Feb. 26 2016 04:37 PM

Salty meats are appetizing, though not necessarily trending

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S&M’s Heat to Tail board
Photo courtesy of S&M sausage & meat

A cold beer on a hot day is one of life's great pleasures, and charcuterie, a catch-all term for cured meats such as prosciutto, salami and chorizo sausage, is the perfect accompaniment: salty, fatty and full of flavor.

Many local restaurants such as S&M Sausage & Meat, Tender Greens and JSix have some form of house-made charcuterie on the menu, with more jumping on this meat bandwagon all the time.

Some like Alex Carballo, whose latest venture is Moto Deli Sandwich Shop in Encinitas, see the rise of charcuterie as a natural for our hop happy community.

"Obviously we've got the beer thing down pretty well and what goes better with beer than a plate of cured and smoked meat?" asks Carballo. "Not every chef is going to have the time, space or training to do their own in-house charcuterie, but I think lots more chefs will be finding creative ways to use and pair the great products that are out there."

Charcuterie's emphasis on big flavors and meaty goodness may appeal to the cavemen inside, but Steven Lona, the chef at Tasting Room Del Mar (opening in April), sees it as the next step in sustainable cuisine.

"The beauty in charcuterie is that you're often making less-desirable (and oft-forgotten or discarded) parts of the animal delicious and easy to store for longer periods of time," Lona says. "There's great merit in responsibly raising a pig, but there's even greater merit in dedicating one's self to utilizing as much of that animal."

But there are some logistical issues that could keep charcuterie from being the "New Beer." Pretty much anyone can buy the supplies to homebrew, but it's a lot more difficult to make your own salami, says Jack Ford, who runs Taj Farms in Valley Center.

"There's a lot of bureaucracy in food and aging meat adds another layer," Ford says. "You can't do refrigeration above 38 degrees because of cross-contamination concerns. Right now, making charcuterie is done underground. Doing it is almost like belonging to a speakeasy during prohibition."

Ford says places like Tender Greens are able to make and sell charcuterie because they buy live animals from ranches like his, which are then killed for use in the restaurant by the rancher.

Getting good quality meat is one challenge. Making the charcuterie isn't just a matter of hanging it to dry, says Ken Irvine, owner and executive chef of Bleu Boheme in Kensington.

"It takes a unique skill set and time to make a great, consistent charcuterie," he says. "Some of the challenges in executing it are the amount of time it takes, and having the right staff with the right skills to make a great product."

Moto concurs.

"A good dried salumi needs some carefully controlled environmental conditions," Carballo says. "Temperature, humidity and light all play a role. Chefs that are really serious about it build whole rooms dedicated to curing."

Even that has problems. Scott Slater, who runs S&M Sausage And Meat in University Heights, intended to start making charcuterie when the restaurant opened in early 2015.

"We spent $10,000 on a curing cabinet and it was 11 months before we got it to work," Slater says. Still, he's happy with the pancetta and capicola he's making now.

Although great charcuterie is being made across the county, it's unlikely to become the "new beer," according to Ryan Johnston of Whisknladle Hospitality.

"I don't think so," he laments. "I just don't think there is high enough demand."

Verdict: Charcuterie is probably not the new beer, but that shouldn't stop you from enjoying locally made salami or sausage at any opportunity.

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