As one of the few Eastside restaurants licensed to make its own charcuterie products, Beardslee Public House in Bothell continues the John Howie Restaurants’ tradition of making nearly everything from scratch. The art of charcuterie stems from the days before refrigeration, extending the shelf life of meat through curing, smoking, and preserving methods.
It was 9 a.m., and the front doors at Beardslee Public House were still locked. I gave a tentative knock and waited while someone from the morning crew let me in. “Hi. I’m here to see chef Jed Laprade. He’s expecting me,” I explained, though my voice rose at the end, turning my statement into a question. I felt like an interloper, definitely the “new girl,” as sous chef Vidal Vega led me through the kitchens, bustling with lunch service preparations. Trays of shiny buns cooled in a rack, each topped with a brittle sugar crown — something whipped up for staff breakfast.
We took the elevator downstairs. Chef Laprade, bearded and with kind eyes and thick shoulders, greeted me. I think we were each a bit nervous, like it was the first day of school. He rustled up a new apron for me as I stashed my things in the windowless prep kitchen, where an employee was busy pressing mountains of sweet potatoes through a French fry cutter at lightning speed.
The chef explained that we were going to work on three different items today: creating a cure for lonza made of pork loin, preparing cured coppa for the drying phase, and testing a new sausage recipe for a seasonal menu change. He gathered the curing ingredients — pink curing salt, herbs, and spices — and weighed out some Salmon Creek Farms pork loin. Curing requires a few exact measurements (a great example of “when am I ever going to use this?” during math class). The most crucial measurement to get right is the pink curing salt. He weighed out the curing ingredients individually according to his recipe, switching to a tiny scale.
I massaged the curing blend into each section of pork loin, pressing it into every square inch before putting the meat into individual zip-top bags. The chef sliced garlic cloves, assigning me the orange-slicing duties. He demonstrated how thinly to slice them, then turned me loose with a refreshingly sharp knife. I smiled inwardly, sure that my knife skills would be impressive to this seasoned chef. When he didn’t immediately offer me a job based on my orange-slicing performance, I put aside my vain fantasy and layered the garlic and oranges on each side of the pork loins. We zipped up the tops and took the meat to the walk-in for a two-week curing nap in which their weight will be reduced by approximately 30 percent due to water loss. Lower water content means a more stable product because bacteria don’t thrive without moisture. After curing, the meat will be washed and then dried in a low-humidity environment for a month.
Our next project began with cured coppa. I washed the now-dense bricks of black pepper- and bay leaf-cured pork under the freezing tap, scrubbing as much cure from the surface as my numb fingers could manage. Then the fun part — shoving each brick into a section of cleaned, soaked, rinsed large intestine of cow. It was my first time handling this particular part of the food chain. They were much thicker than the pig intestines used as sausage casings, and opaque white in color.
The chef demonstrated the proper stuffing technique. He recommended using a towel to grip the slippery casing, slide in the pork, and press out the air bubbles. I imagine this process goes down in a more clinical way when he is processing charcuterie solo. But, something about being elbow deep in a cow intestine in front of another person is too funny to ignore. With barely contained smirks and some unladylike giggles, the last of our initial shyness wore off — especially when, still in my “impress the chef” mode, I uttered the phrase, “Hey, look, I’m a pro!” after successfully stuffing my first coppa into a casing. He just shook his head and laughed.
We tied the ends and executed a series of twine maneuvers around each coppa to help it keep its shape during the drying process. The drying closet down the hall is a small walk-in cooler with fans to help circulate the air, and a dehumidifier to regulate the moisture levels. Meats at various levels of drying hung from hooks. We moved a few around and added our freshly tied bricks to commence the delicious desiccation process.
Back in the prep kitchen, we began our final charcuterie project of the day — batch testing Laprade’s jerk-seasoned sausage recipe for the upcoming seasonal menu change. Because chicken is the traditional protein used with jerk, the chef wanted to incorporate some into the pork mixture. I held the bowl while he ground five pounds of slightly frozen pork and chicken together with his house-made jerk seasoning, thyme-green, and spicy with habanero peppers. In his experience, it takes about three tablespoons of salt to season five pounds of ground meat.
Before we committed the mixture to sausage casings for smoking, we took a container of the meat upstairs, grilling it for a quick taste test. Needs more heat, he concluded, making a note on his recipe. Downstairs, we took the remaining test-batch mixture and fed it into the casing machine, threaded with a surprisingly long section of pig intestine. As the sausage stuffer pressed the meat down and into the casings, I attempted to guide the sausage into a tidy spiral. We sectioned them into even portions and twisted off the ends. The chef boxed up a couple for me to take home; the rest were headed to the smoker to cook. When they made it to the menu the following week, the jerk-seasoned sausages were served with a green papaya slaw.
As I drove home, flushed with newfound meat-curing confidence, I envisioned my basement lined with hanging pork bricks. This charcuterie stuff didn’t seem nearly as complicated as I previously thought. All it takes is some curing salt, seasoning, time, a cow… actually, maybe I’ll leave the curing up to Laprade and just head to Beardslee.
First-generation Greek-American Elias Cairo (Eli) grew up at the base of Utah’s Wasatch Mountains in Salt Lake City, where he attended class once in a while during high school before eventually dropping out altogether. What he really loved to do was snowboard — and he was sponsored by Burton by age 15. At 17 and with his parents’ blessing, Cairo traded the Wasatch Mountains for the Swiss Alps. A few months turned into five years of culinary and butcher apprenticeships that included hunting with a local jagermeister (the term means “hunter master”) and curing meat in traditional European styles.
“I fully fell in love with the experience,” Cairo said. At the time, he was picturing himself as the next Thomas Keller. “I was going to be the chef.”
After trekking around Switzerland, Cairo did a stint cooking on a Greek island, then back to Switzerland before finally moving back to the United States. His sister convinced him to move to Portland in the early 2000s, enticing him with the abundant farmers markets, the bounty of the nearby ocean, and mountains teeming with game. Cairo took a job with Castagna, a fine-dining restaurant in Portland, and worked as executive chef there for five years.
“The whole time I’m like, ‘I’m opening up a meat company,’” Cairo said.
And in 2009, he did just that — in a tiny 900-square-foot closet of a space where he produced charcuterie, Euro-style. Cairo willingly jumped through all of the USDA hoops, becoming the first salumeria in Oregon with a permit to ferment meat (now joined by Chop).
The fermentation process requires that the sausage hang in a 90-degree environment so the bacteria can work its scientific magic, creating the requisite tang we associate with salami. But that’s just the tasty upside. The original reason people soured meat in this way was to lower the pH and thereby extend its shelf life (known as sauerbraten).
His sister Michelle Cairo threw her financial know-how and business skills into the game early on and helped her brother build Olympia Provisions* into a 180-employee company operating from a 40,000-square-foot facility in just seven years. During its second year, Olympia Provisions won the USDA “Model Plant” award.
Two OP restaurants serve the company’s product via sandwiches and charcuterie boards (located in Southeast and Northwest Portland), and they’ve recently added two outposts called OP Wurst, serving house-made hotdogs and bratwurst (located at Pine Street Market and Oregon City next to Oregon City Brewing). Olympia Provisions products can be found locally at Metropolitan Markets, Whole Foods Markets, Trader Joe’s, and a number of small specialty stores throughout Washington (not to mention across the nation).
Formerly “Olympic Provisions” until the International Olympic Committee issued a cease-and-desist order. The Portland company tried to reason with the IOC, even humorously comparing a stick of salami to the baton passed during running relays, but the IOC didn’t even crack a smile, and the company was forced to change its name, according to Cairo.