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Chefs go whole hog for charcuterie

At independent restaurants around the country, chefs are creating their own sausages, smoking their own bacon and developing their own salami

Jacob Sessoms’ customers were not interested in his $12 charcuterie plate when he sourced it from the best cold cuts and pâtés he could find.

But now that he makes everything in-house, it’s a best seller.

“It’s a really good way to make money if you do it right,” said Sessoms, co-owner of Table and Tod’s Tasties, two restaurants in Asheville, N.C.

The combined food and labor cost of his charcuterie board is $4 to $5, he said.

With an increasing number of chefs taking a stab at whole hog butchery, and with local ingredient sourcing continuing to gain in popularity, many restaurant kitchens are making their own sausages, hams and salamis.

For Sessoms, it started a couple of years ago with hot dogs. One of his line cooks, Jeremy Hardcastle, was experimenting with them, and Sessoms ended up selling them at his casual café, Tod’s Tasties.

Now he and his team smoke their own bacon, including a version of the Italian hog-jowl sausage guanciale. They also make salami, French saucisson, ham and more.

Preston Dishman, chef of Viognier in San Mateo, Calif., said his charcuterie has been so popular he’s offering it in the four retail gourmet stores his company owns.

“We try to find what’s resonating with guests, and if we can do it ourselves, we do,” he said. “We’re having fun really trying to emulate and maybe improve on what we see in the marketplace.”

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Making charcuterie their own

Dishman puts his own spin on charcuterie. For example, the Louisiana native makes guanciale, but leaves the skin on and rubs it with the same spices he’d use for Cajun tasso ham.

He serves the guanciale thinly sliced on his charcuterie plate, and also uses the nubs to make cracklings for a summery dish of beans and corn.

“It’s been really, really well received,” he said.

So has his “pork butter,” made by taking the trimmings from the back fat of Duroc pork and cooking them sous-vide style with garlic, chiles, rosemary and preserved lemon.

Once the mixture is warm and soft, he purées it and serves it on crostini or pizza, “or to sauté anything, like you would duck fat,” he said.

Dishman also recently finished a Kobe pastrami “project.”

He cured Wagyu beef for 10 to 15 days in pastrami spices, smoked it and cooked it sous-vide.

“It’s just incredible. We’re selling 100 or more pounds a week in our deli cases [for about $15 a pound],” Dishman said.

At Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore, co-chef de cuisine George Marsh is developing his own salami starter.

Although he currently makes salami using a commercial starter combined with glucose to speed up the fermentation process, “it’s not as wonderful tasting as European salamis,” he said.

He is now using molds from cheeses the restaurant staff makes to see if they will take. “We’ve done a little bit of research that indicates that we might be able to do that,” he said.

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Meanwhile, he’s preparing coppa from hog neck and using pork belly to make bacon and pancetta.

He also makes country hams that he hangs for about a year, as well as city hams, which are brined.

Marsh is making lardo from fat back — like Dishman’s pork butter — and whipped lard from interior pig abdominal fat.

Using the entire animal

Woodberry Kitchen’s charcuterie program began as an attempt to butcher whole animals, he said.

“When you get a whole, entire animal, there’s a lot of stuff that you need to learn how to use,” he said. “Not only is it a fun, exciting thing to do — and dried and cured meats are delicious — but we wanted to create products using pastured, locally raised animals,” he said.

The hog liver goes into pâté, while kidneys are cleaned and seared and used in other menu items. The heads and trotters are made into scrapple. Marsh also roasts whole heads and makes blood sausage.

“It’s challenging because it’s easier to receive vacuum-sealed cuts than to carry in a whole hog or half a steer.”

RELATED: How one chef uses an entire pig

Mistakes happen, too. Sessoms took 50 pounds of pig ears off a farmer’s hands and then realized how hard it was to remove the hair from them. That venture was a total loss, he said.

Some chefs reportedly cure meats in secret, as health inspectors in their jurisdictions can’t determine whether their processes are safe or not.

Supplementing house-made with store-bought items

But restaurants don’t need to butcher a whole pig or evade local law to produce signature sausage.

Adam Wendt, chef of Bangers & Lace in Chicago, makes some sausage in house, but also buys sausage from local manufacturers.

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Included among those is his venison sausage, which incorporates veal and pork and is served on a soft challah roll with toppings that change seasonally. In the fall, pickled red onion, jalapeño peppers, crème fraîche, fig jam, spiced pecans and candied bacon are offered.

The bacon is candied by glazing it with brown sugar spiked with cayenne, sumac, clove, allspice and ginger.

He also serves a Sheboygan, a type of bratwurst that is at least 80-percent veal, made by the same local producer.

“It has a really creamy process on the inside and a huge snap on the outside,” he said.

The sausage is spiced with thyme, coriander and garlic. Wendt serves it with sauerkraut braised in beer with caraway and black currants.

Wendt also prepares sausage in house, particularly for a beer-and-sausage pairing he offers every Tuesday that has featured seafood, bacon or whatever else strikes his fancy.

“I make it a day or two in advance if smoking’s required,” he said.

Recently, for Oktoberfest-style beers, he made bratwurst out of three parts pork meat to one part fatback.

He seared the sausage and then slowly braised it with beer and onions. Then at service he sautéed it in onions and butter, finished it in the oven, and served it with sauerkraut and potato dumplings.

He generally charges $12 to $14 for the beer-and-sausage pairing. However, for a sausage of Chilean sea bass and scallop mousseline bound in a pork casing with lobster, crab and shrimp and seasoned with chives, tarragon and Cognac poached in clarified butter, he charged $20.

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected].
Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary

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