Chad Colby is slicing the meat off of a leg of lamb behind the Salumi Bar inside of Mozza's Scuola di Pizza, next door to Mozza2Go, opening tonight. After removing the bone, he separates it at the joint. "This," he says, picking up the femur, "is for my dog, Bruno." It's a comic-book bone, the kind with a knobby knot on each end and enough scrap meat still sticking to it to keep a dog busy for awhile. Lucky dog.
Colby is making lamb salumi. "We have to have a non-pork option on the menu," the former COCHON 555 winner explains. After removing the bone, he begins to separate the meat into pieces, the different muscles becoming distinct with each cut. He's also separating the fat from the meat. As he lays each nugget of flesh in his metal pan, he's measuring out a specific ratio of meat to fat. Just behind Colby, tucked away in a corner, is a small window of glass. Behind that window lies more than three years of work—Colby's pride and joy—the culmination of hours of research into pigs, traditional Italian salumi, and the laws and guidelines of the California State Department of Health and Food Safety.
Mozza's salumi space is the only certified salumi program in Los Angeles County able to serve directly to the public. (The space does not have a license to sell cured meat as merchandise, though the menu items can be taken to-go, from Mozza2Go.) This is monumental for a number of reasons. Colby didn't just have to develop recipes that would be approved by the local authorities, he also had to test how different pigs react to different atmospheres, different levels of humidity and an above-normal refrigerated temperature of 55 degrees. "Refrigerators must be kept at 40, 41 degrees to meet local health inspectors' guidelines. We literally had to prove that our product was safe for consumption at a higher temperature. We had to rewrite the book."
And about that book. HACCP stands for Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points. It's a program and manual developed by NASA to maintain food at safe moisture and temperature points so as to avoid the growth of food-borne pathogens. "Because, well, when you're in space and you get food poisoning, you just die," Colby notes, bluntly.
State governments have adopted HACCP guidelines for restaurant kitchen ratings, and they're pretty solid, up to a point. Anyone who's ever had brie right out of the refrigerator understands why it's better at room temperature, even though that increases the risk of spoilage. Salumi or charcuterie (the French word for the wide array of cured meats traditionally produced in Western Europe) cannot be produced or cured at 40 degrees, thus the lack of salumi makers in the states. That slightly warmer temperature of 55 degrees is this meat's money spot, where the blend of meat, fat, salt, sugar and enzymes gel into something beautiful like Capicola.
That process takes five months, give or take. "While I was going through the permitting process with the Health Department—and they had to bring in an outside consultant because they didn't know anything about it... and he didn't know anything about salumi—I had a lot of time to test recipes. I kept a log of every pig I butchered." Colby asks a cook to fetch his log, a 2-inch ring binder, bursting at the seams, neatly containing a detailed description, sample recipe and ratio of fat to moisture to meat of each pig he turned into proscuitto, pancetta, rillettes or one of his signature cured meats. Each recipe contains not just the meat and fat proportions, but also the starting moisture content of the meat ("We have to measure it with a $3,000 remote-control-like device."), the percentage of volume lost during the curing process and the rate of bacterial growth (bacteria are a necessary part of the process, but their growth must be controlled). All of Colby's meat comes from Heritage Foods USA, a producer of sustainably-raised meat.
It must be re-emphasized that Colby had to develop all of his own recipes and methods. "People are protective of this craft, which is why it hasn't spread much through the states," Colby says, "the only person who guided me through some of the methods was Michael Sullivan from Tennessee's Blackberry Farm. He basically said, 'well if you're going to go through with this, I'll answer your questions.'" But no one shared a recipe or any specifics, "It was a lot of trial and error. You have to anticipate the taste of something after it's been in a cooler for five months. It's like wine or beer."
Colby is excited and uncertain about the first Salumi Bar night. The 44 seat space opens to the public tonight, welcoming overflow from the Osteria and Pizzeria. Colby hopes that the Salumi Bar can one day stand alone, and be open every night for casual groups of diners (menu here). For now, try it every other Thursday, starting at 6 PM.
·Meat Matters [~ELA~]
·Mozza's Scuola di Pizza Adds Salumi Bar Night, The Beverly Hills Hotel's $100 Cocktail, Shin Up For Grabs [~ELA~]