I am a firm believer that chefs and butchers are technicians of nature’s bounty. If there was ever an ideology to adapt from the Italian kitchen, it is that of respect for ingredients.
Understanding the ingredient in order to unlock its full potential is my true goal with meat and cured meats. A good salami can be made with conventional pork. An excellent salami can only be made with excellent pork. So what is excellent pork? For me, it’s an ethically-raised animal that has been cared for throughout the duration of its entire life where details such as feed, outdoor space, and stress-levels, are taken into careful consideration. Working with farmers such as John and Jason opened my eyes to the possibilities of local meats in this province. It gives me great joy to move forward and continue advocating for small local farms and showing Canada what Ontario has to offer.
I began my career in the meat industry as a burger maker at a local high-end butcher shop. Watching the experienced butchers work with whole animals sparked a curiosity in me that was the starting point from which my passion for butchery grew. It is here that I trained under Head Butcher Paul Bradshaw. Paul’s raw talent mixed with his dedication for sharing that talent led to my skill development in working with whole animals and acquiring as much knowledge as possible on various farming practices. A good butcher should know how the farm contributes to the meal eaten by the customer. Sure, the cooking matters. And sure, the cutting matters too. But the farming matters most.
I furthered my training as the Head Butcher/Production Manager at Dolce Lucano, a small-scale dry-cured meat processing facility (Italians call it a Salumificio). It was there that I learned both the artistry of meat preservation and the shortfalls of the factory farming system. In 2014, the PED (Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea) epidemic in the U.S. and Ontario compromised many pig herds and caused the price of commodity pork to skyrocket. The demand didn’t go away, but the supply did. The instability of the commodity meat market at that time gave me an opportunity to demonstrate to my mentor (John Zagaria of Dolce Lucano) how buying pork from small local farms would not only reduce his costs but would increase the quality of the products overall.
My first pigs came from a gentleman named John Gerber from Tanjo Farms. John is a younger Mennonite who raises antibiotic, hormone, GMO-free white pigs in an open-concept barn in St. Jacobs Country. This change in raw material resulted in a completely different eating and flavour experience. Even how the product reacted to fermentation and salting made me realize that using pork this good was the future of making high-end cured meats that could rival that of Europe. From here I was introduced to Jason Kipfer, yet another Mennonite farmer who specializes in Heritage breed pork. Over the last three years, Jason and I have been researching, brainstorming and collaborating, in an effort to create a farming system that is both sustainable and produces great quality meat. As a result, chefs, butchers and other artisans are garnering some of the best cured-meat products available in the country.