Our Authors

Meet Scott Weiss

Scott Weiss
Scott Daniel Weiss, the butcher at Via Umbria, is a Northern Virginia native who, a few years ago, realized he liked eating more than almost anything else. He had this realization for the first time while studying abroad in South Tyrol, Alto Adige, in the land of speck. But, he continued to have this realization over and over again while plowing through an undergraduate education in North Carolina, home of the best barbecue on planet Earth (he's pretty sure this is a scientific fact). After finishing a year in Scotland learning the simple joys of not wasting off pieces of meat (really, haggis is delicious, people), Scott returned home to a brief career in food service and aggresively teaching himself how to cook, with no small amount of help from his foodie folks in his off hours. All this drove Scott step by step towards going whole hog and learning butchery. Now he's happy to bring you the best meats money can buy, cured or raw. Stop by the Via Umbria meat counter and plan some dinner!

Ivy City Smokehouse

I’ve always loved smoked salmon. Growing up, on special occasions there was always a little “bagel and lox” to be had for breakfast. The simple balance of saltiness and fishiness was something that I was always surprised that I enjoyed – I was never much for fish. That being said, I had no idea what I was eating really. Then one day, while living in Scotland, I grabbed some breakfast to eat on the train to London: a bagel with smoked salmon. Surprised at the low cost of such a brekkie, I was happy to pretend it was a special occasion – I was on my way to London, after all.

bagel and lox

Then I got on the train, got settled and took a bite: this was not lox. Or, at least, this was completely different than anything I had eaten before. The intense smokiness added a whole layer to the salt/fish balance that I was used to and it was amazing. For the rest of my time there I was eating this salmon up. It was something that I dearly missed when I returned stateside. Until recently, when I happened upon some salmon smoked by a company called the Ivy City Smokehouse.

Right here in Washington, DC, in a neighborhood with an historic legacy of food production (and a modern reputation for artisanal liquor production) they were making smoked salmon as good if not better than what I was buying in a Scottish train station. So naturally, with our focus on sourcing local, I wanted to get them in our store. I reached out and was immediately impressed with their company and philosophy. Great care is taken into the sourcing of the fish, with entirely sustainable trout and as close as possible to sustainable salmon being used. Indeed, the detail with which Nate, from the Smokehouse, spoke about the sourcing and sustainability was remarkable.

ivy city

I soon realized that they had a whole range of all-natural products: a salmon candy in the style of the Pacific Northwest, a gravlax (Scandinavian, but oh so like the Jewish lox of my nostalgia), the best “pastrami-style” salmon I’ve ever tried, and even a hot smoked trout that is to die for. The commitment to quality stands throughout the product line and I know that you will enjoy this fish as much as I do.

DC's go-to spot for all things fresh salmon Read more

I’ve always loved smoked salmon. Growing up, on special occasions there was always a little “bagel and lox” to be had for ...

Frenching Meats

Not too long ago, I had my first experience with frenching a rack of lamb. For those of you who don’t know what that means- frenching is a technique in which you “beautify” the meat by exposing the rib bones, thereby making the chops more attractive. Nearly every rack of lamb in the grocery store, as well as beef ribeye, and pork loin goes through this process.  While it does indeed make the chops more attractive for plating, and removes quite a bit of fat from the dish, as I was removing the “extraneous” meat from the lamb bones, I felt a pang of sadness. How much goodness we were wasting! Succulent layers of meat and flavorful soft fat was all going to end up in the trash can just for the sake of appearance.

lambchetta_cookedFlash forward a few months and I found myself eating in a small restaurant (the where and when of this meal isn’t important) and noticed a framed article from the Washington Post Food section on the wall. The article was an interview with the restaurant’s chef and included a recipe for a lamb roast, the photo of which looked more like a porchetta than any lamb roast I’ve ever seen. But something seemed familiar about it and I couldn’t shake that feeling. When I got home I opened up a few of my meatiest cookbooks and butchery books and found that same recipe in a pop up in few different places- one of which went so far as to call it a lambchetta. This particular roast was a rack of lamb, but rather than remove the meat from the bones and waste pieces of perfectly good lamb, this roast was based on the premise that only the inedible part of the lamb should be discarded: basically, cut out the bones rather than the meat. What this leaves you with is a “flap” of meat, which is essentially the lamb’s belly, which you then season and roll around the lean loin (the part you are used to seeing as the lamb chop). The first time I made it for myself I kept the seasoning simple, using only salt, pepper, red wine, garlic, and rosemary, but you can really go wild with flavors here. The simple seasoning created flavors that were out of this world, but next time I have visions of testing out a yogurt and feta marinade on the inside.

