Blog: Taste Talks 'The Art of Italian Charcuterie'
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As the opening day of Taste Talks rolled on in Williamsburg, the topics of conversation ranged from photographing food to gluten to chef horror stories. But we made sure to grab a seat in the front of the room for “The Art of Italian Charcuterie” workshop- an hour long conversation by moderator Christopher Lee that outlines the emergence of Italian style salumi in the United States and its challenges along the way. Held in a small rustic conference room in the basement of the Wythe Hotel, the session culminated in a delicious tasting sample courtesy of Il Buco Alimentari.
Taste Talks is run in a way that there are between two and four different conferences and interactive panels every hour throughout the day. Premium level passes allow attendees to drop into any event that they choose and the timing and locations could not have been any more convenient for guests. We immediately grabbed a seat in the front row a few minutes before the session’s 2pm start time. The front of the room was setup with cooking instruments, meat grinders, and large mixing bowls for the three person presentation. Leading the charge was Christopher Lee, known in restaurant circles as a renowned charcutier. Lee has taught the staff at and has provided local restaurants like Chez Panisse, Eccolo, and Il Buco Alimentari with methods necessary to bring the Italian style of preparation to New York City.
While his two ‘sous chefs’ prepped for the brief live demonstration toward the end of the enlightening session, Lee discussed the often lengthy and contentious timeline of trial and error to get the ingredients just right while also appeasing the local Department of Health. In the 1980′s, Lee himself fell in love with Italian food however at that point, there had been no definitive resource to learn about charcuterie creation. After several chance meetings and several trips to Italy, Lee stumbled upon an Italian government document for specifications of all salumi and began to become comfortable with the process as a fundamental traditionalist. And even then, it took almost ten years until he was comfortable serving them in a restaurant. Since that time, he’s become a highly regarded resource by the aforementioned restaurants as well as on the subject matter as a whole.
The session concluded with some sliced servings of various salumi, while the two assistants mixed together ingredients, grinded the mixture of pork shoulder into salumi casings and tagged them to be aged for consumption. We learned that creating a proscuitto from start to finish can take a good year and a half, which made the time it took to initially learn and perfect the process- years and years of time- all the more impressive. But fundamentally, Lee stressed the importance of the quality of pigs- firm flesh and firm fat- about twenty percent fat- the use of sea salt rather than Kosher salt, and other interesting techniques that we found enlightening. We might not begin purchasing locally sourced pigs and the expensive instruments used to create charcuterie, but we certainly found a new appreciation for them following this Taste Talks seminar. But our favorite part of course, was tasting them.
- Jane Van Arsdale