Johnson’s cured sausages, assorted prosciuttos and specialty meats are served in restaurants around the District, and now meat lovers can learn how charcuterie is made first-hand in the Cured DC workshops.
The assembled groups had roughly a 3:2 ratio of men to women, with participants ranging from 20-something ladies eager to get their hands dirty to silver-haired gents normally not seen without a full drink in hand.
There were no full sleeves or even very many visible tattoos in this bunch, so confidence is low there were any aspiring “Top Chef” contestants on hand.
The majority appeared to be hypnotized by the actual butchering process, hanging on Johnson’s every word — “The thing is, meat tells you where to cut,” he counseled while slipping his blade along the natural boundaries between bone, tendon, muscle and fat — and fixating on each knife stroke as he walked them through the ins and outs of efficiently carving a carcass.
Plenty of folks were busy snapping pictures with their smartphones or iPads, while others dutifully jotted down each pearl of wisdom in dog-eared notebooks. Others seemed content to just mingle, treating the occasion more like a casual dinner party than an epicurean stepping-stone.
Christina King, a graduate of L’Academie de Cuisine’s 20-week culinary arts program, said she’s dabbled in home curing (mostly bacon and prosciutto), but has long been waiting for someone to introduce her to the salting arts.
“Curing is a whole other realm that very few people teach in layman’s terms,” she said of the dearth of easy-to-grasp instruction.
Capitol Hill resident Doug Edgecomb said his wife, an Arcadia Center member, brought the class to his attention. And even though he said they don’t necessarily seek out charcuterie when dining out, the pair was enthused about becoming better-informed eaters.
“We’re just pretty interested in food,” Edgecomb said.
One female attendee said she’d stockpiled a number of course credits by getting in early during one of Arcadia’s Kickstarter campaigns. She was originally hoping to burn some off by finding a cheesemaking course, but said the charcuterie tutorial was too good to miss.
“I figured, when else am I going to get the chance to do this?” the novice sausage maker said.
To wit, the entire crowd became transfixed, once again, when Johnson began pressing the meticulously spiced grind into the oil spritzed hog intestine, and voila, actual sausage took shape.
Sharing the Spoils
Johnson said participants would receive sampler Cured DC products, including the handcrafted salamis they helped produce and some other choice selections (such as lomo and duck prosciutto), as soon as the curing process was complete in about four to six weeks.
Overall, he said was pleased with the initial turnout and the scope of the material covered.
“I like this format a lot. It’s not a full-on butchering class, but they get a good idea of what they’re cutting up and where it’s going because they see it down the line,” Johnson said.
He predicted future classes would mimic the same format, though he does expect to move the operation in the next few weeks to the custom-designed dedicated kitchen he’s been building above the Union Kitchen facilities.
Johnson suggested he’s open to tackling the likes of everything from the basics of house-made bacon to temperamental delicacies such as bresaola and lomo in the future.
“We’ll start mixing it up,” Johnson said of the carnivorous curriculum.
Terri Henderson, 6, center, whose mother is El Salvador, attends a rally with members of Congress at Union Station's Columbus Circle to announce the Restore Opportunity, Strengthen, and Improve the Economy (ROSIE) Act on July 29, 2014. The legislation provides incentives for government contractors to pay a living wage and other benefits that would help low-income workers.