If you've recently savored a sliver of artisan salami on the West Coast of the US, there is a decent chance that it came from Portland, Oregon-based Olympia Provisions. And if it didn't, it should have.
And if you consider charcuterie to be a food group of its own, it would be wise for you to check out the restaurant's brand new cookbook, Olympia Provisions: Cured Meats and Tales from an American Charcuterie. It breaks down the art of charcuterie and makes the process as approachable as it will ever be. Just imagine your ridiculously overstuffed sandwiches crammed with ribbons of homemade pistachio-studded mortadella and piles of the Greek salami known as loukanika.
MUNCHIES spoke to the restaurant's executive chef Alex Yoder—who has been with Olympia Provisions since the start—to find out what it meant to become the first USDA-approved restaurant in Oregon and how the use of nitrates has sparked consumer fears.
MUNCHIES: Hi, Alex. How did you become the first USDA-certified salumeria in Oregon? Alex Yoder: At the time, our landlord came to us and suggested we simply open a lunch place that did sandwiches and salads, since are a lot of offices nearby and they would welcome anything, really. However, my bosses had popular creative restaurants in the past, and while that may been the best move business-wise, it just didn't seem exciting enough for us.
So what made us excited? Charcuterie! We knew we wanted to do it really seriously, too. This meant becoming USDA-certified in order to eventually scale and be able sell to supermarkets and other restaurants around the globe.
How did the transition to become USDA-certified look like? It made running a food establishment even more disciplined and organized than it already is. At our meat plant, we have floor drains; we sanitize every inch every single night. You could only work certain hours—USDA hours—which are 7 AM to 3 PM. We have rigid operating procedures that are required when you safely age meat at room temperature, so your team has to be a lot more organized. That kind of thing.
How much charcuterie do you sell on any given day? Our basic building block is pork shoulder, and we go through hundreds of pounds daily.
The cookbook gets rather technical in some parts. Was it aimed at home cooks or professionals? The idea with the cookbook was that we wanted to provide something that was precise and accurate for all of our meat, specifically to be transparent and show how we don't cut corners in any of our products. We wanted to depart from the normal dialogue of cookbooks, something that captured the spirit of charcuterie and the art of meat processing in general.
I hope that people make some of the recipes. Once you make some of them at least once, it's really not that hard, especially with our rillettes and confits.
The book mentions the fact that spinach, beets, lettuce, and cabbage all respectively have at least 400 times more nitrate than bacon or hot dogs. What's your philosophy on nitrites and nitrates? The big picture is that if you are concerned about nitrite, you would have other health problems relating to the sheer amount of fat you would have to eat before you have to worry about nitrite.
Do you have any motivational words for home cooks to get over their fear of DIY charcuterie? My number one piece of advice to any cook is to know what you are after. I think the best way to learn to cook something is to really enjoy eating it first. In other words, if you've had pâté and really like the fact that it had pistachios in it and that it is wrapped in pancetta, start with those things first.
If you are just picking up something with no frame of reference, it's going to be hard to figure out how things go together. But if you have a sense of what you are after, it will be a lot easier. Not just reading the steps but understanding each and every one of them.
Thanks for speaking with me.