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Paul Wetzel, Sous Chef and Visionary Charcutier of Gramercy Tavern

Paul Wetzel, visionary charcutier of Gramercy Tavern — Danny Meyer’s pioneering, Michelin-starred seasonal restaurant in Manhattan — is like a troubadour of cured meat, traveling from town to town to share the ancient art, listening and learning as he goes.

“I’ve gotten to the point at Gramercy that I have a strong team that supports me – so when I take time off, I plan trips to go to Italy to see salumi being made, or I visit butcher shops and processing plants… I grew up on a farm in North Ohio, and that was the foundation for what I’m doing now… it’s great not to just come from just the chef aspect, — a lot of chefs don’t understand what its like to be on the farm 365 days a year, getting up at 5 am, everyday, what it takes to raise an animal… , you can’t just say, Oh I want the fat this way, when you don’t really see how it happens.”

There is a charcuterie renaissance happening in America, and Paul is at its very foundation. Like his mentor, Swiss-born charcutier Francois Vecchio, Paul takes a “holistic approach” to his art — his respect for the animal goes back to the farm. “In just the past 6 or 7 years there’s been a shift in whole-animal butchers shops and artisanal charcuterie. There are more small producers doing fine product and it puts pressure on big scale producers who are basically cut off from the earth. This is where a lot of our problems have come from. They don’t understand that animals need to be grazing and healthy.

“And we try to buy nose to tail for a lot of reasons —we try to use as much of the animal as possible , from confit to sausages to curing meats, maximizing utilization. It’s less money than buying parts, of course, and it drives menu development — If you are just buying bellies and chops, you’re more likely to stay in a rut.”

Apartment Hunting, Celebration, and Prosciutto (by Liz Greeley)

One of the more stressful things a new New Yorker faces is the taxing apartment search. The neighborhood you choose defines your day to day commute and those who will venture over to hang out. Is the closet big enough? Does the room get enough light? Will my commute be ok? Can I live with this roommate? Will our lives be more reflective of a silly sitcom than reminiscent of a horror movie? These are the questions you ask yourself as you travel around the city looking for the elusive apartment “of your dreams” but more so just a small place to call your own in the expansive city.

But when the you find your dream place and finally sign on the dotted line it is time for celebration and a gathering of friends. The perfect celebratory party is kicked off with lots of champagne, all your favorite people, many different cheese and our very own Casella’s prosciutto. Because after a search like that, it is time for a celebration! Some prosciutto inspiration below!

 

Larry and Madonna - Lazy S. Farms – La Plata, Missouri

Larry Sorrell, Red Wattle Pig Farmer

When you see Red Wattle pork on a menu, what you are seeing is a five-state, fifteen farm network dedicated to raising a storied breed that was once upon a time nearly extinct.

Larry Sorrell is one of the heroes of this story, an avatar of the heritage food movement, a salt of the earth farmer, a true believer who was destined to become the Guardian of the Red Wattle. He is proof positive of the ethos that when it comes to endangered livestock, “you have to eat them to save them.”

In the beginning, back in 2004 when Patrick Martins began Heritage Foods, a market for the Red Wattle was built on handshake agreement with Mark Ladner, then the chef at Mario Batali’s Lupa, who recognized the high-quality and undiminished taste that came from a Red Wattle pig raised on-pasture, chemical free, humanely, using traditional farming methods. The deal with Ladner, and the partnership with Larry and his Lazy S farms, were truly the origins of Heritage Foods.

“We traveled 18,000 miles to get started,” Larry says matter-of-factly about a Heritage Foods Odyssey whose mission was to search out rare Red Wattle sows and collect a viable genetic lineage of this incredible pig whose American legacy goes back to 17th century New Orleans. “When we began, we had two Red Wattle gilts and a boar, and we had to travel all over the United States to start a herd.

“The Red Wattle was on their way to being extinct, we had to rasise ‘em to eat ‘em or they were going to disappear, that’s where it was at. When I started delivering hogs for Patrick, he had just started Heritage. He’s the one that really got the breed going – he got the meat to the chefs. They loved it and it grew from there….

“Now I’ve kinda retired from raising animals, but we have fifteen Amish growers working with us, and I pick up the hogs and pay for them, and then bring them to the processor, Paradise Locker. I drive a tractor trailer and go around picking up three-hundered pounders, fifty head a week. We have farms in Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa… that’s a lot of traveling, We may have four or five pick-ups every week. You wear out a truck pretty fast.”

