Friday, October 8, 2010

The Trouble with the USA's Cured Products

There's an article here attacking Eataly for selling Italian cured products, and not selling American cured products. It explains:

Sure, Eataly is probably doing wonders for the deals Batali and Joe Bastianich can make for their restaurants with suppliers and importers, but it’s not doing much for the farms and artisan producers in upstate New York and other nearby agricultural areas. And when you hear Batali talk about the volume of cheese and meats he’s going to go through at the new market, you almost cringe a little thinking about what it could mean to them, and the shining example that Eataly New York — with its size and share of the spotlight — could have set, especially when there are high-quality locally-produced alternatives available. After all, the Eataly in Turin certainly isn’t shipping in Berkshire hogs from Newman Farm.

There's another article here, about "where to find the best domestically made salumi". As it explains:

"... we're gladdened by the fact that there is a growing number of talented artisans in the States making salumi using traditional Italian techniques."

And then it lists a few meat processors, including Rey Knight, my HACCP consultant, customer and friend.

I've given a lot of thought to "local" food and "artisanal" food in the last few years, for obvious reasons.

Local food

Local food mostly works against the interests of Heath Putnam Farms. There's almost always someone raising pigs who is more local. There's rarely someone raising comparable pigs, of course, explaining why if someone brings up "locality" when discussing their purchases, I explain they'd have to go to Hungary for comparable raw material.

Generally, "local food" advocates gloss over quality defects of local ingredients. E.g. the article attacking Eataly acts as if American producers make products equal to the Italians. As I explained previously, the Italians have a heavy pig system. The results taste better than the American system.

My tiny company optimizes even more variables than the Italians commonly optimize, producing superior raw material, but bigger companies in the USA don't even do what the Italians do, explaining why Americans meat processors can't buy raw material as good as what is sold in Italy, perhaps explaining why Eataly doesn't feature American imitations of Italian products.

The Italians, by the way, like Mangalitsa. I've seen evidence of that recently, and even experienced it myself. The reason is simple: the Italians got rid of their best pigs 50 years ago, and switched to relatively lean Italian Landrace pigs. Hence they must import Mangalitsa and Iberico pork or pigs to get the very best.

Domestically Made Salumi

When the author writes, "... we're gladdened by the fact that there is a growing number of talented artisans in the States making salumi using traditional Italian techniques," he fails to understand the essence of what the Italians do.

What the Italians do is control flavor and fat composition in their pigs, and then make salami from it. The focus on "artisan" technique is silly.

For example, the Pick company, a Hungarian company, makes better salami than the Italians. For their best salami (a fraction of all the salami they make), they use Mangalitsa pigs. Pick is a big concern. They aren't "artisanal" - just as many Spanish firms aren't artisanal, despite producing better stuff than that produced by almost all American producers.

My own understanding of myself (and my customers) is that like pigs, we like to eat good stuff, and we don't want to pay too much or work too hard to get it. Whether or not the product is produced locally or "artisanally" doesn't substantially influence the purchasing decision.

In Summary

Sadly, there's very few American producers using great raw material. Besides my company, there's Johnston County Hams (cured hams and shoulders), and Rey Knight (salami made with some Mangalitsa).

Until American meat processors start using raw material at least as good as the Italian stuff, and until they can beat the Italians on price and availability, I won't hold it against Batali that he's using imported stuff.

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