Lambchetta love story aside, this isn’t the end of frenching meats for my case but I am intrigued by and committed to trying out new ways to avoid waste. With this track record, I think that I may be able to stumble into some pretty incredible flavors this way. So why not join me? Stop by the counter and let me know what unique recipes and preparations you’ve tried and love, let’s brainstorm new ways to create amazing dishes, or just give me a call and I’ll make you a lambchetta that will change the way you eat lamb forever. Either way, I have a feeling that the next few months are going to be pretty tasty.

Scott Weiss
Scott Weiss

Making chops more attractive Read more

Not too long ago, I had my first experience with frenching a rack of lamb. For those of you who don’t know ...

A Turkey to Be Thankful For

The turkey is a noble bird, or so thought Benjamin Franklin when he argued that it, not the warlike, predatory eagle, should be America’s national bird. He had a strong case, the turkey being a species native to North America, ranging in the wild from Mexico through the eastern United States and into Canada. And although Franklin didn’t succeed in putting the nearly flightless gobbler on the Great Seal, the turkey has become essential to American culture and cuisine–arguably the only required part of our annual Thanksgiving Day feasts.

Turkey is, however, one of the most misunderstood meats in our diet. During the rest of the year, we eat almost exclusively the white meat in deli sandwiches. The rest is discarded or ground for burgers and the like–pretending to be the cheap, lean option. But then, once a year in November, there is a massive demand for the birds whole. The sheer quantity of turkeys in demand means that most of them come from “farms” that resemble factories more than a traditional farm. And the birds themselves are a breed more or less developed in a lab so that the breast meat is larger than natural. When cooked, these turkeys are bland and tend to dry out easily.

This is what I had to take into consideration when I decided to sell turkeys this year. With our commitment to tradition, quality, and locality, I wanted to make sure that our turkeys were something to be proud of. So I drove an hour away from the District into beautiful upper Loudoun County, Virginia where the rolling hills start to reach towards the sky in the Appalachian Mountains and breweries and wineries hide around every corner. I met with a local family farmer, whose farm, Fields of Athenry, began to raise wholesome animals to ensure that their children ate well. Heading up the driveway, I was almost immediately greeted by a loud chorus of gobbles from a pen near the entrance. There they were, in the daylight, turkeys running around in the grass with no cage in sight. As the farmer, Elaine, showed me around, she pointed at specific birds and mentioned what breeds they were. A Narragansett here, a Blue there. It was impressive watching this flock wander around the field together, with the occasional few flying over the fence and then, birds that they are, unable to figure out how to get back in and rejoin their friends.

Free Range Turkeys

I learned that the farm actually operates across three properties in Loudoun County and just over the river in Maryland. In addition to the turkeys, the family raises cows, pigs, chickens, geese, ducks, and make their own deli meats and bacon–all with the same standards of care they show for the turkeys. I’m really excited to work with these guys. But for now, for Thanksgiving, we’re going to have some of the best turkeys available. We have pre-ordering available now through November 16 online or in the store, and can get you a bird as close to the size you want it. I can spatchcock them for you, if you’re feeling adventurous and ready to grill, and Chef Johanna is preparing an awesome cider brine, if you so desire. Plus, we’re cooking up some awesome sides and appetizers to pair with them. Long story short: order a turkey! I promise it’ll be one more thing you’ll be giving thanks for this year.

Scott Weiss
Scott Weiss

Our local turkeys are something to be proud of Read more

The turkey is a noble bird, or so thought Benjamin Franklin when he argued that it, not the warlike, predatory eagle, should ...

