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Olympia Provisions Founder Elias Cairo Discusses Charcuterie

Olympia Provisions Founder Elias Cairo Discusses Charcuterie

Tuesday, August 21st, 2018

In Olympia Provisions’ decade-long history, the artisan cured meat scene in the United States has changed significantly. More, perhaps, than ever before, deli departments, cheesemongers, and purveyors of specialty food are educating themselves and, in turn, consumers on the merits of and methods associated with salumi created, aged, and packaged using traditional processes, high quality ingredients, and the utmost attention to detail.

But, there are still strides to be made in an ever-broadening market for American charcuterie. I recently had an opportunity to learn more from Elias Cairo. As a master salumist, schooled in an Old World, handmade ethos, Eli has made it his mission to bring some of the best meats in the world to the U.S. market.

Elias Cairo, Head Salumist/Owner, Olympia Provisions“What makes my product different from everybody else’s is the natural salami process. What is a true high-quality salami as opposed to what the American people might think of as a high-quality salami?” Eli muses. “Slow fermentation, high-quality meat, active mold—all of those things are things—I see a lot more cheesemongers and people in the deli department knowing about them. And that absolutely makes me so happy because in 2009 when I first started talking about my style of salami, these qualities were less known.”

Despite the strides made in the market, though, Eli tells me, he still sees room for educating retailers, professionals, and consumers on the merits of salami made using authentic and all-natural traditional processes. And Olympia Provisions’ products stand out as exemplars of Eli’s salumi-making philosophy.

Olympia Provisions salamis are aged and fermented slowly, with a natural ph drop

“First and foremost it has to do with the quality of meat. For salami making, the way I learned how to make salami, you can’t take poor quality pork or take every part of the animal and just throw it in a casing,” explains Eli. “You have to have a good mouthfeel. You have to start with 100 percent lean leg and then fold in the very delicate and sought after fatback of a pig—just the little bit of fat that covers the loin onto the back of the pig. That fat is prized because it’s light and buttery. When you bite into it, it melts in your mouth. It doesn’t have this greasy texture and flavor. When you’re looking at a salami you want to see really lean meat and nice specks of beautiful fat.”

Elias "Eli" Cairo at Olympia Provisions
Elias "Eli" Cairo casing and racking sausages

Whereas many producers in the U.S. use trim—leftover cuts of meat and fat to source the meat for their salami—Olympia Provisions salami uses choice cuts to make the best sausage possible from square one.

“The next step is fermentation,” Eli continues, noting that while Olympia Provisions continues a time-honored tradition of curing and manufacturing salumi, the company had to overcome some significant hurdles when the company first entered the market. “I spent a very long time convincing the USDA that the way I ferment my meat is safe. When I ferment my product, I want it to take two or three days and have a very slow, natural ph drop. When the salami has this nice slow ph drop it allows the meat to really take on the flavor of the spices. Now people who mass produce salamis and want to get them out there quick will throw a very active live culture—or just straight lactic acid—directly into the sausage and then bring the temperature up really quickly, and that will bring the ph down really quickly and it gives you what I think of as that really ‘fake’ tang in your salami. It just doesn’t belong; in my world, it doesn’t have any relationship to the flavor of salami—of what I want in a salami.”

While many in the U.S. market associate lactic tang with salami and cured meats (consider the ubiquity of the Slim Jim), a traditional and timely process ensures optimal richness of flavor and avoids the unpleasant sharpness of many mass produced cured products. It’s a labor intensive process, Eli tells me, that eschews the exigencies and cut corners that other meat makers use—no inedible synthetic casings, no falsifying the look of traditional cured meat cultures with rice or milk powder.

Olympia Provisions Salami Etna, made with pistachio and lemon zest

“We’ve hand butchered then and stuck them in natural casings as opposed to artificial cases. It’s a hand process; you can’t run these at a million miles an hour,” says Eli. “I have to hand link every single one. The reason I do that is that I do want people to eat my salami and my casings—and the mold on the outside of my salamis because I find them to be one of the most interesting tasting parts of the salami. Once you’ve taken all this time and you’ve put this product in your dry box and your creating all this mold, it’s should be one of the most sought after part of the salami—for a salami maker who is making a really beautiful mold on the salami—what we call house flora—a mold culture that is growing throughout and around your salami to produce this one of a kind flavor.”

One of Eli’s missions, with Olympia Provisions, he tells me, is educating consumers on the deliciousness of these cultures. Just like an aged cheese, he says, the flavor of high-quality salumi is in large part the result of the bouquet of this mold. And though some retailers might not take to the idea of caring for an artisanal salami with live cultures, Eli tells me that customers of specialty shops, artisan cheese mongers, and other fine food venues are clamoring for a salami that holds its own next to the complicated flavor profiles of handcrafted, bloomy cheeses.

Olympia Provisions Salami Cacciatore

“You see it very evident in the artisanal cheese category—think Harbison and Jasper Hill—those cheeses are sought after for both their amazing milk and dairy and also their amazing rinds—the mold on them that adds that amazing flavor to the cheese,” Eli says. “And that’s that exact same process that I think high-quality salami can have too—with those beautiful, live delicious molds on the outside.”

For more gourmet food news, keep reading Deli Market News.

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