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America Challenges Old-World Charcuterie Dominance
Devastating Fire Sparks New Heritage Foods USA Initiative
Twenty years ago, the bulk of American charcuterie was cheap, commodity product. You could get a domestic prosciutto in a supermarket for half the price of Prosciutto di Parma.
More recently, charcuterie in the United States is following the same trend we have seen with wine, beer, cheese, and bread. The talent pool is expanding and quality ingredients are becoming more accessible.
Says Patrick Martins, founder of Heritage Foods USA: “Two decades ago, if you wanted to buy an imported beer, you paid a premium. American beer was cheap. Now the most expensive and sought-after beer is domestic, handcrafted beer, made in smaller quantities, with the best ingredients.
“The same thing is happening with high-quality charcuterie. The domestic version will be the sought after product. Imports will dwindle. We’ll still love our Italian and Spanish hams, but they won’t be nearly as prevalent, they’ll be nostalgia. The market is changing right before our eyes.”
THE SAM EDWARDS STORY
As reported in the New York Times, the fire left Heritage Foods “grappling with a break in the supply chain. Chefs from Washington to New York are adjusting their menus.” Matthew Rudofker, executive chef at Momofuku Ssäm Bar and Má Pêche said of Edwards’ hams, “nothing can replace them.”
OLD-WORLD MEETS NEW
We are experiencing a charcuterie renaissance in America. The quality of cured meat is soaring.
The new trend towards artisanal cured meats has been written about glowingly across the food press — but most importantly, American curemasters are increasingly applying their art to pasture-raised, heritage breeds, and finally entering the final frontier of long-aged hams.
“It is very hard to make a prosciutto-style ham,” says Martins. “You need a lot of space, and a lot of experience. And you have to buy hams today that you won’t sell for over a year. It’s a pretty big barrier to entry. How many people in America make head cheese or guanciale? Thousands. How many cure hams in any real quantity? Two dozen.”
There are two approaches to making a great ham — the Old-World style, best-known as Prosciutto di Parma or Jamón Serrano, and the American traditional style that comes out of the deep South, with the added step of smoking — and since the fire, Heritage Foods is working with outstanding proponents of both:
Broadbent Hams, under the direction of Ronny and Beth Drennan, in Kuttawa, Kentucky, have won championships from the National Country Ham Association. They have recently added a new line of heritage breed, pasture-raised hams to their existing line of Southern Style hams, which goes back 100 years. They represent a new American style of prosciutto — lighter, with a uniquely sweet and salty flavor. The first wave will be available beginning this fall.
Cesare Casella was trained by the Norcini, the great Tuscan traveling butchers. He is a famed New York restaurateur, and Dean of Italian Studies at the International Culinary Center. His Casella’s pasture-raised salami is an astonishingly nuanced example of the artform. His line of Old World-style heritage prosciutto will be available beginning in February and are sure to be a formidable presence, bringing three-hundred years of Italian tradition to the vanguard.
Antonio Fiasche from ’Nduja Artisans continues a great tradition of Italian charcuterie. His family has run Ristorante Agostino in Chicago for over thirty years, and Antonio has led the charge towards expanding a curing business anchored by a wide variety of salamis and their family specialty, ’nduja, a spreadable, spicy, Calabrian pâté, which they have been making for five generations.
Al Benton cures his hams in an ancient smokehouse in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee with little consideration for the modern world. Even though Benton is a household name in the South, he is still hands-on and present in all steps of the curing process. He is another famed traditionalist who is forwarding the cause of the American charcuterie renaissance. His strong, salty, smoky hams have always enjoyed a huge following.
In addition, the Heritage Foods roster of great curemasters includes Nancy Newsom, whose grandfather started a curing tradition in his old Kentucky home that allowed seasonal change to flavor the ham naturally; Armandino Batali in Seattle, who creates bold, charismatic salami; Johnny Hunter, from Underground Meats in Wisconsin; and Paradise Locker Meats outside Kansas City, whose injection curing process produces delectable maple sugar hams.
Long-aged hams, salami, and other heritage breed, pasture-raised charcuterie is available directly from Heritage Foods USA.
For more information on Heritage Foods USA, interviews, and all media requests, please contact Catherine@HeritageFoodsUSA.com
Heritage Foods USA is a farm-to-table online butcher based in Brooklyn, dedicated to supporting family farmers raising livestock on pasture with old-school genetics. Turkeys, pigs, lamb, goats, chickens, ducks, and geese are all purchased nose-to-tail, and sold online in cuts to customers in all 50 states, as well as 130 of America’s best restaurants. Please visit us at HeritageFoods.com.