Nashville Chefs Take a Master Class in Charcuterie From Brian Polcyn



Chef Brian Polcyn literally wrote the book on modern charcuterie in 2005. Along with Michael Ruhlman, he published Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing, and followed that up with Salumi: The Craft of Italian Dry Curing in 2012. Just about anyone who has ever experimented with curing meats or grinding sausages either at home or in a restaurant probably has a dog-eared copy of Polycn's first book somewhere on their kitchen bookshelf.

So when Polcyn announced that he was teaching a class in charcuterie here in Nashville last March, the class filled up almost immediately. So fast, in fact, that he opened another two-day session, held last week in the spanking new kitchen at the Music City Center. Nashville is the first market where he has held two classes within a few months of each other, so obviously we have a lot of interest in the topic.

Chef Max Knoepfel graciously opened up the kitchen at the new MCC, and what a kitchen it is! More than 20 chefs, farmers, butchers and meat enthusiasts from as far away as Louisiana, Chicago and North Carolina were all duly impressed by the size and equipment of the massive kitchen, and the class was certainly improved by the access to all the fun gear.

Local chef participants included Deb Paquette from Etch, Jeremy Barlow of Sloco, Brandon Frohne from Mason's, Steve Robilio from Amerigo, Simoni Kigweba of Burger Up, Dario Olivera of 1808 Grille, Robert Spinelli from Perl Cafe, Brett Corrieri from Mafiaoza's and a few others whose names I didn't quite get written down seeing as I was dodging all those flashing knives and whirring grinders. So expect to see those establishments upping their charcuterie game sometime soon!

(The Scene's ace photographer Eric England was also there; check out his slideshow after the jump.)

Another attendee was Bob Woods from The Hamery out in Murfreesboro. He's already known for being a pretty darned talented meat curer, so I can only imagine what he'll do with the knowledge shared by Chef Polcyn in the class.

And it was indeed quite a lot of knowledge. Polcyn began the two-day class by butchering a whole hog in two different ways. One side he broke into the traditional USDA cuts of picnic ham, shoulder, belly, loin, ribs etc. While this is a perfectly good way to divvy up the pork, it's what he did with the other side that most impressed the assembled students.

Using just a sharp flexible boning knife he used what is known as "seam butchery" to break down the other half of the pig European-style into what is known as the "Big Eight." These European analogs to the USDA cuts are the Guanciale, Coppa, Spala, Lonza, Pancetta, Lardo, Prosciutto and trim for sausages.

That last bit is probably the most important, since in addition to the large cuts which he salt cured and distributed to the students to take home and age, Polcyn used the leftovers to create 21 different salable products from one pig. He has learned that he can pay for a whole pig at his restaurant, Forest Grill in Birmingham, Mich., just by selling the pork chops, so anything he makes from his charcuterie efforts on all the other parts is gravy. Delicious, delicious gravy.

After the initial butchering was completed, the class became decidedly more hands-on. Our local heroes unpacked their knife rolls and set to work following the recipes provided by Polcyn for such delicacies as Saussison Sec, Soprasetta, Mortadella, Zampone, Chicarrones and a particularly courageous Porchetta di Testa made from the ears and the tongue of the pig rolled up inside the skin of the head. It was basically a face sandwich, but it was freakin' delicious!

The students watched rapt as Polcyn demonstrated an amazing knowledge of the anatomy and geography of the pig, using his knife to identify seams and junctures deep within the meat and bones and cutting out near-invisible glands that impart a bitter flavor to the pork if not removed. I could tell that the local chefs couldn't wait to get back to their home kitchens to experiment with the techniques and recipes they learned over those two days and we as diners should be the beneficiaries of their efforts.

Food safety is such a key issue in any charcuterie process that much of the class was dedicated to ensuring that clean procedures were followed, potential contaminants like blood and air were eliminated from the meat and safe pH levels were achieved to create an acidic environment that is anathema to bad bacteria. As Polcyn warned the class, "If you do something wrong while practicing these techniques, you could kill somebody, and that’s really bad for business.”

Home curing is possible, but your odds of success would be greatly improved by reading Polcyn's book or attending one of his classes in the future. I guarantee you won't go home hungry. If you're interested you can visit the Cured Cuisine website or contact the event organizer, Vic Rose, directly at

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