Given Oregon’s love affair with food, it’s no surprise that European inspired charcuterie is now a part of the local vernacular. Originally intended as a method for preserving meats before the introduction and incorporation of refrigeration, charcuterie is a style of cooking that focuses on prepared meat products such as sausage, pâté, confit and terrine.
Charcuterie from Olympic Provisions in Portland / photo by Dina Avila
Among Oregon’s craft charcutiers, there is Olympic Provisions— one of the early commercial charcuteries in Portland. Chop Butchery, also in Portland, and Fino in Fondo in McMinnville, are two other notable producers with savory options for salumeria-loving consumers—each creating a product from different inspirations.
For Thor Erickson, charcuterie is not just about the meat but also the act of creation. Under the tutelage of his chef father, Erickson has been making charcuterie since he was 10 years old. Now he teaches butchery and charcuterie at the Cascade Culinary Institute in Bend. One of the things he appreciates is the personal twist each charcutier can bring to it. “Charcuterie is to meat what wine is to grapes—they’re all different,” says Erickson, who also helps make charcuterie for Elevation, the institute’s restaurant.
You can’t talk about charcuterie in Oregon without mentioning Olympic Provisions. Established in 2009, it was Oregon’s first USDA-approved salumeria. Its two locations operate as restaurants, neighborhood delis and onsite meatcuring facilities. In a subtle reminder of their passion, twofoot- high illuminated letters flash “MEAT” inside the Southeast Portland venue.
Olympic Provisions co-owner, Elias Cairo, trained for nearly five years in the Swiss Alps, where he honed his expertise for making quality charcuterie. His apprenticeship paid dividends in Oregon, with his charcuterie widely celebrated as one of the best.
“Once back in Portland, I asked my sister if she would like to go to the farmers market and have a picnic,” recalls Cairo. “While the basics—fruit, cheese and bread—were bountiful, I was very surprised at the lack of cured meats available to market-goers. I learned a few things about charcuterie in Europe that I love to produce and consume, and thus it began.” As head salumist, Cairo crafts twelve different salamis based on the regional flavors of France, Spain, Italy and Greece.
Located in Portland’s City Market, Chop Charcuterie and Butchery makes its charcuterie in a more “New World” style than that of Olympic Provisions. “What we wanted to do was take the Old World out of charcuterie and make it more accessible to the American palate,” says Eric Finley, coowner of Chop. “We are not trying to replicate anything from Europe. The salami we make is more of a San Francisco style, in which we use our fermentation to bring out a little sourness to round off the palate with salt, sugar and bitterness.” Finley pairs pâtés, salamis, rilletes and whole muscle cures (coppa, bresaola, lomo) with a variety of pickles. “The acid cuts through the heavy fat that is associated with charcuterie,” he explains.
Another natural pairing with meat is wine. Foodies in Oregon wine country are carving out their own niche in charcuterie. In 2007, husband-and-wife entrepreneurs Carmen Peirano and Eric Ferguson created their own little piece of Italy when they opened Nick’s Italian Café in McMinnville. Charcuterie, which they made in-house for the restaurant, became part of the eatery’s mainstay and soon they opened their own salumeria. Peirano and Ferguson see themselves as “heralds of a forgotten time, bringers of a simple joy and purveyors = of a sweeter life.” Fino in Fondo (Italian for “until the end”) incorporates traditional techniques of cured meat production, using only free-range and antibiotic-free hogs from local farms. If Oregon Pinots weren’t enough of a reason to visit the region, a flight paired with selections of tartufo, gentile, soppressata, coppa and pancetta might do the trick.
For pairing wine with charcuterie, Jessica Hereth, wine director at Olympic Provisions, leans toward wines made in the Old World style and from regions where charcuterie is an everyday food staple. She suggests acid-driven lighter red wines such as those from Beaujolais, or the Jura or the Loire valleys. Some of Hereth’s favorite home-grown wines include Bow & Arrow, Teutonic Wine Company, Matello and Evening Land.
Farther south, Francophile charcuterie tradtion is also wholeheartedly embraced at Eugene’s Marché Café, says chef Stephanie Pearl Kimmel. Marché’s charcuterie menu evolves seasonally with a few staples at the café and in the store including duck liver mousse, pâté with pork and pistachios and rotating seasonal items like fromage de tête and rabbit rillettes.
Though charcuterie’s earliest craftsmen may have been in first century Gaul, Oregon’s charcutiers are steadily creating a name for themselves across the palates of regional foodies, in quality restaurants and with everyday Oregonians.
For charcuterie recipes from some of the restaurants mentioned above click here.
All photos by Dina Avila