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“Is everybody getting their hands on some meat?” Chris Johnson asks the wine- and beer-sipping participants huddled into Union Kitchen’s frenetic cold prep area for his debut charcuterie -making class.
The Cured DC founder is currently operating out of Union Kitchen’s communal “food incubator” while establishing a toehold in the local dining scene (Glen’s Garden Market, Mockingbird Hill and the Rappahannock Oyster Bar all serve his stuff). Johnson caught the charcuterie bug while honing his geopolitical skills at the London School of Economics.
“I was studying gang violence in Latin America,” he said of heady topics that used to cloud his gray matter. But as he ate his way across Europe, picking at meat-filled plates in Spain, Germany and Italy, his dreams quickly turned to a future filled with seasoned meats.
That vision has culminated in a budding artisanal food operation and now a forthcoming series of DIY courses designed to bring curious locals into the charcuterie fold.The Meat of the Matter
Johnson’s business is cured sausages (Spanish chorizo, Italian salami, signature ginger-spiked), specialty meats (coppa, bresaola, lomo) and assorted prosciuttos (pork, duck, lamb). The decision-challenged can indulge a little of each by signing up for the “salami CSA,” which provides a rotating stock of Cured DC favorites for pickup at Union Kitchen on a quarterly basis.
Johnson said he gets his pigs, mostly Old Spots with the occasional Berkshire mixed in, from Truck Patch Farms in New Windsor, Md. Owner Bryan Kerney specializes in pasture-raised swine, typically focusing on four specific breeds: Poland China (the most popular), Old Spots (the second biggest seller), Mangalitsa (a hearty Hungarian line) and Duroc (a domestic workhorse).
Johnson selected an Old Spot for the Oct. 3 class, presenting the attendees with roughly half of the originally 198 lb. animal to thoroughly examine and enjoy.
“I would have preferred to have the head and everything on it,” Johnson noted, but he and his primary apprentice, James Brosch, had already partially prepped the beast in order to make headcheese sandwiches for students to munch on as they went along.
Sixteen people signed up for the inaugural charcuterie class, which was co-sponsored by the Northern Virginia-based Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture (the Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s activist arm) and billed as its debut master course — a program the food-obsessed group expects to continue cultivating by showcasing its stable of very capable chefs.
“Some people are gonna grind. Some people are gonna mix. And some people are gonna eat and drink,” Johnson informed the wide-eyed onlookers as he divvied them into groups and unleashed them on the split-apart swine.