Ah, the noble pig. It’s by far the most interesting animal…to eat. Even if it’s not your favorite, you can’t help but marvel at the enormous number of variations there are, especially for an animal that weighs in at roughly one-fourth the size of a steer.
Some of the best people, if not the best in Utah, to educate people on the wonders of pork, especially cured pork, are the folks at Caputo’s. A few weeks ago, they held a combined tasting class that focused on Olli Salumeria and Epic beers.
Olli Salumeria is actually based out of Virginia so it was a bit different to hear Matt Caputo talking about a cured meat company other than Creminelli, but I guess that’s exactly how they became acquainted; Olli had heard about Matt and Creminelli and succeeded in getting Matt to taste some of their product and the rest is history.
Just a little note before I start describing these incredible meats that I tasted. I am not an expert. I tasted and then I recorded my thoughts and interpretations. They are honest. But I could be mistaken. Taste is an extremely fleeting memory sensation. For me, when I taste something and try to attribute it to something else from my past, or try to describe it with the perfect adjective, the window of time is limited. The experience only seems to last about 15 seconds. After that it starts slipping through my fingers and I start guessing. The reliability of my guesses decreases with each passing second. Therefore, with that disclaimer, I will do my best to describe what I tasted based off my notes that I took immediately after tasting. I encourage everyone reading this article to stop by Tony Caputo’s meat counter and ask them for a sample to see if your experience is the same as mine.
The first cured meat that we tasted was a mind-altering pancetta. To tell you the truth, I’ve had a difficult time distinguishing pancetta from bacon in the past. They both tasted like…well, bacon. Incredibly smoky and salty, almost too much sometimes. But this was different. It didn’t taste much like bacon at all, except for a slight smoky flavor. It had an extremely silky and delicate texture. Being mostly fat, packed with flavor, the second it hit my tongue it seemed to render. Sweet is more how I would describe it, rather than salty. Again, this pancetta from Olli did not remind me of bacon, which was a first.
The second one we tried was the prosciutto. I ate a lot of prosciutto in Europe. The prosciutto that we tasted this night reminded me of a good piece of grilled mackerel. It had that same effect where in the process of letting it dissolve in your mouth, it begins to coat your lips with this extremely flavorful fatty-meaty compound. This is probably what contributed to its lingering aftertaste, but I wasn’t complaining. It was more nutty and salty than the pancetta, with much more body as well. Clearly distinct.
Next was the lardo. This one sent me into a porky coma. You hear people laud lardo all the time and this was my first time actually tasting it. It’s pure fat. Now, before you start thinking that this would be like putting a piece of butter in your mouth or maybe a strip of fat that you insisted on trimming from a sirloin, know that you would be wrong. This lardo literally caused a gush of liquid to explode in my mouth. Probably due in part to my taste buds loving what they were tasting, therefore kicking my saliva glands into overdrive, but another huge part was the speed at which the lardo rendered inside my mouth. It was adorned with a few herbs, but otherwise provided a very earthy meaty flavor.
The next up was the speck. This was by far the most complex-flavored meat that I tasted. It also had much more substance and
variation in texture than the others. It was a pleasantly intense smoky flavor that almost tasted roasted. Speck was the one meat that I managed to bring back from Italy on the plane, so it was especially nice to taste something similar (and better, from what I remember).
The next ones were 2 different types of lonza. These were drastically different than the previous 4 that we had tasted; much more structure with almost a plasticky texture, like a smooth beef-jerky. There was a sweet lonza and a spicy one. The sweet one was nice. I enjoy the combination of caramel and pork together. It reminded me of a nice honey-glazed ham, but much more mild and less sweet than meaty. The spicy version was like it kicked me in the back of throat on the way down, but I liked it. It had a peppery, smoky flavor that lingered for about a half a minute.
We also tried a couple different types of cheeses that went very well with the meats. These included a pecorino Toscano and two different Ossau-Iraty. The pecorino Toscano had an extremely milky and grassy taste and an initially spongy texture that dissolved quickly.
The difference in production between the two Ossau-Iraty’s was the age; one-month and six months in the Caputo Cave. That was fascinating. The one-monther was pleasant, but six-month version had developed a glossy caramel-like substance on the surface that you could lick off.
I love these classes. I love becoming more educated about products that are so interesting. Walking into a nice cheese market or somewhere that offers fine cured meats can be slightly daunting. The prices are higher than the supermarket and the names are in several different languages. Deep in the back of my mind I think to myself “if only I was more knowledgable about these products I could navigate this list and choose something perfect for my recipe or dinner.” Luckily we have people like Matt Caputo and his team to take us by the hand and guide us through a somewhat confusing maze.
We introduced a couple of friends of ours to some of our favorite items at Caputo’s last weekend. One of them asked, “How did Tony Caputo’s get the point where they offered so much?” My response was “Matt…he’s obsessed.” An excellent teacher who I love taking advantage of. His passion for almost everything artisanal is unsurpassed in Utah. His classes are well worth the money and I promise you’ll walk away pumped and determined to eat better. To hear him muse about porcine breeds and curse people who insist on trimming the fat is a wonderful way to spend an evening. Click here for a schedule of upcoming tasting classes at Caputo’s.