MECHANICSVILLE, Md. — “It’s how you take an $800 hog and turn it into a $2,500 hog,” said Craig Sewell, Southern Maryland Meats Program manager, as he addressed the attendees of the first Value-Added Meat Processing Charcuterie Workshop.
He was referring to charcuterie, a word that originated in France and translates to “pork butcher shop.” It is used today to describe the art of cooking that involves prepared meats, such as ham, salami, sausage, prosciutto, bacon and confit.
These charcuterie items are displayed on platters, or boards, as they are often called, with other items like cheese, nuts, fruits and breads, and it has become all the rage with restaurants, bars, wineries and home parties in the last decade. It is used to feature products that provide a full sensory experience — from the pleasing sight of the board arrangement, to the way the food delights the palate, to its pairing with beer and wine.
Urban consumers are willing to pay local farmers a high price.
Due to its popularity, the Value-Added Meat Processing Charcuterie Workshop was hosted in St. Mary’s County.
Held on Feb. 7 and 8 at the newly completed Westham Butcher Shop, a meat processing facility in Mechanicsville, the intensive charcuterie workshop focused on value-added pork production. The course introduced various value-added meat products, hands-on charcuteries butchering and preparation, and taught participants to confidently cure meats via salt, smoke and dehydration.
Taught by nationally known butcher and author Meredith Leigh, the course sold out.
Over the past 17 years, Leigh has worked as a farmer, butcher, chef, teacher, nonprofit executive director and writer, all in pursuit of good food. She is the author of “The Ethical Meat Handbook: A Complete Guide to Home Butchery, Charcuterie, and Cooking for the Conscious Omnivore” and “Pure Charcuterie: The Craft and Poetry of Curing Meats at Home.”
Leigh works part time for Living Web Farms, and she travels extensively teaching charcuterie and food production and processing. She also pursues other writing, namely poetry and nonfiction focused on the intersection of land and people, and land and the culinary sphere, with work featured in Crop Stories, Edible publications, and other food and agricultural publications.
As the group of 20 attendees gathered on the first day of class, they included livestock farmers, chefs, at home food enthusiasts, a local hunter, and even a representative from the Smithsonian National Museum’s Agriculture exhibit.
By the end of the course, each of them had wielded a sharpened butcher knife through the premium hog donated by local PA Bowen Farmstead and humanely slaughtered on site by the Westham butchers. While doing so they learned the names, cooking potential and customer values of each cut, as well as proper techniques, safety procedures and recipes.
Leigh commented that her premise approaching livestock raised for consumption is “that they deserve a good life, a good death, a good butcher, and a good cook. No one in that chain is exempt in making good food.”
“Farmers do this really sacred work of raising a good animal for people to eat. You don’t want to ruin that during the slaughter and processing process. You don’t want to disrespect the carcass,” she said. “For too long the physical, emotional and spiritual burden has been solely on the farmer in producing food. But it shouldn’t be. It’s everyone’s job on the path to make good food.”
These production practices speak to the mission of the Southern Maryland Meats program.
“SMADC, and its Southern Maryland Meats program, is proud to be leading the effort to solidify our local food supply chain and enable its growth by keeping the entire farm to table process close to home, efficient, creative and profitable for our farmers,” Sewell said. “The program helps capitalize on southern Maryland’s farmers’ efforts to raise meats in a natural, healthy and environmentally friendly way.”
The Charcuterie Workshop was the second in a Southern Maryland Meats series, which began in November with the Whole Animal Butchery taught by Camas Davis and Adam Danforth.
On the second day of the workshop, participants brought in their own recipes and added ingredients and made their own custom charcuterie products.
“I was excited to use my husband’s grandmother’s sausage recipe,” said Sarah Good, a farmer from La Plata.
At the end of the second day, the group had a feast, all of which had been handcrafted by them and cooked onsite for a celebratory dinner. Attendees also walked away with pounds of take home products.