Chef Justin Everett fell in love with charcuterie during his two years at Bouchon working as garde-manger. He transplanted his skills to El Dorado Kitchen, where an in-house charcuterie program of his design is featured on the restaurant’s artisanal menu. Everett showcases his craftsmanship while allowing his customers to choose from a wide price range of dishes from a $15 charcuterie sampler to a $60 “artisanal tour.” In this way, Everett simultaneously takes advantage of the popular “small plates” concept and profits from what can amount to a $60 appetizer.
As far as being cost effective, “whole pig is the way to go” says Everett. In January, Everett was paying around $250 each for 85-pound farm-raised pigs from Hobbs' Applewood Smoked Meats in San Rafael. These were used from head-to-tail in various incarnations of charcuterie, including sausage, pancetta, bresaola, lomo, terrines, pâtés, and rillettes. After several months the Hobbs pigs became too small for Everett’s growing needs. He now sources one large pig (weighing 160- to 180 pounds) every month and a half from nearby Riverdog Farm or Devils Gulch Ranch. Everett has also begun a synergistic relationship with nearby Benziger ranch, which raises pigs for El Dorado in return for the animals’ “contribution to their biodynamic preparations” (i.e. fertilizer).
Everett has found that he gets a better return on the purchase of larger pigs, which run him around the $3 per pound mark for a 180-pound pig. With the larger pigs, he finds that he is turning more and more of the meat into cured items. He also prefers the taste of these larger pigs compared to the smaller ones he used to source (his next project is sourcing the renowned—and pricey—woolly Mangalitsa pigs).
When Everett needs more primal cuts than a single animal can deliver, he supplements his stock by ordering cuts individually from Hobbs. Prices per pound can run from $4.38/pound for pork loin or $2.98/pound for pork belly. And it gets cheaper. Everett creates an elegant pâté de campagne made from $.98 /pound pork liver and $1.79/pound pork shoulder that he sells at $8 for a four-ounce portion.
Everett proves that a good charcutier’s arsenal need not be expensive nor take up much room. He’s had his handyman build him a custom curing chest, which is merely a wooden box fitted with an air conditioning unit. To make his sausages, Everett uses a sausage stuffer from The Sausage Maker's website to get the forcemeat into synthetic casings (their cheapest model of stuffer sells for around $80). He does this twice a week to make a garlic sausage (to top his pizzas) and fennel sausage (served with a tapenade and fennel pollen).
A charcutier will turn out better products with experience, but the basic process is easily within reach of the novice. The forcemeat in Everett’s garlic sausages is made from ground pork shoulder combined with garlic and sherry. The casings are stuffed, poached in a water bath, and transferred to the walk-in where they dry for a month.
Everett also makes a Spanish-style dry-cured pork tenderloin, or lomo, that is served with Meyer lemon and Parmigiano. The loins are coated with a rub and cured for a total of 14 days after which they spend six weeks in the curing chest. Everett ensures the safety of his diners by sending a sample to a lab in San Francisco to test for pathogens every month.
Though the turnaround times on sausage and lomo are relatively low compared to 24-month aged country hams and prosciuttos, patience is still the key to good charcuterie. Either way, the suspense is the fun part, and as Everett puts it, “[charcuterie] is the most rewarding thing, because you don’t know how it’s going to turn out until it’s done.”
Breakdown of a Whole Pig: