Charcuterie and sausage-making blend artistry with science. Crafting charcuterie involves curing, smoking, fermenting, and aging meats, while sausage-making encompasses mixing, grinding, and stuffing. Both require a deep understanding of flavors, textures, and the transformative power of time.
Beyond the delicious products that result from these processes, club chefs are discovering the educational and experiential value they bring to their culinary teams and the unique offerings they provide to their members.
For Jeremy Leinen, CEC, Executive Chef of The Country Club of Rochester (Rochester, N.Y.), these two disciplines have remarkable staying power, especially as the cost of goods continues to rise.
“Filets, ribeyes and pork chops are expensive, so it makes a ton of sense to showcase these less expensive cuts of meat in ways that underscore the skill of the culinary team,” says Leinen. “Particularly in bar settings, where people are socializing and sharing, charcuterie boards are becoming more and more the focal point. I lived in Chicago just a few blocks from Lardon, a restaurant built almost exclusively on its charcuterie offering. Talk about being a kid in a proverbial candy store. Bottom line—I think charcuterie is a phenomenal way for club chefs to make a mark on their operation and showcase their skill to their membership while also teaching their teams something artistic and useful.”
Leinen tends to play it safe with sausage-making and relies on classic recipes as his guide.
“I use recipes for bratwurst, jagerwurst, and weisswurst as a blueprint and don’t try to push the boundaries too far when I want to nudge recipes in a certain direction,” he says. “Classics are classic for a reason, and they generally offer the balance you’re probably looking for. That said, you can always swap ingredients in and out—maybe go a little heavier on a certain seasoning if you’re looking for more of this or that. But the classic proportions are typically a great guideline to follow.”
John Comerford, Executive Chef of LaGrange (Ill.) Country Club, agrees and suggests only changing one element each time you want to evolve or refine a product.
“If you’re changing too many things at once, the flavors you’re looking to develop can get lost,” he says. “Be pragmatic and keep good records.”
LaGrange’s culinary team is fortunate to have a steak locker that they’ve turned into a dry-aging box where they plan to hang sausages while the club undergoes various renovations for the next few years.
So far, the most popular sausages at LaGrange have been duck sausage, a 55-day dry-aged beef sausage and a southern-style hotlink. Much like other parts of the menu, Comerford and his Sous Chef, Jason Kurosaki, try to mind seasonality with sausage-making while also finding clever ways to showcase these items for members.
“During our fall wine festival, we created an action station with charcuterie and sausages that complemented many of the wines being featured,” says Comerford. “Members really enjoyed the station because it was not only different than your typical banquet stations but also because they were able to try things they’ve never had before. They were especially proud of the fact that their culinary team made these items in-house.”
Ultimately, sausage-making comes down to member preference and lots of trial and error.
“In every club I’ve ever worked, I always start by introducing the classics first,” says Leinen. “Getting a sausage program off the ground can involve heavy lifting, so don’t complicate it early. Sure, there’s some cool stuff you might see on Instagram, but I can’t tell you how positive the feedback always is when I deliver freshly made breakfast sausage for the first time.
“Most people haven’t tasted fresh sausage with that vibrant flavor,” he continues. “The same goes for bratwurst, Polish or Italian sausages served simply off the grill for a golf event. Members notice the difference without question—and you begin to gain their trust so that eventually they will be more inclined to try something a little less familiar.”
Charcuterie celebrates the craft of preserving and enhancing the flavors of meats through various techniques like curing, smoking, and aging. Establishing a charcuterie program not only allows club chefs to showcase their skill and creativity but also provides a unique and customizable dining experience that can set the club apart.
For Justin Field, Executive Chef and Kitchen Manager for Eaglewood Golf Course and Event Center (North Salt Lake, Utah), charcuterie has been a game-changer—literally.
“Our members and guests are primarily here for golf,” says Field. “This means most of them each lunch with us. Charcuterie plays a critical part on our menus and allows us to offer a sandwich menu filled with house-made meats unlike anything they’d get elsewhere.”
Field was brought to Eaglewood and given free rein to establish the vision for the club’s culinary program. With so much lunch traffic, Field knew from the get-go that he wanted to create a charcuterie program to take the club’s sandwiches to a new level.
Today, the “lunch meat” at Eaglewood is second to none and includes a Cajun turkey, lamb ham, salami, duck pastrami, Parma ham, soppressata, capicola and more.
“Charcuterie-making can go well beyond charcuterie boards in the bar,” says Field. “Our signature club sandwich is a great example. It features our Cajun turkey on sourdough with lettuce, tomato, onions, avocado, sprouts, and a little mayo. Our golfers love it.”
Where to Start
All three club chefs agree that a HACCP plan must be approved before a club can begin a charcuterie program.
“The days of the health department just glossing over this are gone,” says Leinen. “There are consultants that will work with you to build this if you can’t do it yourself, and it will take a lot of the headaches out of the process. It’s not a trivial amount of money, but likely not a deal breaker, so plan for it.”
Beyond that, charcuterie programs start with great butchery work and high-quality ingredients.
“You can’t concentrate on what isn’t there,” says Leinen. “Sure, you can make Lonza from a commodity pork loin, but it’s likely to be bland and flavorless. Opting for a quality Berkshire product, or better yet, working with a local farmer, is worth the effort. The flavor will be noticeable in your end product.”
All three chefs agree that the more they lean into charcuterie, the more they rely on tradition.
“The technology and processes haven’t changed,” says Field. “We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. I am glad to see some of the tools, like the curing chambers, coming down in price to make this technique more accessible to all.”
“Honestly, this isn’t the place to try and be creative,” says Leinen. “There are well-established guidelines on proper temps for drying and fermentation, and trying to stray from these offers little reward. Trying to get a consistent result with these items can be tricky enough, so don’t try to get cute with it.”
“Charcuterie and sausage-making are now part of our core repertoire,” says Comerford. “While dining trends will always ebb and flow, sausage and charcuterie have stood the test of time. We believe it’s important for culinarians to learn these techniques to continue offering unique, high-quality products to our members.”