Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Perfect Couple – Cheese & Charcuterie

I do not think I have been more excited about a class at the Cheese School of San Francisco than I was for our class last Monday entitled “Cheese & Charcuterie”. First, while I love cheese, I really love charcuterie (although I am partial to the term “salumi”), and in all classes I have been to at the Cheese School (this being #24), this was the first time that “tasty salted pork parts” (to borrow Boccalone’s tag line) was going to be featured. Second, Wil Edwards, one of our favorite instructors, was teaching the class. Finally, Diane and Terry, Cass’ parents, were in town and were joining Alex, Cass and me for the class.

The class was described in the Cheese School’s program as follows:

“Cheese and charcuterie are really about solving the same problem: how to
preserve the flavors and nutritional value of two precious foods, fresh milk and raw meat, that would otherwise have a very short shelf life? Wil Edwards will lead this class in exploring how cheese makers and charcuterie artisans each go about their craft, the explosive and concentrated flavors that can result from the preservation process, and the links between the two – from farm to table.”

Part of my anticipation regarding the class related to speculation about which charcuterie we would be sampling at the class. As reflected in part by the logos at the start of the post, we are incredibly fortunate here in the Bay Area to have a number of establishments producing charcuterie and I have tried many of them including Boccalone (established by Chris Cosentino and Mark Pastore of Incanto), the Fatted Calf (run by the husband and wife team of Taylor Boetticher and Toponia Miller), and Fra’Mani (established by Paul Bertolli when he left Oliveto). I like them all and have my particular favorite products from each of them, including Fra’Mani’s salame rosa and salame gentile, Boccalone’s mortadella and lardo, and the fabulous freshly-roasted porchetta we had enjoyed just a few days earlier on our visit to the Fatted Calf’s store in the Oxbow Market in Napa.

I arrived at the School a bit late and the pre-tasting festivities were already well underway. After greeting Diane, Terry, Alex and Cass and grabbing a glass of Prosecco, I looked around and was overjoyed to see that not only Wil Edwards was in attendance, but also Taylor and Toponia from the Fatted Calf who were hard at work slicing and laying out a fantastic array of their products. It was clear that this would be an evening to remember.

We were soon asked to take our seats and the class got started. What a spectacle awaited us! Not only was there the customary spectrum of cheeses that we had become accustomed to from prior classes (nine in all), but Taylor and Toponia had gone above and beyond the call with an offering of six of the Fatted Calf’s products.

On the cheese front Wil and the Cheese School staff had selected the following for the evening:

1. “Marinated Fetta” from Yarra Valley Dairy – Victoria, Australia – Cow

2. “Humbug Mountain” from River’s Edge Chèvre – Logsden, Oregon – Goat

3. Brillat-Savarin – Burgundy, France – Cow

4. “La Tur” from Caseificio dell'Alta Langa - Piemonte, Italy – Cow, sheep and goat

5. Abbaye de Belloc – Pyrénées, France – Sheep

6. Roncal – Navarre, Spain – Sheep

7. “Bandage Wrapped Cheddar” from Fiscalini Farms – Modesto, California – Cow

8. Brescianella Stagionata – Lombardia, Italy – Cow

9. Grevenbroecker – Flanders, Belgium – Cow

Those were accompanied by the following from the Fatted Calf (descriptions care of the Fatted Calf website), a great mix of Italian, French and Spanish traditions:

1. Bresaola - traditional Italian air-dried beef made with Marin Sun Farm’s grass-fed beef, organic garlic, red wine, spices, sea salt and curing salt.

2. Pâté de Volaille - a robust pâté of game hen, squab, pastured chicken, pork and duck with walnuts and sherry, made from organic pastured chicken, Liberty duck, Wolfe Ranch squab, organic game hen, organic cream, breadcrumbs, walnuts, organic herbs, sherry, sea salt, curing salt and spices.

3. Mortadella - fine textured cooked salami garnished with pistachios, made with pasture raised pork, pistachios, organic garlic, spices, organic evaporated cane juice, dry milk powder, sea salt and curing salt.

4. Saucisson Sec - aromatic French style salame, made with pasture raised pork, spices, brandy, sea salt and curing salt.

5. Finocchiona - spicy salame with whole and ground fennel seed, made with pasture raised pork, organic garlic, spices, sea salt and curing salt.

6. Spanish Style Chorizo – earthy, crumbly, paprika laden dry sausage, made with naturally raised pork, organic garlic, spices, sea salt and curing salt.

The following three wines were poured during the evening:

~ Prosecco di Valdobbiadene from Bellussi Spumanti

~ “Lini910” Lambrusco Rosso from Lini Oreste e Figli

~ “Obispo Gascón Palo Cortado” Sherry from Antonio Barbadillo

Finally, as if we needed anything else, a range of accompaniments rounded out the feast, including Acme bread, fruit, a sugar plum and walnut log from Pastilla Nash, preserved walnuts from Harvest Song and some great fruit pastes.

It was a fun evening. Wil’s approach – with input from Taylor and Toponia along the way (especially regarding the proper pronunciation of Bresaola (bre-SAOH-la)) – was to have us match cheese with charcuterie, a break from past classes where we were focused on cheese and wine pairings. That was a bit beyond me, but it was an interesting experiment and the combination of three fermented products – wine, cheese and charcuterie – was certainly something anyone would enjoy, and enjoyment is always Wil’s focus, which is why we like his classes so much.

At least for Alex, Cass and me, our individual top cheeses of the evening were:

Alex: 1. Brillat-Savarin; 2. Abbaye de Belloc; 3. La Tur

Cass: 1. La Tur; 2. Humbug Mountain; 3. Marinated Fetta

Mike: 1. Abbaye de Belloc; 2. Marinated Fetta; 3. Brillat-Savarin

We did not do a full rating of the charcuterie, but my favorites were: 1. Bresaola (really good); 2. Pâté de Volaille; and 3. Chorizo.

While Fra’Mani does not have a dedicated retail outlet in the Bay Area, both Boccalone in the Ferry Building and Fatted Calf in Napa do and they are well worth visiting and getting to know. Some of my favorite moments on trips to Italy have been when hanging out in salumeria (shops specializing in charcuterie), macelleria (butcher shops) and norcineria (butcher shops specializing in pork products – the name deriving from the town of Norcia in Umbria where pork is king). The following are just a few such shrines – Bruno e Franco Salumeria in Bologna, Dario Cecchini's Macelleria in Panzano in Toscana (where in fact Taylor and Toponia worked for a bit), and the Fratelli Ansuini’s Norchineria in Norcia.

I have to say I am not sure about the extent to which “charcuterie” and “salume” may overlap. In Italy, salumi (the term on which the name of the salumeria establishment is based) is a broad term which includes a variety of cured or otherwise preserved meat (primarily pork) products. Many of those products are classified as salami, a product made from chopped or ground pork and spices, which is encased (for example in an intestine) and then typically cured. However, salumi also includes whole muscles or other cuts of meat which are salted and preserved, including prosciutto, guanciale, lardo and, on the beef front, bresaola. Hence all salami are salumi, but not all salumi are salami. To further complicate matters we have the singular and plural issue:

~ one salame, two salami
~ one salume, two salumi

Of course the French go quite a bit farther than the Italians when it comes to pâté, so perhaps charcuterie is a broader term than salumi. All I know is that it eats good and we are lucky to be able to get it here in the Bay Area.

Continue Reading »