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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
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…
“I have baby turkeys everywhere!”
It’s that time of year, summer in Kansas, and the heat is rising. “Turkeys have to be hatched before June to be ready for Thanksgiving,” says Frank Reese. “But these birds do real well in the heat – they aren’t morbidly obese, so they can handle it. And unlike on an industrial farm, they have trees and shade and get plenty of fresh water… commercial turkeys suffer a lot in the heat. Those birds have been genetically selected to grow as fast as possible.”
“A turkey is no better than the farmer behind it. And the genetics, of course,” says Frank, whose turkeys are one of the only flocks in America to receive certification by the American Poultry Association as purebreds, standards that were set in 1873.
“The biggest thing this year is that we’ve added three new farms to meet a bigger demand. We never seem to have enough — hopefully this year if everything goes well we’ll have twice as many turkeys as last year. But it’s still a drop in the bucket — our four farmers together are going to raise what one big commercial plant will do in a week
“What people don’t realize that when you send turkeys to get processed, they don’t all come out as birds in a bag — some birds are bruised and you can’t sell it as a whole Grade A bird. Truthfully we lose very few turkeys to cosmetic things — but to the big guys, they don’t care as much about their animals because they don’t make money off of whole turkeys, they make money off of deli meat. For an industrial producer, that’s where the money is. For them a whole turkey at Thanksgiving is like a giveaway. But when that turkey you usually sell for 99 cents a pound is instead smoked and put in an eight ounce package that now costs five dollars, you’re now selling that same bird for ten bucks a pound. And that’s why they only sell hens as whole birds — their toms they get up to 40 lbs in 14 weeks and sell as deli meat.”
An industrial turkey farm can get a 20 lb. hen in 12 weeks, or a 40 lb tom in 14 weeks. My hens, in 12 weeks only weigh 7 or 8 lbs – and we won’t process them till 24 or 28 weeks when their live weight is 15-16 lbs. My toms — in 24 weeks weigh 24 lbs— a commercial factory turkey in that much time would weigh 44 lbs, and they don’t quit growing. They’ll get to 50 – 60 lbs and weigh too much for their legs to carry. I don’t lose any turkeys because of obesity because I haven’t selected them to be so fat that they cant live.
“The industry has made their money off of uniformity… there can be no variance, no difference. My turkeys don’t all come out the same – it is a totally different system.
“All the industrial turkeys have salt water added – they call it flavor enhancers – but sometimes its more than just salt. They figure most people don’t know how to cook a bird properly, and they figure it will keep the turkey from turning into dry leather. The truth is that because they raise these birds so fast and kill them so young, they don’t develop a layer of fat. My birds are harvested at a normal age and maturity, and having that maturity brings taste, flavor, texture. The industry has removed that — what people are used to now, the taste of turkey they think they love, is mostly just added salt.
Long-time Heritage customers know that we got our start selling Frank’s turkeys, and our relationship with him truly is the cornerstone of our business. Frank can count among his fans Alice Waters, who says “These birds are without a doubt the tastiest birds you can possibly serve,” and Mario Batali, who proudly claims “I’ve served these birds for my Thanksgiving every year for the past 12 years and always will.”
Frank is a true hero of the heritage food movement — he is the first and one of the only sustainable commercial farmers to receive certification by the American Poultry Association, and the USDA, for his birds as purebreds— and he has been featured in publications ranging from The New York Times to National Geographic. His story is the Rosetta Stone of sustainable farming, and the reason why when it comes to meat, the word “heritage” is synonymous with “heirloom.” Good Shepherd turkeys are the oldest line of turkey in America, 100 percent antibiotic free, and pasture raised on the Kansas prairie.
When Nancy Silverton was getting ready to open up Osteria Mozza and Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles, her partners, Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich, gave her very little direction. “Joe had an idea for an amaro focus at the bar, and of course we had Italian wine. As far as the food, Mario trusted us, but he wanted us to look into working with Patrick and Heritage Foods, which was still very new….
We are so honored to be partners in the launch of Casella’s Prosciutto Speciale, a unique and delicious addition to the American food scene. Our heritage breed prosciutto is something special, or as The New York Times says “outstanding” — each one celebrates true American flavor.
Casella’s follows a time-honored Italian recipe — happy, healthy pigs, salt and time. Each leg of prosciutto is aged slowly, on the bone. At Casella’s there is no rush. Only a commitment to create a high quality, American-made prosciutto in line with the standards of the Italian prosciutto consortia. The results are consistently gorgeous — juicy, marbled meat with a delicate nutty flavor.
