By Cindy Lazarenko
“I have long suspected that the only joy in being a vegetarian is that which results when one returns to the carnivorous fold.”
- Clarissa Dickson Wright, FOOD: What We Eat and How We Eat
Obviously at OnOurTable, we love prepared meat products. We design and manufacture the boards to put them on. We especially love charcuterie. The term includes pretty much any type of meat product that has been preserved by smoking, drying or curing. Think sausages, pates, salamis, rillettes, confit.
It runs in the family. My younger brother, Brad Lazarenko, owns a small neighbourhood restaurant called Culina Millcreek. For the past two years, and while has been focusing on his other Edmonton river valley establishments, Steven Furgiuele has been at the helm of the Culina Millcreek restaurant. Steven leads his steady team of hardworking and dedicated kitchen staff as well as overseeing front of the house operations as required.
Steven’s father was born in the town of Dipignano in the province of Cosenza, in the Calabria region of Southern Italy. His family name can be traced back to the coastal town of Amantea. Furgiuele is a very rare name, even in Italy today. Steven’s mother is from Sudbury, Ontario. She is responsible for Steven’s love of bread making as well as desserts and pies. At an early age his father passed down life lessons through gardening and Steven also grew up making salami and sausage at his father’s side.
Steven has been making the restaurant’s charcuterie since 2014. Over the years Steven has built a reputation for housemade charcuterie. One look at his prep kitchen upstairs and it becomes incredibly obvious that he is doing something special. Mastering or at least well on his way to mastering this very mysterious and often misunderstood artform—it’s not just cold cuts—we call charcuterie. I instantly fell in love with his cured concoctions because the flavours were so bold, distinct, savoury and sometimes spicy.
One evening, a friend invited me over for wine. After rattling around in her kitchen for a few minutes, she came out with beautiful plates of grilled bread drizzled with olive oil, pickled vegetables and peppers, green olives, mustard and chutney, interesting wedges and dollops of cheese including a homemade ricotta and three distinctly different types of charcuterie. At first glance I knew these speckled, thin slices of meat did not come from a nearby grocery store or our favourite Italian market. I immediately dove in, anxious to discover something new and the first thought that came to me was “well now, seems like Steven has some serious competition”. My second thought was “and how is it that I do not know about this deli?” It turned out, she stopped by Culina Millcreek on her way home from work and ordered take out. Brilliant. Now I know for sure my love is true.
Curious to know how he finds the time to take on such a task while managing a restaurant, I asked him if he had taken a course or read any books in particular that helped guide him through the process. He explained that he is simply carrying out a tradition.
“Every January you knew you would be making salami and sausages.”
And each spring, after his university semester was complete and before summer jobs began, he would help his family make fresh sausages that didn’t need the winter cold to cure/dry properly. One year he taught his sister to make chicken sausage. He loves to be able to “carry on the tradition and do things the old way.”
Now I’m really curious about Steve’s childhood and his upbringing and I asked him to describe some of his most memorable moments with his family.
“Many nights, after dinner, we would sit for an hour or two talking and eating walnuts or chestnuts, Friulano or Crotonese cheese and fresh fruit.”
He says his father told many stories and preached a lot about the importance of tradition, how it was dying out, how out of a very large pool of grandkids and cousins, Steven was the only one who expressed any interest in food preparation. As a child it was nothing more than a chore, task or responsibility. However later on, it turned into something that kept Steven going. It became an honour to respect his dad’s way of doing things. His grandfather as well. The biggest nod to both of them, as well as his mother was to turn that interest and natural ability into a profession. “They were great teachers. They taught me the value of family time and preparing your own food as well as the emotions that come with it.”
His family also gardened and actively took part in vegetable preservation. In September the tomato truck would come and the family would make its own tomato sauce.
“My father would grab me by the hand and say things to me like, “Respect the tomato. It’s very important. Eat while you can. Enjoy while you can. Buy the best food you can. Don’t scrimp on food.”
Now that he’s older and with some culinary education under his belt, Steven finds he has a better understanding of why his family did what they did when making charcuterie at home. For example, they used to throw buckets of water on the floor when the air was too dry, alternately they’d open vents in the warmer months. He intuitively knows what needs to be done but also adds technology to the process by taking advantage of a more controlled environment – refrigeration as opposed to an underground cold room.
His biggest challenge is delegating the task. A certain aspect of the process of making charcuterie is not something you can necessarily teach. For Steven, it’s instinctual. He just “knows.” There is the occasional mishap and there is always room for improvement or a desire to change or tweak the flavour profile but like any great chef, Steven is fearless when it comes to charcuterie and that’s more than half the battle. He enjoys making dry cured products the most. It’s the element of fermentation that he finds both challenging and the most rewarding.
But mostly, he wants people to know and to understand that it really comes from a place of love.
My Q and A with Steven Furgiuele
Q: What has been the customer response to your cheese and (mostly) charcuterie boards at Culina Millcreek?
A: I feel very fortunate to have had such a strong, positive feedback since we started the program in May 2014. Some of my favourite experiences have been serving large parties at the restaurant, bringing out the charcuterie boards to hear the “ooohs and aahhs”.
Q: How do you decide what type of charcuterie you will make?
A: It’s the “perfect storm” I have my own collection of tested recipes plus a vast database of ones I haven’t attempted yet. From there I’ll gaze over the spice shelf and become inspired from there.
Q: How many different types do you have going at any given time?
A: I have been more ambitious as of late. As one product is finishing up and ready to be removed, I have another one in the wings waiting. Currently I have Tangle Ridge Ranch lamb salami with Calabrese rosemary and pepperoncini, black peppered beef bresaola, Country Accent Mangalitsa salami “finocchiona” with Calabrese fennel pollen and seed, hot pepperoncini capicola (cured pork shoulder), hot pepperoncini (dry cured pork shoulder). I’m currently curing: two massive capicola with intense Calabrese chili – I wanted to make a very hot product.
Also: smoked Andouille, done American style, smoked kielbasa, a variety of Ocean Odyssey Icelandic cod sausages and Tangle Ridge lamb Merguez fresh sausage.
Q: How long does it take to cure meat?
A: For my whole muscle products, I cure them for one month in the fridge, rotating once or twice per week to ensure even salt penetration. They take approximately 3 to 3 ½ months to hang to my preferred weight loss.
Salami type products ferment for approximately 36 to 40 hours depending on the pH level and, depending on casing size/type, take approximately 2 ½ to 3 months. Normal sausage sized products are quick and easy with a 6 week turnaround.
Q: What is your quick “go to” or quick to serve cheese and charcuterie board at home.
A: The Cheesiry mature pecorino, Calabrese Soppressata. Nefiss Lezizz Devine olive oil, 18 year balsamic, cocktail tomatoes on the vine, baby cucumbers, Maldon sea salt and Bonjour Bakery anything.
Q: What’s next on your list to try?
A: After attending a beautiful workshop, courtesy of Country Accent, a farm located in Bawlf, Alberta I have been focusing on the Mangalitsa pig breed and have already placed my order for an early spring delivery! Through this, I intend to experiment with culatello, prosciutto and speck.
Assuming I can get the blood, I plan to make a chocolate ice cream (inspiration comes from stories of Christmas time slaughter when they would mix the blood with melted chocolate and hazelnuts for a treat) and some blood sausage. I’m also hoping to develop a cured chorizo recipe while utilizing cold smoke during the fermentation phase.
Q: What’s next on your table?
A: I’d like to sell wholesale in stores and customize charcuterie for restaurants.