Braising the Steaks

Well, folks, it’s getting to be that time of year again–that time of year when it’s almost too cold to go outside and grill and we start craving foods that combat those cold temperatures. While this doesn’t mean that we have to say goodbye to our nice steaks (there are many ways to cook them inside in the kitchen) it does mean that the season of soups and stews, of braising and roasting is coming. As a butcher, this is an exciting shift. We’re moving from the cuts of meat that are well-known and easy to recognize, to the cuts that are not as familiar, often overlooked, but are packed with more flavor. The problem with many of these cuts is that they are typically tougher pieces of meat and require special methods of cooking to prepare. One of these methods is one of my all-time favorite ways to cook: braising.

Braising is, in simplest form, is slow-cooking in liquid. It is a method that is nearly universal in practice; ranging from a variety traditional dishes in northern China, to a Jewish brisket, certain preparations of Mexican carnitas, and ossobuco–Italy’s famous preparation of a crosscut veal shank. The common denominator between all of these different recipes is that they are all pieces of meat that have substantial amounts of fat and connective tissue. It takes time to break that stuff down, rendering the meat edible. But by the end of the process the meat is tender enough to be eaten without a knife, and having both absorbed and contributed to the flavor of the gravy that remains of the cooking liquid.

As with any cooking method that results in such “simple” foods, there are some very important steps to braising that, when left out or minimized can prevent your cooking from reaching its full potential. The most important, in my opinion, are:

  1. Sear the meat. This is definitely one of the most misunderstood steps of the braising process. Most recipes will all on you to brown your meat before you begin to cook it but nearly always the neglect to specify why. Contrary to popular belief this step isn’t done to to capture moisture, but rather to deepen the flavor of the dish as a whole. By altering the chemical nature of the outer layer of meat (a process referred to as the Maillard reaction) you are adding a carmel/roast-y flavor to the meat that goes miles in improving your dish.
  2. After searing the meat, recipes often call for the sautéing of vegetables and spices. It is very important that you do this in the order that the recipe calls for. For example, if you were to add onions and garlic at once, in the time it takes to sauté an onion to desired softness, any flavor that the garlic would have added has been lost. Make sure to add your aromatics and spices later in the process.
  3. Choose your liquid wisely! Any liquid can be used, but the most common are wine, beer and stock. Any will work, just make sure you use something that will complement your spices and the meat that you’re using.
  4. Skim the fat! While not the most crucial, this prevents your dish from being overly greasy when finished. This especially matters for fattier meats, such as the short rib.
  5. Patience! Braising is a method of low and slow cooking and it takes time. Don’t rush it.
  6. Don’t worry about it! Braising can, and probably should, be made a day in advance. That extra time, with all the ingredients sitting together let flavors to continue to blend. That’s also what makes it great for entertaining. Make it the day before and all you have to do when your guests arrive is warm it up.

When done properly, braising yields some of the most succulent, delicious meat possible without an overwhelming amount of effort. Don’t just take my word for it though- stop by the counter to pick up your favorite cut and see for yourself.

Scott Weiss
Scott Weiss

A guideline to braising and roasting your meat Read more

Well, folks, it’s getting to be that time of year again–that time of year when it’s almost too cold to go outside ...

Finger Lickin’ Chicken

Growing up, I always hated chicken. It was almost invariably dry and tasteless, unless of course it came battered and fried with a side of biscuits. I rarely ordered it in a restaurant, and rued the days when my parents would make some for dinner. As I grew older I developed an appreciation for the dark meat, which lead to the realization that the thing I was most opposed to was the dryness and blandness of the chickens of my youth. Now, having had access to and experience with great chicken I have realized that there are many other factors that go into cooking the perfect chicken, but for the sake of brevity let’s focus on the two major issues and breakthroughs that led me out of this dark, chicken hating place and into a brand new food world where we would want a chicken in every pot.

