We’ve had a whole lot of Portland lovers walk by our meat counter and squeal with joy upon seeing a basket of Olympic Provisions salamis. We agree-they’re tops-so we asked Brenda Crow of Olympic Provisions to share with us San Franciscans a bit of their story:
Tucked into what was once Portland’s produce district, Olympic Provisions was a convergence of two simple ideas amongst siblings and friends: We were inspired to make old world cured meat and to serve it in a decidedly new world setting – Portland, Oregon’s burgeoning dining scene.
Most of us didn’t grow up in Portland, this beautiful place we now call home. Elias and Michelle Cairo–brother and sister and now, business partners–were raised in Sandy, Utah where their Greek father found a home away from the homeland. A far cry from Sparta, he held tight to his heritage, cutting and curing his own meat and tending a garden full of garlic, peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers. The family also operated a couple of Greek diners in the area.
Influenced by his father, Elias later set out to Switzerland to apprentice under master chef Annegret Schlumpf and ultimately under the local jagermeister, where all the valley’s meat was processed and cured. The experience was a familiar and pivotal one. After returning to the U.S., Eli set out to recreate what he’d learned, opening Oregon’s first USDA-approved salumeria: Olympic Provisions. Opening alongside, our restaurant of the same name serves rustic, elegant food. Diminutive in size, that first curing room affirmed Elias’s fundamental conviction: high quality handmade charcuterie can be made without cutting corners, just as it’s done in the old world. Here’s how we do it:
At the beginning of each week, we start with fresh pork from Carlton, Oregon, nestled in nearby wine country. We use pork shoulder to produce our salami, a muscle that we butcher to 100% lean. We also insist on selecting and hand-cutting pure back fat – that beautiful lard that’s snowy white and velvety soft. Both ingredients and technique are essential to producing the style of salami that we covet: tender, flavorful pork dappled with buttery fat that melts clean.
To compliment that extravagance, we start with whole spices and fresh garlic, grinding them in-house with each batch. It seems like a simple step, but it’s surprisingly uncommon in most American charcuterie houses. Equally uncommon are many of the varieties we make. Loukanika, seasoned with cumin, orange zest and garlic, is a taste of the Cairo’s childhood – a recipe not too far off from the one their dad made at home. Our Chorizo Navarre, a dry-cured Spanish style chorizo nuanced with a bit of heat, was a favorite on Elias’s travels throughout Spain. The Saucisson D’Arles hails from a region in France where the charcuterie masters consider spices extraneous – a distraction from the exquisite flavor of their good pork and sound technique. It relies on nothing more than sea salt to assert its sublime flavor.
A peak into our curing room is a divine place for the meat lover. Long strands of salami dusted in natural white molds hang from high racks. All of our salami is encased in natural hog casings. That beautiful white mold you’ll find protecting it is also natural and an indication of the patience we put into curing each piece. And the final ingredients we consider essential to superb salami? Good times and a great team.