Above: Rob Krawczyk. Photo: Rob Durston
This month, Irish chef and charcuterie master Rob Krawczyk will host a meat curing and whiskey masterclass designed to showcase how we can combine hugely popular homegrown products to create something amazing by simply embracing Ireland’s native produce, ingredients and recipes.
Creating definitively Irish cured meats in a field dominated by our continental neighbours is no mean feat, but Rob has been exploring this for many years, inspired by his father, Frank, who established West Cork Salamis in the late 1990s at a time when the practice of air-drying meat was pretty much unheard of in Ireland.
Traditionally, the art of cured meat has been associated with charcuterie producers in Spain or France, but recently we’ve found ourselves in the midst of an Irish food culture revolution, with Irish butchers, farmers and adventurous chefs at the forefront. Rob is one of these chefs.
Charcuterie stems from the French noun charcuter which means ‘to butcher’ and the process of curing meat born from a need to preserve meat to keep it edible during the winter months. By drying meat and smoking it over a fire, the meat would dehydrate and could be preserved and stored for longer.
With the advent of modern preservation techniques such as fridges, many rural traditions – including curing meat for functional reasons – became obsolete. So what has caused a crescendo in the local charcuterie movement in recent years?
“It really comes down to a renewed love affair with Irish produce and an ethical desire to buy locally and sustainably,” Cork-based culinary extraordinaire Rob explains.
While some would argue that Ireland’s damp and cool climate doesn’t lend itself well to the charcuterie tradition, Rob and his father Frank are big believers in taking the traditions employed on the continent and embracing the uniqueness of the Irish environment in which the meat is being produced. Rob admits that without temperature-controlled rooms moisture and inconsistent temperatures can make air-drying meats difficult. However, unfazed by these challenges, Rob has used a blend of methods to hone his own technique, complemented by the quality of the Irish breeds.
The approach of keeping the production chain completely local has come at the perfect time. With new appreciations of localism and expanding consciousness of animal welfare concerns, the Irish consumer is favouring locally-cured meats over imported products.
“In Ireland, we have some of the highest quality meat in the world, complying to high animal welfare standards,” says Rob. “We produce some of the biggest, fattest pigs in the world – this allows our charcuterie meat to have a distinctive taste.”
Embrace the difference
Rob encourages budding chefs and charcutiers to reflect themselves in their own meat curing, adding some flair to their charcuterie by creating their own signature style and flavours using different seasonings, meats and cuts. As charcuterie continues to grow in popularity in Ireland, new traditions will be formed and new dishes created. This unwavering Irish passion for innovating will ensure the country remains at the forefront of pushing boundaries in this continental field.
On July 25th, Rob will host a hands-on whiskey and charcuterie masterclass – Black Bush Cured – at Drury Buildings in Dublin in collaboration with Bushmills Irish Whiskey. The interactive event will see him teaching attendees how to use the iconic whiskey to cure and smoke their own meat. The masterclass is part of the #BlackBushStories campaign – a collaborative event series celebrating the stories and crafts of independent, spirited and extraordinary talent across Ireland. To register for Black Bush Cured and to read more about Rob’s story, visit blackbushstories.com.