Chicken Dish

Well, not in a pot, necessarily. In fact, that’s probably my least favorite way to cook it but that’s neither here nor there. There are a myriad of things you can do to a chicken to help it along, beginning with a good brine, but again, that’s an issue for another time. For now, let’s talk cooking. You may have heard of spatchcocking, where the spine of the the bird is removed and the whole chicken can be laid out flat on the grill for cooking. Most food blogs bring up this method in the months of October and November as a quicker way of preparing a Thanksgiving turkey. This also has the added benefit of keeping the moisture in the meat, preventing your Aunt’s usual dried out turkey. Before I had even heard this word, however, I had come across a very similar method in a cookbook by celebrity chef Sean Brock. What he refers to as “Chicken Roasted Simply In a Skillet” comes there alongside garlic confit and pan sauce, is easily modifiable and made even simpler than the recipe says. All it requires is a cast iron skillet where halves of chicken are seared skin-side down for several minutes, flipped skin-side up and finished in a preheated oven. While his recipe is delicious, I’ve come to find that you can modify the seasoning to whatever you like, skip the step of weighing down the chicken, forgo the pan sauce–and as long as you stick to the technique of searing the skin you’ll have a hit on your hands. Cooking chicken like this traps the juices in the meat and, keeps it so moist and flavorful that it rivals the dark meat in tenderness. This is of course, not to defame your traditional roast or your barbecue grilled chicken, but why not try something new? It takes less time than a roast and is harder to mess up!

I close with the second thing that makes a big difference–the quality of your chicken. As with everything, you get out of a dish what you put into it, and if you start with a high quality product you’ve already won half the battle. In terms of quality of meat, there are a lot of buzzwords that get thrown around and associated with chicken. Organic, free range, hormone free, local, are incredibly common descriptors, but comprise only the tip of the classification iceberg. While I will say that no chicken is ever grass feed (so don’t count on that one) most of the words are actually relatively meaningless. Local can come from hundred of miles away, organic is a certification many producers can’t afford, hormone free chickens may have eaten feed that is laced with hormones or pesticides. That being said, in the grocery store it is relatively easy to see the difference between the factory chicken and the farm chicken. The factory chicken will undoubtedly be huge. The farm chicken will likely not be broken down–it will be available only whole until the butcher breaks it down for you. Our chickens are relatively local, coming from a cooperative of farms in Pennsylvania and upstate New York, and labeled as “naturally raised.” Almost intentionally meaningless, this phrase is in this case meant to communicate a commitment to letting the chickens live good lives. This means that while they don’t have the organic certification they eat mostly organic food, they may get some antibiotics when they are sick, but not as a part of regular life. And all this pays off, they are some of the best chickens I’ve ever been able to eat.

Scott Weiss
Scott Weiss

Cooking with quality meat will change your dish Read more

Growing up, I always hated chicken. It was almost invariably dry and tasteless, unless of course it came battered and fried with ...

The Burger Days of Summer

Hamburgers–where do I begin? I could try to define one, but I’d probably get bogged down in some long-winded debate filled with righteous anger over whether or not a hamburger is a sandwich or not (which, for the record, it is). Instead, let’s start with the fact that because of its name we know where it comes from: Hamburg, Germany… except, not really. While it is true that in Hamburg, at least at that time, ground beef patties were common, they were not typically eaten between slices of bread, or inside of a bun. Then, with German immigration into the United States, people from Hamburg (who, incidentally would be called Hamburgers in German) brought with them this patty tradition and adapted it in their new homes, by putting on bread and topping it with cheese, vegetables, and other goodies. (As an aside, this is one of my favorite methods of “American adaptations” to foreign cuisine: taking someone else’s food and putting it between slices of bread. Next time you’re chomping down on your Philly-style Italian hoagie, or your New Orleans muffaletta, think about the lovely antipasti plate your sandwich could have been!) Of course, the burger exploded in a way the muffaletta did not. From dollar menu “burgers” at McDonalds, to the late night burgers at your local brewpub, to the myriad of trendy fast casual chains with names that must have been funny to someone, you can find a hamburger anywhere, topped with anything, and at just about any level of quality imaginable.

