Jeremy Leinen, Executive Chef of Dunwood Country Club, offers a behind the scenes look at the club’s ever-evolving charcuterie program.
Jeremy Leinen, Executive Chef of Dunwoody Country Club (Atlanta, Ga.), was always fascinated by the art and process of charcuterie. The idea of combining meat, salt and time to create a unique new product with depth of flavor, appealed to him. He started reading books on charcuterie by Brian Polcyn, an award-winning chef and charcuterie expert. After reading all his books, Leinen took a class by Polcyn. This eventually lead to the development of an in-depth charcuterie program at Dunwoody CC.
CRC: What types of charcuterie do you make?
JL: Quite a variety! We cure holiday hams for Thanksgiving and Easter. We make our own corned beef and pastrami. We’ve made hotdogs and a variety of sausages for special events, such as member-guest. I’ve done various dried sausages such as chorizo, pepperoni, salami and saucisson sec. We currently have bresaola on the menu, with batches of lonza and coppa being finished off for the next menu cycle.
CRC: What is your setup like at the club? Where are you aging?
JL: Currently, we are using an old beverage cooler that still works perfectly fine but was replaced as part of life-cycle planning. For air flow, I have a small desk fan seated in the bottom of the cooler. I use Umai Dry bags for all my cured items, so I can air dry in a cooler.
CRC: How do you menu these items?
JL: Due to COVID-19, we’ve had to modify this. The charcuterie program was an addition to our menu going along with our recently completed kitchen renovation, which allowed us to significantly increase the size of our menu and expand the variety of offerings. The intention was the typical shareable appetizer- which our membership really likes, and charcuterie is perfectly suited for. But with the current dining restrictions, that isn’t an option right now. Instead of a charcuterie plate with multiple varieties of cured meats, we are currently offering individual portion plates of bresaola and chicken liver mousse. It’s not ideal, but it’s what we can do right now. Additionally, some cured items are incorporated into other dishes, like chorizo being part of both baked oysters and the lobster dish currently on the menu.
CRC: What are some of the biggest challenges with charcuterie/getting a program going?
JL: The biggest issue is HACCP and the documentation requirements. Going above 40 degree with anything is something the health department really doesn’t want you to do. I stumbled onto the Umai Dry bags and was skeptical, but then very pleasantly surprised with how well they worked. Being able to dry the meats below 40 degrees really simplifies the process. Aside from that, having a dedicated space to dry the meats is critical.
CRC: How did you get buy-in from your GM and the members to create this program?
JL: That part was actually very easy. I didn’t really ask anyone. I just started doing it. Once people tasted one of the first batches, they were very supportive of the idea. Ultimately, members generally want there to be something unique about their dining program and what is offered, so it’s really not that hard to sell them on new ideas when we can execute them well. The biggest thing is it didn’t require much of an investment to get off the ground, so I really didn’t have to ask for anything to get started.
CRC: What are the costs?
JL: In my case, it was pretty minimal. We proactively replaced a beverage cooler and I repurposed the old one. The only additional expense was maybe $30 for a desk fan and then the cost of the Umai bags.
CRC: Did you have to create/get approved with a HACCP plan? Any troubles with inspectors?
JL: Using the Umai Dry bags, we stay under 40 degrees through the entire process, which really eliminates a lot of the issues.
CRC: Why bother with making your own charcuterie?
JL: I’ve always seen being a club chef as being a craftsman first and foremost. So with that in mind, I didn’t want to just open a package and serve something that someone else made if I could make it better myself. There’s also the issue of control and getting to make exactly what you want. Additionally, the cost to quality ratio when making this yourself is favorable. The cheaper stuff you can buy is generally not very good, and the good stuff gets to be prohibitively expensive. There’s a lot you can do with cuts of meat that generally don’t cost more than about $4 a pound, and done correctly you get a delicious end product that can be profitable for you and a good value for the member.
CRC: What are you working on right now?
JL: I just took a delivery of some Iberico pork collars, so that’s next on my list.
CRC: How do you hope to evolve this program?
JL: I plan to start off with the more familiar items that everyone has had, to build a trust and comfort level. After a while, I’d like to add some funkier items like zampone and cotechino as well as getting a bit more wild with flavoring pepperoni or salami, etc.