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The Cure for the Common Pig

01/07/11 5:55PM
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Cured meats could be the natural progression of Vermont's agricultural evolution.  In the Italian tradition of charcuterie a Plainfield farmer is reviving the art of curing meat. On this week's VPR Table acclaimed food author, Rowan Jacobsen explores how Vermont is doing prosciutto, capicolla, pancetta and salami.

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The Cure for the Common Pig

Three springs ago, I met a guy named Pete Colman at the Cate Farm Mother's Day Plant Sale in Plainfield. Pete led me across the farm, into the barn, and down a spooky set of stairs into the huge basement. In the gloom, I could see strange tools, and meaty things hanging in a wire cage. I felt like I was in a scene from Saw 3D, until I got close enough to see that the things were cured meats. Pete had been apprenticing for years with butchers in Italy, and he was doing things to pigs that no one else in the state was doing.

Today that's still true, but Pete Colman has graduated from the shady recesses of the barn basement to a gleaming white, temperature-controlled, FDA-certified facility in the barn proper. There I recently tasted my way across a table laden with prosciutto, capicolla, lonza, guanciale, pancetta, salami, and other piggy bits that would have made Mario Batali weep with joy. They were divine, and they made me wonder why charcuterie hasn't been a part of the Vermont food scene.

Tradition, Pete pointed out. This is a dairying state, so the focus has always been on cheese. UVM has an entire institute devoted to artisan cheese-making, but when Pete had to untangle the FDA's elaborate red tape for salami-making, there was no one to help him. But making salami is not so different from making cheese. You take some fat and protein, inoculate it with mold or bacteria, and let the microbes break it down into all those riotous flavor and aroma compounds. Milk or meat, it's pretty much the same process.

And cheese-making goes hand in hand with pig farming. The best thing to do with all the whey left over from cheese-making is to feed it to pigs, which fatten beautifully on the sweet, nutritious liquid.

So far, so good. But the next step is the important one. Fresh pork is cheap. Cured pork, on the other hand, sells for a lot, lasts forever, and tastes waaaay better. Like artisan cheese, it's the type of product that can create a lot of extra value out of an acre of land. Pete thinks it should be the next step in Vermont's food evolution, and I think he's right. Because when you've got a salami in your pocket, everybody's happy to see you.

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Pete Colman's sausages, salami, and charcuterie can be found at the Capital City Farmer's Market , at his new Vermont Salumi honor system store at Cate Farm in Plainfield, and on the menu at Salt.   

VPR Butcher Story 5/18/09

UVM Dept. of Agriculture: Meat Processing

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meat cured_meat rowan_jacobsen salami vermont_agriculture agriculture arts business
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