That begs the question, what makes a burger good? An easy trap to fall into is to assume that a burger is as good as its toppings. Sure, good toppings can cover up cheap meat, and make for a decent sandwich, but for a truly balanced burger: don’t forget the meat! When it’s all said and done, the better the quality of your meat, the less you have to do to make it taste good. Go to a butcher shop that you trust and get freshly ground beef. Now, I could go on and on about the best cuts of meat to grind for a burger–for burger week this year we are using a blend of chuck, brisket, and short rib–and you should always feel free to ask your butcher what is best, but at the end of the day all of that is pretty subjective. As long as you have good quality beef and take care when making your patties you’re set. Speaking of proper patty etiquette, I only have one rule for myself when formatting the patties: keep the meat as tight as possible. That means rolling out meatballs that hold together and have composition before “smashing” them into patties. Other than that, get creative! Whether or not you season the ground meat before forming the patties, and whatever you choose to top it with is up to you; do what you like!

Our #DCBurgerWeek special this year is something we are excited about. In keeping with our own theme for the week, Südtirol/Alto Adige, we decided to top our burger with Speck, the iconic smoked and dry cured ham of the mountain region. With that, we did the excellent pairing of taleggio cheese and some caramelized onions to round it out the flavors with some sweetness. When we were experimenting with flavors and pairings, however, there was still something missing. The solution? Smoking our ground beef. Not only does this add a unique flavor punch to our burger, but it really compliments and highlights the Speck, so that no part of our burger gets lost in the composition. It’s awesome. Don’t just take our word for it though–come in and try one for yourself!

Scott Weiss
Scott Weiss

An Italian spin on an American classic Read more

Hamburgers–where do I begin? I could try to define one, but I’d probably get bogged down in some long-winded debate filled with ...

Porchetta ‘Bout It!

Porchetta has always struck me as a funny word. The first time I heard it I immediately began dissecting it into its parts, and now will forever be referring to it as “little pork”… at least in my head. In reality, pork is an English word, the Italian word of course being maiale, and the porchetta is so much more than simply “little pork”- it’s a delicious street food from central Italy that simply can’t be beat.

Though we may be partial to the Umbrian variety, the idea of cooking a whole hog for a group of people to enjoy together isn’t unique to any part of the world. From the pig pickin’s of the Carolina lowcountry to the suckling pig roasts in Hawai’i, whole pig preparation is a global phenomenon, the cooking theories of which are as diverse as its geographical reach. In Italy, the traditional method is to debone the whole pig, and then roll it back together before slow roasting it at a high temperature. The reasoning behind this is simple: as the meat cooks, the fat keeps it moist and the skin crisps, adding a complexity of textures alongside the rich and fatty flavors.

unspecified-3

Over time, as porchetta has evolved from a feast food into a street food, people have found ways to simplify the process, one of the most common of which is simply to wrap the boneless pork loin in the pork belly. Occasionally, the liver and some other pieces of the whole hog are still included, but with or without those parts the fat from the belly keeps all the meat from drying out and amplifies the flavors of the meat. As for seasoning, like any ancient culinary tradition, every region, town, and even family has their own way of doing things–all swearing they are the best and most traditional version. Here at Via Umbria, we keep it simple using only fennel, salt, and pepper to season—and we cut out the middle man and just eat the best part: the pork belly. Sliced thickly and served on bread as a sandwich, our porchetta is so rich and flavorful on its own that you don’t even need condiments.

unnamed-1

We serve our rustic porchetta sandwiches every Friday and Saturday and if you’re lucky we sometimes have a little extra in the case for you to take home. Looking for the perfect cut of meat for dinner? Never hesitate to give me a call and we’ll happily have something waiting for you to pick up. Whether you need sandwiches for a picnic lunch, a cooked chuck for an evening when you’re frantically trying figure out dinner, or even a prepared porchetta ready to be cooked at home for guests (only the ones worth treating, of course) we’ve got just the thing! You’ll have to excuse us if we’re a little bit biased in our suggestions though, while we love all types, cuts, and preparations of meat, Porchetta will always be a particular favorite for us and is a gospel that we want to spread.

 

Scott Weiss
Scott Weiss

Juicy pork belly served on a sandwich Read more

Porchetta has always struck me as a funny word. The first time I heard it I immediately began dissecting it into its ...

Snout to Tail

Freshly Ground Meat

Developed as way to utilize scraps of meat that occur as butchers broke down animals in search of the best cuts, ground meat is an essential part of the ‘snout to tail’ philosophy of whole animal butchery. And that philosophy is essential to the Italian culture of meat eating. Why is this relevant you might ask? Because of our new favorite addition to our butcher counter: a meat grinder! And while ground meat sometimes sounds gross, sometimes even looks gross, rest assured, there are a lot of benefits to having freshly ground meat.