Larry, now “pushing eighty,” still does all the driving. “I’ll have to quit sometime but right now it’s going pretty good. The driving is easy. The hard job is you gotta keep fifteen Amish families happy, picking up their hogs, coordinating farmers on the phone, monitoring the size of the animals and making sure we have the right amount— each week we round up fifty pigs. And we’ve been doing it for fourteen years now.”

“When we began,” Patrick says, “farmers were willing to sell their Red Wattle pigs since there was no market for them. Larry went out and helped us begin spreading the word on existing farms, and also got new farmers interested. What Larry has done to promote the Red Wattle breed has literally saved it. Red Wattle is still considered a rare breed by the American Livestock Conservatory, but has been upgraded off their ‘critical list’ to ‘threatened.’

“This is our most powerful statement. People associate Heritage Foods and Red Wattle – no one else sells this breed. We work with fifteen farms and each bite is an epiphany. The New York Times food critic Frank Bruni, in his final article for the paper, wrote that the Heritage Red Wattle country rib at the Brooklyn restaurant Vinegar Hill was one of the best bites of food in his entire career.”

It’s been a long strange trip for the Red Wattle — Legend has it that French colonialists brought the pigs to Louisiana all the way from New Caldonia, so favored were they for their flavor, bold enough to stand up to any local cuisine. Now they are the toast of the town in New York City and gaining popularity across the United States, served in some of the most discerning restaurants, and becoming the go-to pork chop for demanding home cooks.

All talk of animals aside, there are dozens of people involved in bringing thousands of Heritage Red Wattle pigs to market each year, a remarkable consortium of like-minded folks from diverse American cultures, from Larry and his wife Madonna (their nine kids left the roost years ago), to the fifteen Amish family farms who raise these beautiful beasts; the team at Paradise Locker in Trimble, MO, the exalted processor of all this meat; and Patrick Martins, the Pig Man of Brooklyn, who somehow holds it all together. So how does Larry get along with everyone? “Well,” he says, with the coyness of an old-school Kansas farmer, “You can’t work for somebody for fourteen years and not like them at least a little bit.”

Chili Montes of Bi-Rite Market in San Francisco

We talk a lot about restaurants, probably too much! 

As much as we love the luminaires who put Heritage Foods front and center on their menus, we want to sing the praises of something just a little bit closer to street level: the supermarket!

And not just any supermarket – the Bi-Rite family of markets in San Francisco is at the heart of their communities. Almost Sesame Street-like in its neighborhood friendliness, Bi-Rite remains an idyllic outpost of what an old-fashioned market should be. Customers talk to each other while waiting on line. Across the street is their legendary ice cream shop, the Bi-Rite Creamery.

Chili Montes is Meat and Seafood Buyer for the Bi-Rite family, and head of the Bi-Rite butcher program where for over twenty years he has distinguished himself not only as an educator and advocate, but as an ally, and one of our favorite guys ever to wear a white apron.

“Every month of the year in San Francisco there is some sort of food-centric holiday — except for August,” says Chili, “so for the last two years, we’ve worked with Heritage Foods on “Hog-ust,” and bring in as many breeds as we can during that month. It gives customers a chance to try them all and celebrate the differences between animals that may have been at the brink of extinction. It has been a huge conversation starter. People really get into it.

“Heritage Foods, as much as they are a business partner, they are also a facilitator in education — I have visited their famers, they’ve helped me learn what it takes to produce meat, and the difficulties and rewards of agriculture, especially on a smaller scale with farmers committed to doing things the right way — a focus on quality rather than quantity. I buy a lot of pork from Heritage, but we’ve bought turkeys, goat, steer. We also have local farmers and ranchers we support, and I spend time with them as well.

“There is a very specific consciousness in the way we converse with our guests at Bi-Rite — early on there needed to be a justification for why our product wasn’t the same price as in a chain supermarket, but once they purchase our meat and produce, the taste and the flavor speak for themselves, They just needed a connection to understand why things are a few dollars more.

“I’ve got the best job in the world. At Bi-Rite our customers reward us for the work that we put in with their support for us and what we do, and their willingness to engage in conversation, to have a dialogue with the people who produce their food – It’s amazing, especially in an age when people don’t like to talk to other people!”

Let’s Talk… Goatober Meatballs for Your Housewarming Party!

Getting ready for housewarming parties can be stressful!  Let me take a small load off of your shoulders by introducing our favorite recipe for a simple and delicious appetizer. Goatober (October) is my favorite month, so in celebration I’ve prepared a quick and no-fuss recipe for you.

