by Bill Babash, Vice Chargé de Presse
The husband-and-wife team of Maître Restaurateur Mitch Berliner and Debra Moser led the Bailliage of Greater Washington through a delicious, entertaining, and educational evening discovering the charcuterie of MeatCrafters, their Landover, Maryland, company, along with artisanal cheese from Firefly Farms and locally crafted chocolate from Chocotenango, all accompanied by an outstanding wine.
All of the elements of the Charcuterie Showcase were delivered to participants homes before the February 12, 2021 gathering on Zoom. That evening, Bailli Judy Mazza welcomed members and guests around the Washington region and as far away as Vermont, Florida, and Washington state, from where Bailli Délégué des États-Unis Bertrand de Boutray joined the event. “B de B,” as he is known, commented on his passion for charcuterie and thanked members for supporting the Chaîne throughout the pandemic.
MeatCrafters is the only USDA-approved salami producer in the Washington region and Mitch and Debra tell the story how they got into this niche business: Mitch had spent his career in upscale specialty foods, growing a successful distribution business, but never owning the brands – they were always other people’s products. Eventually, Mitch was ready for retirement. He sold the business and said, “I’m done!” Debra thought that was fine but insisted that he couldn’t just stay home. Mitch told her, “Great, I’ve always wanted to make salami.” She thought he was talking about doing something in their refrigerator. Debra says, “Little did I realize that 12 years later we’d have an 8,000 sq. ft. USDA-approved plant.” Why salami? Mitch explained that he was fascinated by the fact that salami is not cooked, but rather is fermented and cured – he was drawn to the art and science of it.
Mitch introduced Aaron Kushner, General Manger of MeatCrafters, who gave participants a photo tour of the company’s production facility and a lesson in the fascinating science of salami: To start the fermentation, the ground and seasoned meat is inoculated with a penicillium bacteria. This raises the salami’s acidity enough to kill the harmful bacteria that can cause food poisoning. While this makes the salami safe, it creates an unpleasant, tart flavor. Desirable mold is therefore encouraged to form on the salami to produce ammonia, which lowers the pH and mellows and enhances the flavor. The salami is then dried in custom-built aging rooms that hold 7,000 salamis. Mitch and Debra noted that because salami is not cooked, USDA oversight is rigorous to ensure its safety.
With the knowledge of how salami is made, it was time to taste the several varieties that MeatCrafters had included in the charcuterie showcase:
- Chorizo de Pamplona – traditional Spanish flavors with the heat of cayenne and the warmth of smoked pimento
- Ararat – Turkish and Armenian inspired, with fenugreek, urfa biber, and smoked paprika
- Truffle – with real black and white truffles, and an Italian black and white truffle pâté
- Fennel – with the pollen from the fennel flower instead of the seeds, for a milder, sweeter taste
- Cacciatore – a traditional Italian recipe with sea salt, black pepper, and garlic
- Cinta – Indonesian inspired, with long pepper, lemon zest, mace, and lavender
While the flavor profiles of MeatCrafters salami varieties are usually thoughtfully developed and delicately balanced, one is a happy accident. Mitch and Debra told the story of making a 400-pound batch of the fennel salami. To test for flavor before producing the product, the staff cooked up a bit of the seasoned meat. Upon tasting, they immediately knew it wasn’t fennel. It turns out that their spice supplier had sent dill pollen in error. The staff asked what they should do. Debra told them to make it into salami – at that point what else could they do? The plan was to try it out at the MeatCrafters stand at the Bethesda Farmers Market; if people didn’t like it, it would be a loss. Mitch told his team, “try to sell it out and be done with this!” It turns out, though, that dill makes the meat very buttery, and the accidental salami was a huge hit. Today, “Dillio” is now one of MeatCrafters’ standard offerings and most popular varieties.
