Food & Drink / Kevin Hanney and Bob McGee of 12th Ave. Grill were among the chefs in attendance at Aidells’ charcuterie class. McGee, experienced in charcuterie techniques, says he loves it because it’s a way “to get the most out of an animal. And for love of the flavor of the pig.” At the moment, he has bresaola–cured, dried beef–hanging in the walk-in. When finished, it should have a “big black pepper hit with a little bit of juniper,” he says. He’s also recently pulled out of the smoker a Big Island wild boar shoulder, which he pickled and smoked with a paprika rub, similar to a New Orleans-style tasso.
Bruce Aidells is no longer the man behind Aidells Sausage Company, even though his name, face and signature is on the front of every package. He recently came to Honolulu to teach culinary professionals and KCC students the basics of charcuterie. The class capitalized on Hawaii chefs’ growing interest in processed meats outside of Spam.
The Weekly caught up with Aidells to talk meat while he was in town.
Charcuterie seems to have gotten really popular in America over the last few years. Why do you think that is?
Couple of reasons: A lot more people travel now, so they get exposed to this stuff in Italy, especially. The stuff chefs tend to be interested in are more Italian than French, frankly. There aren’t a whole lot of artisan producers in the United States. So if they want stuff of that quality, they feel like they need to make it themselves.
You’re working on a new cookbook now, is that correct?
I handed it in last Monday. We’re revisiting the whole world of meat cookery because my editor [for The Complete Meat Cookbook] just felt that so much had changed, mostly in people’s attitudes about meat as the result of lots of newspaper articles and documentaries.
[There’s also] the availability now of so much more choice. You’ve got the Big Island with a bunch of guys that are trying to do a bunch of alternative meats raised on pasture and that kind of thing. That meat is different to cook. So we felt we had to deal with that. [On the mainland], there’s an interest in goat now, certainly in bison.
Also, the commodity prices [for meat] are just going through the roof. Meat has gotten really expensive. So we felt that we needed to cover what I call underutilized, underappreciated cuts because people don’t know what to do with them. So we have a lot more braises dealing with shanks, bellies, necks, those kinds of things.
Along with a wider variety of meats and consciousness about how it’s raised, what do you think or hope the next meat trend will be?
As you know, the old neighborhood butcher shop, or butcher shop period, is pretty much gone. There’s a number of chefs that got really interested in butchery so there’s a beginning of a movement to start an artisan butchers’ guild. [This is] one of the meat trends that I really hope is successful. A number of butcher shops are starting to open that are offering alternatives to the industrial meat supply. We have two to three in San Francisco, there are some in New York, Chicago… I noticed some in LA. I think that’s going to grow. [The butchers’] drive is more passion than economics but I think they can make it financially. That, to me, is very good.
The restaurants are definitely interested in trying all kinds of stuff. The goat thing is really starting to catch on in my area. And not just [in] San Francisco. New York, Chicago, Seattle… And that’s because there’s actually a supply now of high-quality, young meat, versus old dairy goats that were used for meat.
Any new food products that you’re working on?
I’m involved with these pig producers in Iowa that raise Duroc, [a heritage breed of] pigs. I make ham and bacon for them under their brand Vande Rose. Ultimately, they want me to start a line of sausages but we haven’t started yet.
What’s unique about the ham and bacon?
It’s made the way it used to be made so it actually tastes great. That area of the meat business, the USDA has changed their laws to allow people to sell ham that’s got a high water content. You’re actually allowed to pump water into it.
If you start with really good pork, and don’t mess with it, it makes really, really delicious stuff. That’s pretty much it. We use real wood to smoke with, not liquid smoke; we use applewood. We take the time to cure it properly. The bacon takes seven to 10 days to cure, the hams just as long. My attitude has always been, I’m not trying to make a mass market product, I’m interested in people who care about what they put in their mouth. That’s my audience. That’s who I care about.