For starters–let’s be real. Most the ground meat you have in the ordinary grocery store is, more or less, mystery meat. You won’t find a soul in the meat department of those stores that knows when the meat was ground, let alone what cut of beef it is. And that mystery gets even harder to solve when you move past the ground beef into the ground pork, the veal, and so-on. First and foremost, having our own grinder will mean that all of our meat is as fresh as can be, and the beef we use is the same quality, dry-aged local black angus as our steaks that you’ve come to know and love.

With that quality and freshness in mind, the possibilities become seemingly endless. Looking for the perfect beef to make your famous burgers? We’re happy to grind you whatever you need to order. And for those of you still looking to find your favorite, come try one of our creations! This past weekend we had two special patties: one made with sun-dried tomato paste and one with ‘nduja, a spicy spreadable salami. They were awesome! Now that the weather is getting warmer and grilling season is upon us we are going to have burgers in the case regularly so make sure you stop by to get some.

Meatballs

But burger patties aren’t the only way ground meat can be used! The original way Italians would make use of ground meat, typically pork, was as sausages–which are essentially the same thing as a burger, just stuffed into a casing. Having a meat grinder in the case puts us one step closer to making our own sausages and I couldn’t be more excited. If you ask me, a sausage thrown on the grill, or on the skillet is one of life’s simplest pleasures.

The biggest takeaway from all this is that freshly ground meat is one of the most versatile things you can cook with. Whether you press it into a patty, stuff it into a casing, or cook it up in a pasta sauce, there’s no doubt that it will be delicious. Come visit us–we’re happy to get you whatever you need.

 

Scott Weiss
Scott Weiss

The delights of ground meat Read more

Developed as way to utilize scraps of meat that occur as butchers broke down animals in search of the best cuts, ground ...

What’s your beef?

Fresh Cut Beef

If you’ve been by the Via Umbria meat counter lately you may have noticed a steak called the teres major. Despite its strange sounding name (it is the scientific name for the muscle, one that humans also have), the teres major is actually steak familiar to most of us. Cut off of the chuck, the shoulder of the cow that is traditionally used for ground or stew meat, the teres major is a muscle that is rarely, if ever, used by the cow during its lifetime. This gives it a unique set of qualities when it’s time for the cook to take over. First and foremost, it is soft. This means that even after you cook it, even when you cook it well done, it is tender. Secondly, there is virtually no intramuscular fat. This is the type of fat that gives the ribeye its pronounced rich flavor, and it is the type of fat that is impossible to avoid eating (not that you really should want to). There is one other muscle that has these two qualities: the beef tenderloin, or as it is known on most steakhouse menus: the filet mignon.

The thing that both of these qualities have in common is: you can see or feel them when the steak is still raw. When you walk into butcher shops it may be overwhelming when you see steaks or cuts of pork that you have never heard of. Don’t be intimidated! Talk to your butcher, but you can also look for a few simple things:

1. Fat cap – This will help protect your meat, keeping it moist while cooking, but it can also catch aflame when grilling. I always advise removing the fat cap after cooking, if you don’t want to eat it. That being said, I also think it looks great on a plate.

2. Visible grain – You’ve probably heard the expression “slice against the grain,” and that’s 100% true. That being said, there are several steaks with visible grain running perpendicular to the length of the steak. These are your hanger steaks, skirt steaks, bavette (flap meat) steaks, et cetera. In Italy these are the steaks called tagliata di mazo, sliced beef steak. In the New World, the skirt and the bavette are the most common cuts used in fajitas.

Grilling Beef

3. Intramuscular Fat – These small flecks of white within the meat are what give the ribeye its prowess as a steak. Unlike the fat cap, this is a fat that cannot be removed. But why would you? This is a fat that adds a richness of flavor that makes the steak versatile. It can be sliced thick and eaten as a steak, it can be ground, it can even be sliced think and served on a bread with some cheese whiz or provolone!

