Salumi is trending on grocery shelves and restaurant menus nationwide
By Kathleen Furore
Charcuterie (pronounced "shar-KYOO-ter-ee")
is the art of making sausages and other cured, smoked and preserved meats.
—The Spruce (thespruce.com)
From the shelves of specialty grocery stores to the elaborate wooden boards laden with artisan meats, cheeses and accompaniments like mustards and quince, charcuterie is having its moment in the spotlight.
“I personally have been working in the industry since 2008 and the demand has always been good, but not like it is now,” reports Enrico Porrino, operations manager at Olli Salumeria, a relative newcomer to the artisan meat market. The company, headquartered in Mechanicsville, Virginia, was founded in 2010. “You can see it in retail and in foodservice – there are more and more charcuterie plates and charcuterie boards on menus. That has always been normal in Europe, now it is growing here, too.”
Charcuterie, in fact, was one of the top trends in the National Restaurant Association (NRA) “What’s Hot in 2017” Culinary Forecast. House-made charcuterie ranked #4 in the forecast’s Top 20 Food Trends for 2017, with 69 percent of chefs calling it a “Hot Trend.”
“This cured-meat answer to the cheese plate is popular with chefs and diners alike,” the forecast said. “Meat-loving consumers are gobbling it up and chefs, using all parts of the animal to prepare it, can potentially lower their food costs in the process. It’s a tasty win-win for everyone.”
Incidentally, artisan cheeses – which often accompany artisan meats on charcuterie plates – ranked #18 on the list of Top 20 Food Trends for 2017.
Lorenza Pasetti, president of Volpi Foods – a St. Louis, Missouri-based company that has been in the business of dry-cured artisan meats since 1902 – agrees there has been a noticeable uptick in the charcuterie movement.
“The popularity of dry-cured meats in general and charcuterie – salumi in Italian – is gaining in popularity and this is translating into increased usage by consumers of all types,” Pasetti says.
Like Porrino, Pasetti sees the trend resonating across the food spectrum – which is good news for producers of artisan meat products.
“We have seen large increases in both retail and foodservice,” reports Pasetti, who says Prosciutto, Coppa, and Genoa and Felino salami are among Volpi’s most popular offerings. “For some years now, chefs around the country have been testing their own abilities to house-cure meats in their restaurants and serving them to their guests, introducing them to the ancient art of dry-curing meat. As with many food trends, we see the migration from restaurant offerings to the retail segment.”
What’s Driving Demand
Why are these artisan meats – which have been around for centuries – experiencing such a resurgence?
Flavor and versatility play important roles, Pasetti notes.
“There are real reasons behind the popularity: products are protein-rich, taste great and are easily prepared,” Pasetti offers. “Not only are these products easy to prepare and assemble [as charcuterie plates], they are also perfect for entertaining.”
The trend dovetails well with the communal dining experiences consumers seek.
Today’s diners are interested in “creating community,” Technomic's “2017 Consumer Trends Forecast” reveals. “Concepts will increasingly be positioned as places for people and communities to connect, give back, recuperate, and foster diversity and inclusivity.”
“Charcuterie is a good way to start dinner…to enjoy time with friends,” says Porrino. “Charcuterie is like a good wine – everybody has their own favorite, and every variety has its own, distinct flavor.”
With artisan meats, that flavor comes courtesy of the curing process. “The longer you keep meat in the curing room, the better it is for the flavor,” explains Porrino, who notes that Olli cures products for 90 days to achieve its distinct artisanal flavor profile.
Pre-Sliced and Pre-Packed Gain Traction
While charcuterie is popular in all its formats, both Olli and Volpi are seeing a rise in demand for pre-sliced, pre-packaged products.
Olli, for example, now offers a 16-oz. tray of pre-sliced salame for Costco, as well as convenient 4-oz. packs. The company also is in the process of launching snack packs.
“There is a lot of competition in the snack pack category and we are launching one with two ounces of meat, three slices of cheese and three crackers,” Porrino says. “We’re also offering a small pack – one sleeve with 1.5 oz. of salame that you can just open and eat.”
That move toward pre-sliced, packaged products has made the slicing process more important than ever.
“With the introduction of transitional products such as pre-cut or sliced products, additional machinery and more automation is needed to transform these traditional products in ways the consumer can easily and conveniently use them,” Pasetti says.
Porrino calls slicing “the core of our operation.
“We’ve jumped production up to 40,000 to 50,000 pounds of pre-sliced salame a week and hopefully are planning to double that soon,” says Porrino. “We have a Textor TS700 and it is working very well…we use it every day with good results. We stay in touch with Weber and they give us good tips about working with the Textor machine… how to properly use the blade to cut the meats clean and fast.”
Slicing, in fact, is so important that Pasetti calls it, "The future of the industry.”
“We rely heavily on our Weber slicers to perform. Our customers need consistent thin sliced products, conveniently packaged. Weber slicers give us consistent output. The reliability of Weber is unsurpassed,” Pasetti concludes.
From Restaurants to Retailers – Everyone is Embracing Charcuterie
What has always been a European staple is now almost ubiquitous in the U.S., too.
As a July 2017 post at italianfood.net notes,
“Pre-sliced cured meat, from salami to mortadella, is gaining shelf space in the United States as demand for snacks and quick meals grows.”
The trend is catching on at grocery stores and in restaurants in small towns and big cities alike.
Shoppers In Griffith, Indiana, can pick up all the ingredients to make a creative charcuterie plate at Char-cu-te-rie – a specialty grocery store stocked with artisanal cured meats like Prosciutto De Parma, Serrano Ham, dry salami, pancetta and Capicola, as well as a selection of cheeses, fresh bread and items such as grainy mustards and sweet quince. And at Harmon’s Grocery in Salt Lake City, customers can find a selection of charcuterie products – many from Olli.
In Chicago, Bar Pastoral – a cheese and wine bistro adjacent to Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine’s flagship store in the thriving Lakeview neighborhood – offers a traditional Raclette featuring charcuterie, artisan bread, vegetables, condiments and melted cheese. Customers who want to make artisanal meats a bigger part of their culinary lives can join Pastoral’s Charcuterie of the Month Club, or shop one of the company’s four stores – all offering a selection of artisan meats, cheeses and wines.
And in Atlanta, a charcuterie station is the centerpiece of the casual Saltwood Charcuterie & Bar inside the Loews Atlanta Hotel, where – as the website says – “Diners can pull up bar stools to sample house-made and locally sourced items and sip on handcrafted cocktails and local microbrews while watching the restaurant’s charcuterie chef hand-carve meats and assemble charcuterie plates.”