A Mother-and-Sons Team Reviving an Old Craft
Why They're Tastemakers: Founded in 2014 by James Forbes and his mother, Jane, North Country Charcuterie is a small business on the ascent. With a product line of four salamis and a chorizo, North Country crafts its marbled meats using Old World techniques and Ohio-raised Berkshire pork sourced from Saddleberk Farms. Last fall, the company (Jane's son Duncan also joined the effort to focus on marketing and sales) moved from a few tables and shelves inside the commercial kitchen at 1400 Food Lab to its own 3,350-square-foot, USDA-approved facility on Chesapeake Avenue next to Watershed Distillery. With 37 wholesale customers located mostly in Ohio, North Country now has the capacity to ramp up production with an eye on the national market.
The Salami Swami: After graduating with a culinary degree from Columbus State Community College and cutting his teeth in the restaurant grind, James grew tired of the poor pay and bad hours. He and his mom, a self-described “serial entrepreneur” who once owned her own company, started brainstorming. Wanting to combine his culinary passions with the flexibility of self-employment, James searched for an artisanal product with potential and began noticing a growing interest in premium charcuterie. “My mom and I were really loving cured meats at the time ... and we thought, ‘Why don't we make a company like this?'” James says.
Humble Beginnings: You don't just jump into the dry-curing business overnight—you have to contend with factors like temperature, fermentation, mold, bacteria and time. While complex agricultural regulations filter out many would-be salami makers, James remained steadfast in his pursuit to learn the state and federal guidelines involved in cured meat craftsmanship. First, he converted a refrigerator from Craigslist into a drying chamber and started studying food regulations at the Economic & Community Development Institute's Food Fort. Now, with the company's move to a larger production facility, gone are the days when Jane and James would chop the pork, grind it in small batches using a hand crank and then mix the meat and spices by hand—they've graduated to a 200-pound capacity Hollymatic grinder/mixer.
Flavor and Fat: One thing that sets North Country's charcuterie apart is James' willingness to tweak tradition. “I didn't want to do the classic dried salami flavors,” James says. “So many people that are on the market already have a soppressata, a calabrese, a coppa picante, a saucisson sec. Those flavors are nice and all. … But it's boring. I wanted to have more creative freedom in them.” The general rule of thumb for salami is a 70 percent-to-30 percent ratio of fatty muscle cuts to lean cuts. North Country's No. 1 Salami, its almost creamy best-seller featuring Blue Jacket Dairy cheese and chardonnay from Debonne Vineyards, goes one step further. “I played around with it a little bit more and added whole back fat to it because … it just tasted good,” James says, his mom and brother laughing at his decidedly unscientific explanation.
On the North Country Horizon: Jane says the company's next hurdle is to translate the trio's story for a national audience. “Moving into a different market is a challenge because our story has been fun for people here who have known us over the years … and the fact that we use locally sourced products,” Jane says. “When you move into another market, you have to figure out what that [story's] going to be.” In the meantime, North Country's product line is growing. Its coffee-and-brown sugar-cured bacon is now available online and at the Worthington Farmers Market. James is also experimenting with whole muscle cuts like coppa, prosciutto and pancetta. Duncan says the company hopes to release those products later this year, and its sobrasada, a Spanish-style spreadable chorizo, recently hit shelves.