There’s craft going on in every kitchen, but at some Pacific Northwest restaurants, it’s being taken up a notch with charcuterie being cured in-house.
“Restaurants making in-house charcuterie is a growing trend, stemming from the DIY ethic of hardscrabble chefs,” says Melissa Abbott, director of culinary insights at the Bellevue, Washington-based Hartman Group.
Whistler, British Columbia-based Nita Lake Lodge’s fine dining restaurant, Aura, makes its own charcuterie and sells it on charcuterie boards.
All aspects of production from receiving the finest whole cuts and animals, to the methods of curing, to the final drying are completed in the kitchens at Nita Lake Lodge. The final, and most publicly noticeable, step is the commandeered wine chiller at the entrance to Aura, which houses the meats as they cure at an optimal temperature.
“They hang for all to see for weeks or months coming to salty, delicious fruition,” says chef Owen Foster.
As with all things that take time, Foster says he believes that patience is the most crucial detail in the process.
“Logistically, patience versus demand is a tricky one,” he says. The process itself is a series of processes, and if the restaurant doesn't stay ahead of demand by eight or 10 weeks, it could get difficult to continue, Foster explains.
“The simplicity of this work is where the need for quality sourcing and masterful craft is born,” Foster points out. “Turning fresh pork, salts, and spices into 30-plus totally different and delicious final offerings on the charcuterie board is not only exciting to serve but a real treat to order.”
Making charcuterie is quite labor intensive, agrees Abbott.
“And unless it truly fits with the establishment’s personality and the kitchen staff is passionate about the process, it’s not worth it and will be reflected in the end product,” she points out.
“That said, house-made products, such as charcuterie, can truly differentiate an eatery through use of U.S.-sourced heritage breed animals and even play up the locality of its origin, which is less possible with imported salumi,” she adds.
As far as space needed for production, investment, capacity and man hours, Foster says he believes making charcuterie in-house has proven to be a more sizable time investment than anything, taking anywhere from 15 to 40 hours per week.
The items available at Nita Lake Lodge came from consumer demand and are geared towards being enjoyed as-is. The whole cuts include meat such as bresaola, lonza and coppa.
La Boucherie, a farm-to-table restaurant linked to Sea Breeze Farm on Vashon Island, near Seattle, Washington, also sells charcuterie in both its restaurant, its butcher shop and at farmers markets.
“Many guests do make a retail purchase from La Boucherie’s adjacent butcher shop during their visit to the restaurant, and even more subsequently make a point of seeking out Sea Breeze’s charcuterie products at the farmers markets,” says Kristin Thompson Page, co-owner of Sea Breeze Farm, La Boucherie and Sweetbread Cellars, a winery also owned by the farm. “We raise our own pigs, hence our charcuterie operation maximizes the profitability of every animal.”
And the charcuterie platter is the restaurant’s most popular small plate/appetizer, she says.
To boost sales of charcuterie, it’s a good idea to team it with similar categories, such as artisan cheeses, wine or hearth breads, points out Abbott.
And offering a little education doesn’t hurt either, she adds.
Olympic Provisions in Portland, Oregon, sells its charcuterie from a small case within the restaurant.
“Charcuterie is a fairly new category for many Americans and breaking it down for consumers without ‘educating’ them is highly advisable,” Abbott says. “Olympic Provisions offers a wonderful little guide for consumers on their charcuterie journey, making it a fun and delicious experience.”
By Amy Sung