From Tradition to Table

Photo by Megan Leigh Barnard

Beyond the Appetizer

For North Country, it’s not just charcuterie, it’s an art form.

This family-owned business is invested in reshaping the Columbus charcuterie scene, one delicious hand-crafted slice of salami at a time. North Country Charcuterie is a partnership between James and Duncan Forbes and their mother, Jane. The trio cooked up the idea of a family-owned business three years ago, recognizing Columbus’ growing interest in charcuterie.

What makes the company special is their unrelenting dedication to the taste of the product. It’s a process that takes time.

“People are really surprised at how different our salami tastes. It takes weeks and months. The American way is to rush, but we have a more old-world style approach,” Jane said.

This old-world style is present in everything North Country does. From the arrangement of the board to the precise curing of the meat, everything is delicate and intricately developed. James explains that many of his products take between three-to-four months to cure. He’s invested in the long-haul, prioritizing rich flavor over quick turn around. Ninety-five percent of the ingredients used are sourced locally, and North Country processes over 250 pounds by hand weekly. The result is an evocative new way of experiencing charcuterie, elevating the product above the humble label of “appetizer.”

With a background in sculpture, James is thoughtful about his arrangements, often considering first the shape of the board and then arranging the charcuterie to add dimension, texture, and of course, exquisite taste. Jane describes the care and intention of preparing their boards, including how to shingle (organize with layered slices) the fat to allow for differentiation.

“When it comes to building a board, it’s the same as making a painting,” Jane said.

North Country is already well-known for their killer trio of salami, but now the business is turning their attention to a whole-hog representation and looking to expand their products to include many more cuts. For my visit, North Country prepared a nose-to-tail tasting, giving us a sneak peek at the products they’ll soon be offering this year. The board was garnished with sweet drop peppers, pickled mustard seeds, capers, olives, sundried tomatoes, and a duo of cheeses. I got a quick tutorial of pairings and then was instructed on how to most fully enjoy the product.

“It’s best to chew for at least 30 seconds. Just savor it—don’t rush. The more you chew, the more the flavor actually changes and you begin to notice the complexity,” Duncan said.

First up is the guanciale or jowl. It’s fatty with a narrow sliver of muscle and is, by far, the most buttery, creamiest sample on the board. The slice is straight velvet goodness and I am entirely seduced. It’s a first kiss that leads straight to marriage. Pair with: Capers, to balance out fattiness.

We move to the capocollo, or neck muscle. Although it’s only inches away from the jowl, it exudes an entirely different taste. Aged four months, it’s infused with hot paprika and cayenne. Perhaps the gamiest of all the offerings, this one finishes with slight acidic flourish. It tastes rare and almost deliciously vulgar—like a well placed swear word at the end of a novel. Pair with: Spanish red wine.

Next up, we sample lonza, which is cured pork loin infused with fennel, garlic, orange slices, salt, and pepper. It reads mild, citrusy. There is just an echo of crushed orange and spices. It has a subtle, unassuming way of putting you at ease. Pair with: Mustard, sweet hot peppers.

We arrive at pancetta—bacon’s sweetheart of a cousin. James has had this aging for a staggering ten months and basically, it’s heaven. It tastes exactly like an afternoon nap feels. Silky, sunlit, divine. Pair with: Aged cheddar

A little-known muscle in the leg, the fiocco, reads salty and satisfying on the palate. This is the patron saint of meats—there is something a little spiritual here. Pair with: (really anything). Or just do yourself a favor and eat this one its own.

Next, I’m lucky enough to sample fino, the latest salami flavor released just this month from North Country. Ultra-savory with smoky notes that linger on the tongue, this is the Ferrari of salami. Pair with: Owl Creek Tomme from Kokoborrego Cheese Company.

We finish with the sobrassada, a spanish, spreadable salami. Initially, the taste is sweet, hearty. But soon, a spice begins to radiate. My eyes are smarting, but my mouth is singing. The sobrassada is the most delicious volcano in the world. Pair with: Chevre, to neutralize spiciness.

With the expansion of products in 2017, North Country hopes to continue growing. They’ve already carved out quite a niche for themselves with their unbeatable flavor profiles, dedication to old-world styles, and passion for educating Columbus on the joys of the cured meat community. But when asked what their secret to success is, Duncan keeps it pretty simple: “Our charcuterie just tastes good.”

You can find more about North Country on their website, northcountrycharcuterie.com, as well as a list of  local retailers and restaurants who carry their product.

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