Whatever you call it – French charcuterie, Italian salumi, German wurst – and however you slice it – gossamer sheets of prosciutto, circles of chorizo, slabs of pâté – centuries-old methods of curing and preserving meat are enjoying a renaissance.
Fueled by farm-to-fork ideals, fetishized in cookbooks and sustained by a hog-wild love of pork (witness Bacon Fest, the pigapalooza of restaurant events that’s now consuming Sacramento foodies), cured and preserved meats have jumped from old-world delicatessens into trendy new niches.
Cured meats co-star at T he Cultured & the Cured, a 3-month-old east Sacramento retail shop and eatery featuring the crème de la crème of artisanal American cured meats.
And salumi and charcuterie will soon take center stage in midtown with the upcoming opening of Block Butcher Bar, a retail butcher shop cum cured-meat-and-craft-cocktail bar that’s backed by the proprietors of LowBrau, the popular beer-and-sausage hall located next door.
“It’s a movement, and Sacramento’s catching on,” said Jason Azevedo, the sous chef at Mighty Tavern who counts pork-loin coppa salami, air-dried beef sirloin bresaola, head cheese, chicken liver mousse and duck confit among the cured and preserved items in his charcuterie program at his Fair Oaks restaurant.
Since 2008, Azevedo has made sausages, salami, bacon, ham, confit and pâté under the banner of Testa Duro Salumi, a small charcuterie collective he operates like a community-supported agriculture program. Instead of providing members regular shipments of locally grown vegetables, Azevedo makes and delivers artisan pork products.
Every few months, Azevedo purchases one or two naturally raised whole hogs from local farmers such as Bledsoe Meats in Dixon or Riverdog Farm in Guinda. “Then I decide how much bacon, how much ham, how much sausage I’m going to make,” he said.
Azevedo butcher wraps and vacuum seals his products. He emails the 300 members of Testa Duro’s Facebook group and delivers orders to clients “in some friendly place like a coffee shop or restaurant,” he said.
This week, Azevedo is filling his annual “Super Bowl” CSA order: whole-hog sausages – bratwurst, hot links, linguica and bulk breakfast sausage made from parts both high and low, including loins, hams and chops that are generally not ground, stuffed and grilled.
As Azevedo and others point out, quality charcuterie has had a home in Sacramento for some time – consider the curing chamber at Taylor’s Market; the palatial display of worldly meats at Corti Brothers; restaurants such as Ella, Grange, Mulvaney’s and Tuli Bistro; and Morant’s, which has been making German-style meats and sausages for generations.
But The Cultured & the Cured and Block Butcher Bar present two new ways – decidedly elevated, conspicuously artisan – of selling, slicing and serving salumi.
The Cultured & the Cured opened in November in a small space at 37th and J streets. One deli case (the cultured) holds hard-to-find cheeses from small Northern California cheesemakers. A second deli case (the cured) contains handcrafted American salumi and charcuterie sourced from sought-after producers: Molinari Salami of San Francisco, Fra’ Mani Salumi of Berkeley, Fabrique Delices of Hayward and Olympic Provisions of Portland, among others.
While The Cultured & the Cured serves meat and cheese boards as well as a small menu of hot and cold sandwiches, proprietor Andrew Hillman said his focus is retail sales of meat and cheese by the pound, along with accompaniments such as crackers, pickles and condiments.
“People want more of the markets like when you go to the Ferry Building,” Hillman said, referring to the San Francisco foodie mecca of specialty producers. “When you go to Europe, you’ve got the bread market, the wine market, the cheese market. Instead of going to one store, you go to five different shops.”
When it opens in early February in the MARRS Building at 20th and L streets, Block Butcher Bar will also cater to those craving specialization, functioning as a butcher shop, salumi maker and craft cocktail bar.
Lovers of lomo, lonzo and the like can purchase cured meats and sandwiches for eating in or taking out, as well as cuts of fresh pork such as chops and loins. Butcher Block Bar will also make sausages for LowBrau, which had been buying its meat from Morant’s.
“There’s been this cured-meat evolution,” said Michael Tuohy, a chef whose career has gone from curing his own meats on the side at fine-dining restaurants such as Grange in Sacramento and Woodfire Grill in Atlanta to heading Butcher Block Bar.
Since returning to Sacramento from a stint as executive chef at Dean & DeLuca market in Napa last summer, Tuohy had been planning his own pork-centric restaurant when he found about LowBrau owners Michael Hargis and Clay Nutting’s plans for Block Butcher Bar.
“The attractiveness of coming on board here was doing cured meats and sausages,” Tuohy said. “It’s not exactly what I thought I would be doing, but it should have been here all the time.”
Once Block Butcher Bar is fully operational, Tuohy said he will turn locally raised, heritage-breed hogs sourced from Llano Seco of Chico and Stone Valley Farm of Alamo into salumi and sausages in a glass-walled room where butchery, grinding and dry-aging will take place in full view of customers.
“People are more concerned about where their food is coming from, how it’s being made,” Tuohy said. “Before the adage was, ‘You don’t want to see the sausage made.’ That’s like an insult to someone who’s artisanal and professional and doing the right thing creating the craft.”
Tuohy said Block Butcher Bar will feature many of the same salumi products that the Cultured & the Cured carries, along with top-shelf European cured meats like prosciutto di Parma and jamon Iberico.
Quality cured meats come at a price: Think $10-$15 per pound for domestic salami, $30 a pound for Italian prosciutto and $45 a pound for Spanish ham made from pigs raised on acorns.
Prices reflect not just the quality of meat but the time – weeks and months – it takes to cure meat.
Brock MacDonald, a chef Tuohy brought in from Restaurant Thir13en to manage Block Butcher Bar’s salumi production, said the proof is in the pork.
“You’re spending a large amount of money on a farm-raised pig that led a good life compared to a run-of-the-mill grocery store pig that lived in a pen,” MacDonald said.
Editor’s note: This story was changed Jan. 22 to correct the name of The Cultured & the Cured owner Andrew Hillman.