Some twin cities chefs have rediscovered the fine art of charcuterie

Comfort food may be all the rage, but it also can be a chef’s worst nightmare. After churning out meatloaf, brisket and roast turkey day after day, it’s tough to keep the creative juices flowing.

Luckily, local chefs are finding inspiration in another throwback – charcuterie. While the art of preserving and curing meats has long been a standard practice at butcher shops and on family farms, these chefs are taking the specialty to a new level.

“You can make things as salty, savory or as sweet as you want,” says Shane Bartel, the in-house butcher at Forepaugh’s in St. Paul, where the pastrami, turkey, ham, bacon and sausage are house-cured. “We’ve been able to make our own unique flavors.”

Craftsman in Minneapolis, using locally farmed meats for charcuterie allows hito shine. “It creates a regional identity,” says Phillips, adding that even nationally acclaimed salumi maker/chef Paul Bertolli buys pigs from the Midwest because of the quality.

When Matt McArthur opened Cheeky Monkey Deli in St. Paul a few months ago, he wanted to offer high-quality food and low prices. In a tough economy, charcuterie allowed him to forgo using expensive meats like steak and tenderloin. Curing his own bacon and ham as well as brining and smoking his own turkeys helps him turn out delicious fare while saving money.

“By making these things ourselves, we can sell a sandwich for under $10,” McArthur says.

But chefs are limited to what they can do in their kitchens. Charcuterie comes under strict federal regulation, and it can cost tens of thousands of dollars for certification.

“We’re concerned about bacteria growth whenever shelf life is extended,” says Gary Caldwell, spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Health. “If you’re just patting hamburgers or grilling steaks, that’s a different story.” But more complicated sausages and some deli products require special licenses.To get around red tape, Craftsman chef Mike Phillips serves his house-made salami, ham and coppa only at the restaurant. By not packaging it for retail, he says he avoids the expense of special licensing. But Phillips knows he treading a thin line. “There’s a gray area,” he says.

Benjamin Roberts, owner of the St. Paul Cheese Shop, isn’t willing to take any chances. While the shop makes terrines and cures pastrami and corned beef, Roberts isn’t ready to get into salami production just yet.

“We’re capable of making our own but can’t by law without a license,” Roberts says. “There’s so much bureaucracy.”

Nancy Ngo can be reached at 651-228-5172 or nngo@pioneerpress.com.

CHARCUTERIE TERMS

Brining: Soaking meat in a salt solution – or brine – before cooking adds flavor, tenderness and moisture.

Headcheese: Cold cut made from the animal’s head, usually a calf or pig.

Pate: Finely minced seasoned meat, such as duck liver, cooked in earthenware.

Salting: The use of salt dehydrates and preserves meat by slowing down the fermentation process.

Salumi: The Italian term for cured meats, including salami, pancetta, mortadella and lardo.

Smoking: A way to flavor, cook or preserve meat.

Terrine: A coarse version of pate, usually shaped in a mold.

Twincities.com

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