By Lee Havlicek
When it comes to charcuterie, often less is more: the less you know about what exactly you’re eating and where it came from, the more you’ll enjoy it. The amazing thing about the charcuterie contenders at the 2013 Good Food Awards is that, incredibly, the opposite is actually true. Learning about these meats and where they came from only heightens the admiration that comes from their extraordinary flavors and textures.
Earlier this january we covered the basics on this awesome foodie event, and now we were eager to see what meat experts made the cut. In order to compete for a Good Food Award, each entry in the charcuterie division must be handcrafted while the meat must come from animals that have been raised responsibly and naturally as possible. To name a few of the stipulations– that means no hormones, no sub-therapeutic antibiotics, and no living confinements. Good animal husbandry practice is also mandatory. The awards even require that the humans involved in the process be treated respectfully and fairly, too. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that all-around happiness is basically a required ingredient for entry.
All in all, the Good Food Awards have come up with an amazingly expansive and accountable way of assessing food quality—a thing that goes much deeper than taste. The Good Food Awards were created to celebrate American grown and made food that is “tasty, authentic and responsibly produced.” Award winners are true craftsmen and leaders in their industry. They are the bar-setters—the people who are continually heightening standards, while maintaining a commitment to sustainability and social and agricultural responsibility. For each of the nine categories awards are given to “producers and their food communities” that best embody the ideals of the Good Food Awards, while also creating the most spectacularly delicious delicacies imaginable.
This year, the charcuterie judging panel was filled out by the likes of incredible chefs (Loretta Keller, chef at Coco500), innovative food industry leaders (Renato Sardo, former director of Slow Food International, and Carrie Oliver, founder of Artisan Beef Institute), and distinguished culinary business owners (Paul Bertolli, founder and curemaster of Fra’Mani Handcrafted Foods). Some of the nation’s most notable butchers (Berlin Reed, butcher, chef and writer at The Ethical Butcher, and David Budworth, butcher at Dave the Butcher) rounded out the roster.
Now here are the winners, in all of their meaty glory:
CHOP Butchery & Charcuterie, Chicken Liver Bourbon Mousse, Oregon.
Columbus Foods, Finocchiona, California. (By an extraordinarily happy accident, as a kid my family and I stopped in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California while driving southward on just the same day that Columbus Foods happened to be cruising around in what I’ve since referred to as “The Salami Mobile.” I was given no fewer than three amazing and free salamis– an incredible gift for any12 year-old with a brain and a mouth, but especially so for the daughter of Italian-Americans who rarely allowed such dreamy, caloric treats. I still buy Columbus salami to this day. Thank you, Columbus Foods, if you’re reading this.)
Cypress, Picante Salami, South Carolina.
EcoFriendly Foods, Iberico Americana Long Leg Ham 20 Month, Virginia. If you haven’t had the pleasure of being introduced to Iberico ham, this is an exceptional place to start. As you might have guessed from their name, you can feel as good about where EcoFriendly’s products come from and how they’re crafted as how they taste.
Fra’ Mani Handcrafted Foods, Salame Toscano, California
La Quercia, Borsellino Salami, Iowa. You may be familiar with this brand from your local gourmet or natural food store. Be sure to pick up a pack of whatever has La Quercia’s name on it the next time you pass by. They’re great at putting their own spin on classic charcuterie textures and flavors that won’t even disappoint old-fashioned foodies.
Olympic Provisions, Lomo Di Parma, Oregon. You don’t have to ask around too much to discover that the opinion about American-made European-style charcuterie is not too high. Olympic Provisions is one of several companies in the United States that is poised to drastically change this consensus.
S. Wallace Edwards & Sons, Surry Farms Surryano Ham, Virginia.
The Linkery, Country Ham, California.
The Meat Hook, House Ham, New York.
The Meat Market, Chicken Liver Mousse, Massachusetts.
Transatlantic Foods, Aux Delices des Bois Chorizo, New York.
Underground Meats, Coppa & Goat Salami, Wisconsin (That’s right: goat salami. Those two words next to each other should be enough to tell you why Underground Meats deserves a spot on this list.)