For the Goat Meat Balls
3 lbs. ground goat
1 medium white onion, diced
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
2 whole eggs
1/2 bunch parsley, picked and chopped
1/2 bunch marjoram, picked and chopped
2 tbsp. salt, add more if you’d like
2 tbsp. curry powder (our mix is equal parts ground coriander, turmeric, mustard, cumin, fenugreek, cayenne, cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon)
1 tbsp. black pepper
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes, optional for an extra kick

For the Labne Sauce
1/2 lb. labne (we picked Arz Labne for this recipe)
1/2 bunch dill, finely chopped
1/2 bunch mint, finely chopped
1 lemon, juiced
Salt to taste

To make the labne sauce, thoroughly mix all of the ingredients in a bowl. So that all of the flavors meld together, mix the sauce together ahead of time – we made ours the day before the event.

Preheat the oven to 450°F
Mix all of the ingredients in a large bowl – we did this with our hands and latex gloves. You can also use a mixer with the paddle attachment. Try to work quickly and efficiently – you want to make sure all of the ingredients are evenly mixed without over-working the meat. Once all of the ingredients are fully incorporated into the ground goat, form walnut-sized balls – don’t worry, the goat meat is so lean that there won’t be much shrinking when baked! Lay the balls out evenly on a baking tray lined with a lightly oiled sheet of parchment paper. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes. We cooked our goat meatballs under a high broiler for about 12 minutes.
Serve each ball with a dollop of labne sauce!

Braised Goatober Curry

5lb. goat shanks
2 tbsp. cooking oil
1 red onion, sliced
1 small kabocha squash, diced
1 – 40z jar green curry paste
1 bottle Chicken Bone Broth or Beef Bone Broth (we mixed half and half), boiled
1- 13.5 oz can coconut milk

Heat the oil in a small rondeau and brown the goat shanks over medium-high heat. Once the shanks are browned on all sides, remove them and set aside.  In the same rondeau, sweat out the onions until they are cooked through.  Add the kabocha squash dice and brown them on all sides (the dice do not need to be thoroughly cooked just yet). Then, toast the green curry paste in the pot, evenly coating the vegetables.

Re-add the goat shanks to the curry mix and carefully add the boiled bone broth.  If the shanks are not completely covered, add hot water. Bring the braise to a boil and then reduce it down to a simmer.  Allow the braise to simmer for about 90 minutes. At this point, the meat from the shanks should fall off of the bone.  If not, don’t worry, just add more water!  Continue to add water and simmer until the meat is tender enough to shred and fall off of the bone.  Reduce the liquid until it is just looser than your desired consistency – the coconut milk will thicken the curry! Just before removing the braise from the heat, mix in the coconut water.

Serve with coconut rice!

Home Sick… Let’s Talk Soup! (by Emily Pearson)

I write this while eating soup. I’m home sick with no appetite, but still manage to crave soup. It soothes your throat, makes you feel a little better and it’s simple. Homemade chicken soup is my favorite, tomato soup is the runner up, but even a plain pho broth would do on a day like today.

I was thinking of posting a photo on my Instagram: home sick on my 30th birthday with a bowl of soup in my lap. But then I remembered an article I read last week about the difficulty – and importance! – of good food photography.

Soup may be delicious, but does it photograph well? Last week The New York Times ran a story (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/02/dining/food-photography-culinary-schools-instagram.html) about Insta-culture and the correlation between food photography and restaurant success. Maybe my post would get me some sympathy likes on my birthday, but would the photo actually be something I want to live on my Instagram page? After all, a photogenic dish, Mr. Potanovich of The Culinary Institute of America said, is “absolutely” likelier to stay on the menu. So I decided against it.

In retrospect, an Instagram story might have been the way to go. New York chef, Gerardo Gonzalez “admits to being tired of the Instagram photo feed because, he said, “just food can get boring.” He thinks that the key to his restaurant’s survival is the Instagram Story, either photo or video, that disappears after 24 hours and encourages people to take a look more often.”

I guess there is always the next birthday…

-Emily Pearson

GOATOBER: Fun Facts

Click through the gallery to see some fun facts!

