After two decades of smacking our lips over fine Spanish and Italian hams, French pâtés, sausages and salamis imported from all over Europe, Americans — chef and home cook alike — are making their own.
It’s not easy, but chefs across Florida are now happily salting, curing, smoking, airing and brining odd cuts of meat and packing ground pork into casings — just as it was done 500 years ago.
The recipes are not complicated, says Ted Dorsey, chef at The Mill, which opened last year in St. Petersburg. “I keep it very simple: Salt, sugar, a lot of love and time.” Lots of time has been the key to curing meat for millennia: Leave meat exposed to the air to dry. As water evaporates, the flavor matures and intensifies.
“Nothing is more rewarding than tasting what 12 months did to a ham that you butchered yourself,” says Kevin Darr of City Cellar Wine Bar & Grill in Fort Lauderdale.
In most restaurants, charcuterie comes as a “board” of selected meats and cheeses (the latter mostly out of state or imported) from $15 to $40. Add bread, pickle and mostaza, and you have a shareable feast.
If preserved and aged foods seem contrary to the demand for freshness, they sit easily with the hunger for small plates, gastro pubs, a new appreciation for pork and back-to-farmhouse basics.
Plus, they can be done in odd hours, create in-house exclusives and elevate lesser cuts at a time when top beef prices are out of sight.
At The Mill, Ted Dorsey’s charcuterie plate can include pickled shrimp and tuna pastrami as well as an array of bacons. His favorite is the lamb-belly bacon, but he says diners are wild for octopus bacon, surprisingly fatty and creamy.
Market 17; City Cellar; Louis Bossi’s
Fort Lauderdale may have the longest charcuterie boards in the state.
Lauren deShields at Market 17 has mastered dozens of sausages, salamis (caraway, curry, fennel and thyme for starters) and dry-cured pork cuts, from pancetta and fiocco to lardo.
Big Time Restaurant Group has major charcuterie at both City Cellar and Louie Bossi’s.
City Cellar’s chef, Kevin Darr, studied under Michigan’s Brian Polcyn, godfather of American charcuterie, and now pipes his own sausage casings and cures his own pancetta. He is delighted that savvy customers appreciate his salamis and happy to explain them to others.
His colleague, Louie Bossi at his Ristorante Bar Pizzeria, makes more than a half-dozen salumi with peppers, truffles and fennel and two of the rarest delicacies, nduja and mortadella.
Swine & Co. Provisions; The Rusty Spoon
Kathleen Blake of The Rusty Spoon specializes in the hand-made and the farm-fresh of her Iowa youth. That makes her pork-friendly “butcher’s board” with house-made condiments a favorite.
Given its spirit of whimsy and Southern traditions, it’s no surprise that the Ravenous Pig group opened Swine & Co. Provisions as both butcher shop and sit-down deli. The Swine crew makes a wide range of terrines, pates, smoked and cured meats, as well as ribeye hotdogs.
Graziano’s makes its own chorizo, blood sausage and coppa di testa.
Miami Smokers; Graziano’s
In Miami, charcuterie choices vary from numerous New American gastro pubs to a French-styled assiette lyonnaise to the Argentine flavors of Graziano’s. Now in Little Havana, hipster butchers have set up Miami Smokers, where the organic hormone-free pork is cured into thick-cut bacon, bacon jerky and salamis. Flavors run from classic French saucisson, red wine and pepper and red and green curry.
13 Gypsies calls itself a peasant kitchen and has gloried in rustic traditions from Spain to Central Europe for seven years.
Lay on the garlic bologna, fermented salami, adobo pork and anything else chef Howard Kirk can cure or smoke with passion and heart. He also makes cream cheese in house.
When Bern’s Steak House created its newest casual restaurant, Haven, chef Chad Johnson wanted to showcase artisanal foods on small plates of fine cheeses and charcuterie to match small batch wines and spirits (300 bourbons). Meats range from bison, wild boar, duck and pork in pâté, rillettes, wurst and head cheese.
Trend Kitchen serves elegantly crafted venison, foie gras, bone marrow and kurobuta pork plus a $40 charcuterie board. Look for duck liver pate and cured wild boar seasoned with citrus and truffle from larder, pickles and jams.