Food Artisans: Charlito's Cocina
Charles Wekselbaum got into charcuterie at first because, he says, he was "fascinated by how a piece of meat—something so prone to spoilage—does the opposite of spoiling with proper control and salt." After making chorizo in his kitchen and realizing that he wanted to learn more than he could teach himself, Wekselbaum went to Spain to spend time with an older cousin. "He's a very, how do I say this, rustic kind of guy," Wekselbaum explains, "He makes his own olives, cures his own hams. We did the whole thing old school-style."
Back in the States and ready to start production for his new company, Charlito's Cocina, Wekselbaum started looking around for rental space. But owing to the USDA's extremely strict licensing guidelines for shelf-stable, non-heat treated, ready-to-eat meat products, he couldn't find anywhere in New York that was suitably certified and willing to take him on.
The solution was to work at an Italian butcher shop whose owners he already knew, who Wekselbaum says told him, here's a key and an apron, do whatever you want. The only drawback: they're in St. Louis.
While he readily admits that there are "geographical and logistical challenges" to being based several states away from his production space, Wekselbaum points out that his Iowa meat supplier is only five hours away, which saves time and money on shipping. "They're a coop of 25 Berkshire farmers, all raised on pasture," he says, "I couldn't find similar infrastructure on the East Coast without it being cost prohibitive," particularly since the nature of the process means that he loses 50% by weight of all the meat he cures.
So he goes to St. Louis once a month to package what he processed on his last trip and put up another batch, then brings everything to New York to distribute and sell at markets, including Smorgasburg. "We've been able to make a slightly unconventional situation work," he says.
He's currently producing three different cured products: the country sausage, which is made just with the pork and a "hand-harvested fleur de sel from Guatemala," Wekselbaum says, "which has a complex flavor profile and a real personality of it own. It's two special ingredients with no other spices. It shows what really excellent fundamental ingredients can do when left to shine."
The trufa seca is the same salt and meat, but with the addition of black truffles from Italy. "No oil or essence," Wekselbaum promises, "Just the real thing." He says he gets the occasional comment that the sausage is "too truffly, but if you're going to make something with truffles, it should taste like truffles."
He developed his chorizo to "pay some sort of respect to the region in Spain that inspired it," he says, explaining that he decided on the combination of mild, rich paprika, garlic, and salt and meat because he finds "a lot of chorizos to be very busy. I wanted to do something minimalist while still being chorizo."
Charlito's also offers a vegan fig "salami," which is made with Black Mission figs, red wine (generally a Malbec), and Baker's bourbon. "It fits in well in our product line," Wekselbaum says, "It's shelf stable and gets better with time."
About the author: Stephanie Klose has more mustard than you. You can follow her on twitter at @sklose.