Let’s talk…SOUP! (by Ben Tansel)

It’s interesting to see that soup can have so many variations and carry so much meaning with different people and different cultures. From matzo ball soup that can cure almost anything to a hearty potato and ham hock soup that warms to the core and energizes a working man. Even the tomato soup served in school cafeterias can hold some sort of importance – a memory, a feeling. Thick, thin, spicy, sweet, meaty the list goes on and on. Some are meant to nourish and some are just meant to scratch that itch that only a hot bowl of soup can scratch. Much has been written on soup from cookbooks to peer reviewed articles pontificating its history. One may see it referenced in every vain of pop culture from movies to sitcoms, even song lyrics. It’s staggering how often soup is referenced when attention is paid. Seinfeld is one such show that made reference in many episodes. Everyone remembers the Soup Nazi! Personally, soup has always been a desired meal and I wonder sometimes if there are any people out that that down right dislike it.

Early in my culinary career I worked for a Bulgarian man in a Bulgarian Bistro. Every day this chef wanted no less than six soups on the menu. It was crazy to me that such a small restaurant was running that many different kinds of soup. Not only were there six at one time, but the repertoire he drew from was so diverse. He explained to me that soup in his country was common at every meal of the day and had to change from season to season. I think it was here, working for this man, that my real love for soup bloomed.

I am fairly confident that in this melange of soups, most of the herbs we used were illegal. Not because it was pot or mind altering in any way. Rather, they were illegal because his spice shelf was full of hand picked herbs and spices brought to the states by friends and family. Tasting each of the different spices on his shelf was exciting and unfamiliar to me then and honestly, I don’t think I have seen them since.
His soup and cooking drew Bulgarian natives from all over the region. There was always someone visiting that came through his doors to say hello. They would get into drunken food laden conversations for hours and hours on end. On their arrival they always brought two things: Rakija, which is essentially brandy, and some dried plant materials in unmarked bags. His eyes would light up when he saw the new spice or herb. Immediately he asked “do you know what we can do with this?” No, was my usual response, I couldn’t possibly know where to start, but I knew it was going to be a soup!

These soups we never a quick process. Some were quick and easy to prep, but the simmering and extracting of flavor took hours and hours. Others were laborious and time consuming. Making sure each component was added at just the right moment. Making hundreds and hundreds of tiny meatballs to be added gently into the stock so they wouldn’t stick together and lose their perfectly round shape. It was the process, the development, the struggle that made me really fond making soups. It was also this struggle that made me fall in love and allowed me to understand why.

– Ben Tansel

Charcuterie Tasting with Antonio Fiasche of ‘Nduja Artisans

It’s a beautiful day in Brooklyn. Hot, but it is only 11am and the communal picnic table that sits in the middle of the Heritage Foods warehouse is quickly filling up with charcuterie. This augurs well for a good day at work.

Antonio from ‘Nduja Artisans in Chicago is in town for a whirlwind restaurant tour with Emily, our Director of Wholesale to drum up some business for his most excellent line of cured meats. But the first stop is Heritage and why not? Antonio uses literally over two tons (4000+ lbs!) of Heritage pork every month to make his treats. While most of corporate America is staring at spreadsheets or tossing marketing jargon at each other, the men and women of Heritage are getting ready to taste some of the best salumi ever to come out of a city famous for being the hog butcher to the world.

The beef charcuterie — the bresaola and the salumi di manzo (both made from waygu beef) — are instant faves, but the battery of pork treats always wins the day here at Heritage.

Culatello, what Anthony calls “the king of salami,” is supremely fatty with a sweet funk that could be cause for addiction. “It’s so awesome because we’re cutting it from the heart of the prosciutto,” Antonio explains, “it’s boneless, skinless, and tied up to look like a tear drop – all from heritage pork.”

Mortadella made from Berkshire pigs and gorgeous pistachio is so creamy it would melt on warm toast. The Calabrese, aka hot soppressata, is pure dynamite. Pancetta is cured for two weeks and aged another fourteen. The jowls are purely decadent, as they should be. The finocchiona makes one Heritage staffer cry, so poetic is the blend of fennel pollen and chianti.

“Most of the speck in Italy is a little too smoky and dry,” Antonio says, matter-of-factly, as we graze across the table. His, made from Duroc and Berkshire pork, with rosemary, juniper, a little garlic, and red wine, is smoked three times but holds its sweetness. It’s just a little bit salty.

Hot coppa and chorizo are up next, with Antonio admiring his own work: “Damn good for an Italian guy making a Spanish style sausage! The pimentón we use is amazing…and we learned about it from Jose Andres.”

And finally, the cremosa tartufata – a paté of spreadable salumi with truffles. Very sexy for 11am, it really needs to be paired with bone dry, cold champagne, but it is still almost an hour before cocktail time…

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