The evening’s charcuterie sampling included three of MeatCrafters’ other favorite products. Because these are whole-muscle products, they are only cured, with no need for fermentation:
- Lomo – Duroc pork loin seasoned with smoked paprika, garlic, oregano, French thyme, and rosemary, then dry cured for 2 months
- Bresaola – beef eye round seasoned with rosemary, French thyme, garlic, and Tellicherry black pepper, brined for a week then dry cured for 2 to 2½ months
- Duck Prosciutto – Magret du Moulard duck breast from New York’s Hudson Valley seasoned with sea salt, juniper, garlic, bay leaf, and Tellicherry black pepper, and dry cured for 6 to 8 weeks
Complementing the meats were two cheeses from Firefly Farms of Accident, Maryland (yes, that’s really the name of the town) in the far western portion of the state. The farm was founded by Michael Koch in 2002 and specializes in hand-made cow and goat milk cheeses. All of the milk used is source from family farms within 30 miles of the creamery. The evening’s delicious cheeses were:
- Mountain Top – a mild and creamy pyramid-shaped goat milk cheese inspired by French Valencay, but using bleu cheese mold instead of the traditional ash, giving the cheese a tangier flavor that becomes more “blued” with age
- Bloomy Breeze – a dense, buttery cheese with milk from Jersey and Holstein cows, aged for seven weeks. The velvety rind is white and bloomy, giving this cheese its name.
An outstanding wine accompanied the charcuterie and cheese – Tablas Creek Vineyards Patelin de Tablas 2018. The history of Tablas Creek Vineyards begins in the 1950s when Robert Hass was a wine buyer in New York. In the 1960s, he began importing fine wine from France, eventually meeting the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel in France. Over the decades, they became convinced that Rhône grape varieties would thrive in California. After years of searching for the right location, the now- business partners in 1989 purchased a 120-acre parcel 12 miles from the Pacific Ocean west of Paso Robles. Its 1,500-foot elevation and rocky limestone soils, along with hot sunny days and cool nights, created conditions nearly identical to those of the Rhône region. They imported vine cuttings from France in 1990 and after three years USDA inspection to ensure they were virus-free, began planting began in 1994 as well as providing vines for grafting at nearby vineyards.
The Patelin de Tablas (patelin is French for neighborhood) is sourced from 8 to 12 Paso Robles Rhône-style vineyards, most of which used vines from Tablas Creek’s French cuttings. Tablas Creek follows the centuries-old Châteauneuf-du-Pape tradition of blending to achieve balanced, rich, and elegant wines. The 2018 vintage is a blend of five Rhône varietals from eight vineyards, each contributing distinct characteristics: 40% Syrah offers dark fruit, mineral, and spice; 33% Grenache provides brightness and fresh acidity; 21% Mourvedre gives structure and meatiness; and 3% Counoise and 3% Terret Noir add complexity.
Chef Ismael Neggaz, proprietor of Chocotenango in Washington, joined the Zoom session to introduce the chocolates included as the sweet finale to the evening’s delicacies. Professionally trained, Chef Neggaz, has been cooking since 1994. In 2005, he and his wife moved to Guatemala for her career. The chef explored chocolate there and founded his chocolate business, Chocotenango, a name based on the Mayan word tenango meaning “place of.” In 2013, he and his wife moved to Washington and opened Chocotenango in the city’s Langdon neighborhood.
The chef explained that cocoa grows in a narrow band 20° north and south of the equator and is processed with techniques similar to those of wine and coffee – the cocoa beans are fermented (for flavor and to keep the seeds from germinating), then dried, roasted, and ground. His shop features single origin chocolate from Guatemala, Belize, and Bolivia, as well as from the Dominican Republic, Indonesia and elsewhere. Like wine, he emphasizes, the origin of chocolate matters, with each terroir creating a distinct chocolate.
Chef Neggaz has won over a dozen international awards for his chocolate, and members and guests were delighted to sample his classic milk chocolate, dark chocolate with cocoa nibs, and dark chocolate with sea salt.
As the evening concluded, Mitch noted that the history of charcuterie dates to at least as early 1st century AD. The Romans had preserved meats and there were guilds for it in the 1500s. He pointed out that interestingly, all of the elements of the evening’s charcuterie showcase – salami, cheese, wine, and chocolate – involved some form of fermentation as a way to preserve and enhance the flavor of food.
It was a fascinating, tasty, and fun evening as members and guests of the bailliage learned a bit of food science while enjoying artisanal charcuterie, cheese, and chocolate from the Washington region accompanied by glass of superb wine, all with friends that we hope to see in person again soon.
Visit the small businesses featured in the Charcuterie Showcase on-line at