Cesare Casella grew up in a small town in the countryside of Tuscany, where his family ran a little trattoria. As a boy, he awaited the arrival of the norcini, the traveling butchers who came each year to make the salumi. Before he could barely see over the table, he was helping to prepare salumi and would care for it as it hung in the cellar. Since those early days in Lucca, Cesare has welcomed a successful career as a chef in New York City, opening several restaurants, becoming the Dean of Italian Cooking at the ICC, and of course, continuing to make salumi. With Casella’s Salumi Speciali, he hopes to transport you back to the flavors and experiences he knew when he was a boy.
Casella’s is made using only our pasture-raised, antibiotic-free, heritage breed pigs including Red Wattle, Berkshire, Tamworth, Gloucestershire Old Spot, Large Black and Duroc. Each breed of ham has a slightly different flavor.
Click on the links below to visit our storefront:
1. CASELLA’S PROSCIUTTO SPECIALE, Sliced Eight 4oz packs
2. CASELLA’S PROSCIUTTO SPECIALE, Sliced Four 4oz packs
3. CASELLA’S PROSCIUTTO SPECIALE, Whole One 9.5-10lb ham
Secreto is a term used for a butcher’s secret cut. Crafted by master artisan Thomas Odermatt, our Secreto, cut from the short loin, brings 200 years of butchering tradition to your table….
Served at chi Spacca in Los Angeles, Chef Cesare Casella shares his recipe for braised ribs with us. Get ready for a fall-off-the-bone, melt-in-your-mouth flavor bomb!
News of the Heritage Foods partnership with master curemaster, chef, educator, and guru Cesare Casella has spread like wildfire — Cesare is a leader in the new movement for Heritage American charcuterie, and no one is more excited than, well, Cesare!
“The lardo, the rosemary, the juniper berries, the curing salts, those smells are inside my head,” says Cesare. “They are part of me. It’s like being an alchemist. The norcino salumiere transforms the butchers’ meat into something traditional and beautiful. That is what I want to do. And for me, it’s family. Tending the salumi as they age is like caring for my pets as they grow up and mature. They become my best friends!”
The tradition of the norcini started in the town of Norcia in Umbria, high in the Apennines, a place famous for its cured meats. Farming conditions were poor in the mountains, so Norcians ate what they had plenty of, which was the cinghiale, or wild boar, that roamed the forests. They also raised their own pigs, then cured the meats so it would keep for long periods, an art that evolved over the centuries. In time, the norcini became so expert, their art was recognized both by the state and by the Catholic Church. After the trade group, the Confraternita Norcina was founded in 1615, it received the blessing of Pope Paul V. The norcini were considered so skilled, they were allowed to practice surgery, dentistry and bone setting.
The original norcini typically traveled in pairs. There was the butcher who cut up the meat and broke it down, and the salumiere, who turned that meat into salumi. Together, the norcini made the salumi for every season, from fresh sausage for the next day, to prosciutto for the following year. Each duo had its own routes and loyal farmers that it serviced year again and again, and as the men crisscrossed Italy, they carried with them the secret recipes and processes for creating prosciutto and salumi. There were generations of norcini who passed along their secrets to their apprentices who in turn cared for the same family farms decade after decade.
After World War II, as pig farming became industrialized, the norcini began to fade from the Italian countryside, and the visits made to the Casella family and Vipore grew more and more rare. Eventually Cesare took on some of the butchering and salumi-making and also worked with local butchers to get the flavors he wanted for Vipore. His platters of cacciatorini, finocchiona and sopressata became one of the restaurant’s trademarks.
The tradition of the norcini and the flavors and smells of salumi-making in the Italian countryside are what Cesare is drawing on with Casalla’s Salumi Speciali. He is working with farmers dedicated to raising pork as the Norcians did for centuries. Their pigs, he likes to say, are happy pigs. They roam pastures freely. They run around and they roll in the mud. They loll. They’re not dosed with antibiotics. When Cesare makes prosciutto, he cures it on the bone, just as the Norcians did, for that deep, authentic nutty flavor. Just like the norcini, Cesare has his own special recipe for the spices to make his salami and prosciutti.
One of the most exciting things happening here at Heritage in the New Year is our newly-forged relationship with Cesare Casella, master Michelin-starred chef, the Dean of Italian Studies at the International Culinary Center and celebrated restaurateur….