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Le Bailliage du Greater Washington, DC Chapter

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Learning the Secrets of Salami at MeatCrafters

November 7, 2018

By Bill Babash, Vice Chargé de Presse, Bailliage of Greater Washington, D.C.

Bailliage members first learned about Maître Restaurateur Mitch Berliner's passion for high-quality, local food in August, when he hosted a tour of the Bethesda Central Farm Market, which he founded in 2008. (Read about Mitch and the farmers' market here.)

On November 7, 2018, Mitch introduced members of the Bailliage to his latest venture, MeatCrafters, which produces artisanal sausage, salami, and cured meats in Landover, Maryland.

Mitch says he's always been fascinated by salami, and his wife, Debra Moser, finally said, "Do it!" So, in 2015 they established MeatCrafters in partnership with Stan Feder, who in 2005 had founded a company called Simply Sausage. Stan has long been a charcuterie aficionado, and after a career as a research political scientist, he was able to focus on that passion. Stan honed his sausage-making skills with apprenticeships in Vancouver and study in Spain. At Simply Sausage, he counted José Andres and the Inn at Little Washington among his customers. Today, MeatCrafters is the only artisanal salami producer in the Washington region.

Mitch provided attendees with a fascinating lesson on salami production. Most did not realize that while salami and sausage share the same starting point, salami is fermented and aged rather than being cooked as sausage is. This ancient method preserves food through dehydration and a reduction in pH to the point that bacteria cannot survive. First invented by the early Egyptians, today we are familiar with variants of the technique in yogurt, salted fish, and the transformation of cabbage into sauerkraut or kimchi. A bit of dextrose in the raw salami gives the starter cultures food for the fermentation (just as a bit of sugar is necessary to feed the yeast in bread), but it is entirely consumed by the fermentation, leaving no sugar in the final product. Once fermented and at the right pH – a process known as "blooming" -- the salamis are hung from "trees," where they continue to dry for up to three months, depending on their size, in custom built temperature- and humidity-controlled aging rooms.

Because salamis are not cooked, food safety is of paramount importance. It took MeatCrafters eight months – a relatively short time – to receive its USDA certification and, like all such facilities, it must provide an office for a USDA inspector, who is frequently on-site.

MeatCrafters uses top quality, whole-muscle meats – pork, beef, and lamb – locally sourced whenever possible and which they grind in-house. Spices and seasonings are carefully selected and stored in climate-controlled rooms, and only natural casings are used. These are the starting points for some amazing and creative flavors. The fermentation provides the desirable yogurt-like "tang," which is balanced with seasonings to achieve the desired – or occasionally deliciously accidental – flavor. Mitch recounted an attempt to make a pork salami seasoned with fennel pollen, garlic, and red wine. When the first batch of the product was ready for tasting, everyone was surprised. The salami was very good but not what was expected. It turns out the spice supplier had inadvertently sent dill pollen rather than fennel pollen. Mitch suggested making it a special at the farmers market to sell the "mistake." But people loved it, and today "The Dillio" salami is one of MeatCrafters' most popular. Their 60 varieties of salami include "Chesapeake" seasoned with Maryland crab seasoning; "Ararat" with smoked paprika, fenugreek, and chilis from Turkey; and the only lamb salami in the country. For large customers, MeatCrafters will produce custom varieties of salami or sausage.

Innovation is a common theme at MeatCrafters. They invented "Skinny Salami," which, at less than an inch in diameter, is a delicious high-protein, low-carb snack, available in varieties ranging from "Black Angus Beef" to "Casbah Pork" to "Street Cart Shawarma." Beyond salami, MeatCrafters produces an amazing duck prosciutto and unique sausages ranging from Santa Fe Chicken with dried mangos and sweet habanero chili to lamb merguez with fennel and mint accented with coriander, cumin, and oregano.

Chef Alex Mejia is central to the creativity at MeatCrafters. For 11 years, he was the sous chef and managed the kitchen at José Andres' Jaleo restaurant in Washington. Simply Sausage had been making sausage for Andres and eventually Alex came to Simply Sausage – and now MeatCrafters – where he is currently the chief sausage maker and credited with many delicious recipes for sausage and salamis.

The bailliage's visit to MeatCrafters included, of course, a tasting. Mitch proudly shared samples of the duck prosciutto and a range of salamis and sausages. Hearty breads and two Burgundies from the bailliage's cellar (a Rossignol Volnay Premier Cru "Clos des Angles" 2012 and a Domain Duroch Gevrey Chambertin 2015) rounded out the delicious session. Everyone agreed – MeatCrafters has elevated charcuterie to a new level, right here in the Washington suburbs.

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