4. Pliability – This is the one that needs to be felt rather than seen. Both the tenderloin and the teres major are incredibly soft and flexible when raw. That is how you know they are incredibly tender.

So this isn’t a complete list by any stretch. There are so many different cuts of beef that can be used as steak or otherwise. It is, however, the four most important factors for me when judging how I will prepare the meat that I have purchased. It also helps you when you have a recipe that calls for a specific cut that you can’t locate (even though, if you call us in advance, we’ll have it for you!). There is always a similar enough cut of meat that you can use. Just don’t be afraid to ask!

Scott Weiss
Scott Weiss

Everything you need to know about steak Read more

If you’ve been by the Via Umbria meat counter lately you may have noticed a steak called the teres major. Despite its ...

A Culinary Event of Pork Proportions

I’m always a bit timid about large scale food or drink events, they tend to turn to a nice series of lines to wait in. So, I was a bit unsure of what to expect when I went to Cochon555 the other day. A nominal competition anchoring a series of pork-centered events, Cochon555 brings in several chefs, each partnered with a local pig farmer to deliver three pork dishes, in order to raise funds and awareness about the importance of local farms and humanely raised livestock. Let me tell you, this quickly turned into one of the most delicious evenings I have had in a long time. From sausage tartare to coney-style hot dogs, spring rolls to sliders; it never ceases to amaze me how much one can do with pork. If the only thing that you think of when you think of eating pork is overcooked grilled pork chop served alongside something sweet, you don’t know what you’re missing out on. Which brings me to something else that I noticed there: all of these doctored up little pork things were just variations of simple things that any home cook could do. From a slow cooked pork shoulder to reforming a sausage into the shape of a burger: don’t be intimidated by cooking pork. It can end up being the most forgiving and rewarding meat to cook.

The centerpiece of the event, however, was a “pop-up” butcher shop that followed a demonstration. The master butcher, who later told me how happy he was to see butchery reemerging after so many years as a dying art, and a chef broke down a small pig in under thirty minutes. It was a sight to behold. I’ve experienced it before, but participating in or observing this process never ceases to be a humbling experience. You are watching a transformation: from an animal into recognizable food. Food that you could have picked up at the grocery store. The respect gained from just a little bit of knowledge of this process goes a long way, I think. First of all, you begin to pay more attention to where your meat comes from, how it was treated, and what it ate. Second of all, you make sure you buy the right cut for what you’d want to make.

Breaking Down a Pig

That’s where I come in! Come by the butcher shop with some ideas and we can work together to make sure you have exactly what you need. I can receive special orders and work with you to make sure you get precisely what you want, or whatever your recipe calls for. It is amazing how easy cooking can be when you are using the right ingredients. And we can get you the right ingredients!

Scott Weiss
Scott Weiss

A recap of Cochon555 Read more

I’m always a bit timid about large scale food or drink events, they tend to turn to a nice series of lines ...

Bring on Grilling Season

I haven’t written much about my recent trip to Italy yet. There’s quite simply too much to say, if I wanted to convey how much I saw and learned on this expedition. Instead, I’ll focus on a single simple experience: watching a steak being cooked. Driving to Norcia, the walled town in southern Umbria famed for its excellent cured pork and as the home of some heady saints (Saint Benedict of Nursia and his sister Saint Scholastica), Chef Simone, informed me of a plan to stop for dinner on the way back north. But for now, we headed on to Norcia. This town was swimming in little butcher shops. Mostly selling the local cured pork and wild boar products, norcineria. The prosciutto here was so well-balanced: nutty, sweet, salty, that I was ready to write the USDA and complain about their importation requirements right then and there. And it sure didn’t help that we were trying this in a little restaurant on the main piazza in the shadow of St. Benedict and his church. I could go on and on, but we’ll save that for another time.

Hanging Sausages

After leaving the dizzying array of hanging cured meats behind us, we headed to the mountainside town where dinner was on the agenda. There certainly wasn’t much to this town, a few cafes and restaurants, with a truffle museum being the only real tourist attraction. The restaurant destination was a little osteria that felt more like a basement than a restaurant. Vaulted stone sealing, maybe ten tables, and a raging fireplace. Flanking the fireplace, a table with a whole prosciutto, sliced only by hand, made by the chef from pigs he raised himself. Above that, links of his dried sausage. This was the definition of comfortable.

