The founder of Olympia Provisions stops by to talk craft charcuterie.

By Frances Kim
December 04, 2018
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It's holiday party season! When it comes to entertaining, our food editors like to wow guests with a showstopping recipe they developed (like senior editor Lauryn Tyrell's Pomegranate-Glazed Ham or deputy editor Greg Lofts' Pork Wellington), but they also love serving a cheese platter or charcuterie board, as long as it's thoughtfully put together. The first step is starting with good-quality ingredients. Enter Elias Cairo, the founder of Olympia Provisions in Portland, Oregon, who recently came by the test kitchen with some of his award-winning salamis and pâtés.

The food editors were already fans of Olympia Provisions (their sausages scored high marks in the test kitchen's hot dog taste test!) and were excited to sample Cairo's latest handiwork. After apprenticing in Switzerland for five years, Cairo opened a 900-square-foot meat shop in 2009. He has since expanded into a 40,000-square-foot meat plant that employs 200 people, operates six restaurants, and distributes to every state in America.

Cairo has come a long way since he was the only employee, but the salamis are still made the same old-world way: pork legs are hand-butchered, and once all the bone and sinew are removed, the meat is mixed with fatback, the delicate fat on the back of the pork loin, which gives the finished salamis a melt-in-your-mouth quality. For flavorings, spices are freshly ground every day, and herbs are picked through by hand. The salamis are also naturally bloomed, meaning a true mold is used on the outside, which is a rarity in the U.S. "If you see a salami in America that's white on the outside, 99 percent of the time, it's been dipped in rice flour or milk powder," says Cairo. "One of the most important flavors of salami is that beautiful cheesy smell, which comes from the mold."

The 42 Burners team took turns sniffing and commented on the damp, earthy aroma that Cairo described as reminiscent of champignons or forest floor. Then it was time to taste: saucisson au noisettes (French for salami with hazelnuts), chorizo Rioja (Spanish-style salami with sweet and smoked paprika, garlic, and oregano), loukanika (Greek-style salami with cumin, garlic, and orange zest), landrauchschinken (Swiss country smoked ham), pork and hazelnut pâté, and more. The charcuterie disappeared as quickly as Cairo sliced it.

As salami was being inhaled all around, Lauryn asked about the best way to store it, as the American perception is often that salami is a room-temperature product. Cairo explained that if you're using live mold, like Olympia does, "salami needs to be handled like a triple-cream cheese. It should always be inside of a refrigerator because if you leave it out, the humidity in the room will stick to the salami and make it slimy." If you do neglect your salami on the counter, don't fret too much-you can still peel off the casing and eat the meat as long as it's the same color inside.

Assistant editor Lindsay Strand was curious about Cairo's favorite beverage to pair with charcuterie. His go-to recommendation, especially during the holidays: Lambrusco. But his best-received piece of advice in the test kitchen came from one of his customers with picky in-laws: ship ahead salamis to wherever you're spending the holidays and just serve giant charcuterie spreads the whole time for truly easy entertaining!

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