tricolore, Long Island City’s Michelin-starred M. Wells’ pan -roasted black pudding with apple purée was a match made in heaven with a crispy exterior embedded with nuggets of fat.
Similarly to the French Lyonnais classic, Dodine de canard, Dicksons Farmstand Meats‘ Duck Galantine with pistachios, another winner, was intense with juicy duck and pork flavor. A few more nuts would not have gone amiss.
There were delights of Italy on show as well. End Meats Italian-style Lonza was beautifully done. Only 16 months in the business, Denver-based Il Porcelino’s award-winning fat-marbled Coppa, cacciatore and pork liver mousse were simply perfect.
Charcuterie Masters’ participants took traditional charcuterie a step further with new ingredients. Elevation Meats hailing also from The Centennial State gave their own delicious twist on Italian cured sausages using local ale, barley wine, fennel and even molé. Hudson valley favorites, Jacüterie combines inspirations of Italy, France and Switzerland but also ingeniously incorporates oriental flavors such as lemongrass for its Vietnamese-inspired sausage and its Anglo-Indian style Bombay Banger.
Jersery-based Caseiro e Bom Gourmet brought a bit of Latin theatre to their colorful booth with hanging hams as Rodrigo Duarte carved cured Iberico-style ham. Using pigs imported from Portugal, the chorizos were so juicy and succulent without being too salty or greasy.
There were some delicious cheesy options along cured meats at the Charcuterie Masters.
Vermont farmstead Bridport Creamery’s Lake Street Colby, a texture of cheddar but taste of chaume, must be on everyone’s cheeseboard.
For those after a little home comfort wherever home might be, the Smoke Show NYC’s Carolina-style pulled pork was the best I’ve ever tasted. Normally stringy with a horrid over sweet barbecue sauce, Smoke Show’s authentic version, however, was so soft with a just a little vinegar to lift it all. Simple and clever.
If barbecue flavors are what you are after spice blenders #Porkmafia offered array of different combinations. In spite of its menacing name, #Porkmafia’s Texas Gold dry rub packed heat with a slight vinegary finish. Very enjoyable and had a curry-like punch of flavor.
While there were hoppy beer and local wines available, Brooklyn Cider House’s Bone Dry was lovely and sour, reminiscent of a Bruxellois Gueuze from Belgium. And finally Upstate’s Heather Ridge Farm’s Root Beer, based on an 1876 recipe, was another pleasant surprise that delivered a burst of flavor.
The passionate participants of this years Charcuterie Masters have put serious commitment and love into making the best product possible. Once the laughing stock of the cured meat work, artisanal American producers have finally put the U.S. on the charcuterie map with amazing flavor and quality ingredients.
While parma hams from Italy, long ago made by farmers, are now mass produced in factories, their American artisanal counterparts are bringing back authentic old-fashioned prosciutto and more. As Giuseppe Viterale said, it is the natural way that will always be best. “(Like it was done in Europe) we can still do the same thing here.”