For our main course, we ordered a steak, rare. To cook it, he brought out a little metal grill, placed in front of the fire and started moving the hot coals underneath it. Before too long, there was a massive steak sizzling right there in front of us. I was beside myself. Here I am, on an Italian mountainside, watching my steak being grilled right in front of me: on the floor of the restaurant. And unsurprisingly, looking at glowing hot coals, my mind wandered and I remembered all the times we grilled growing up.

Sizzling Steak

Fortunately for me, with this memory in mind, it’s starting to warm up here. What I mean to say is, it is almost time for us to start grilling too. We may not be able to cook up a steak right in our fireplaces, but we sure can cook on the open flame. At the Via Umbria meat counter, we’re ready. Having seen this steak transformed from raw meat into delicious dinner right in front of me, I think we should translate that experience to our own backyards. Whether it’s a prime cut that you’ve heard of: the ribeye, the New York strip, the fiorentina, or an off cut you may never have tried before: the hanger, the bavette, teres major, let’s throw that beef over some hot coals (or gas flame, if that’s what’s available). I’ll likely never have that experience again, coming immediately from one of the meat capitals of the world to fireplace-cooked steak; but we can make something just as delicious in our own backyards. So come on down, get a steak. Bring on grilling season!

 

Scott Weiss
Scott Weiss

Let’s throw that beef over some hot coals Read more

I haven’t written much about my recent trip to Italy yet. There’s quite simply too much to say, if I wanted to ...

A Bounty of Bacon

BACON! Okay, now that I have your attention let’s have a little chat, because bacon is a bit more complicated than you thought. One of the few cured meats that is meant to be cooked, bacon is most famous in the United States for its place on the breakfast plate. To get there, bacon goes through a multistep process that can involve curing, smoking, and pan frying (ah, the sizzling). This bacon is usually belly, and is almost always smoked. In fact, most of the unique flavors between different American bacons come from the wood used in the smoking process. The tradition of bacon for breakfast comes from the British Isles, where the most common kind of “rashers” are cut from the loin (think more like Canadian bacon). Leaner than the belly, this is a bacon that is cut a bit thicker than in the American tradition, and is chewy and meaty–not crispy. Either way, it’s tasty.

Pancetta

Here at Via Umbria, however, we also draw from the Italian bacon traditions: pancetta. Pancetta is the belly of the pig, cured into bacon just like here. The most crucial difference from the American bacon, however, is that it isn’t smoked and is sometimes rolled. In fact, most of the Italian pancetta you can find stateside is the rolled variety. Not so at Via Umbria; we primarily carry a “slab” of pancetta, that on a quick glance looks almost exactly like your typical breakfast bacon. This is not because the slab is different in any way from the rolled, just that better quality producers are mostly electing not to roll their pancettas. The use of the bacon is different too. Rather than slicing thickly and panfrying, you slice thin and eat raw. Or you dice and use as the base of an excellent sauce.

American Bacon and Jowciale

Bacon doesn’t stop there! In Umbria, and other areas of central Italy, you wouldn’t use pancetta. Instead, the choice is guanciale. Guanciale translates literally as cheek, and is produced in a fashion similar to pancetta, but using the jowl of the pig rather than the belly. It is usually fattier, and thus richer in flavor. I find that it is a superb addition to any charcuterie plate, the fat deliciously contrasts the meatiness of a prosciutto and the seasoned flavor of a salami. Also excellent for cooking, guanciale is the only real base of the carbonara and the amtriciana. American producers are catching on and making their own, sometimes putting their own American spin on it! You may have seen these on menus as “face bacon.” We carry one called jowciale, which is hickory smoked in Virginia and is fantastic when used to cook greens or pan-fried and put on a BLT or a burger.

However you like your bacon, we’re ready to meet your needs! Come have a chat with me at the butcher counter and we’ll make sure to have one that has you salivating.

 

Scott Weiss
Scott Weiss

Bacon is more complicated than you thought Read more

BACON! Okay, now that I have your attention let’s have a little chat, because bacon is a bit more complicated than you ...