Seven years ago when I belonged to a book club and it was my turn to host I decided to make a pork loin roast. I had found the recipe on the Food Network and it sounded like the perfect main course for our group. So, I went over to Iowa Meat Farms and consulted with butcher Stan Glen. I was just going to use conventional pork, but he encouraged me to also try a roast made from Berkshire pork, a hog variety long known for the quality and flavor of its meat. To maintain that quality, farmers raise them free range and richly fed like they used to be more than 40 years ago--before pork was touted as "the other white meat." This results in meat that has more marbling, moistness, and tenderness. I made The Barefoot Contessa recipe—it calls for a mixture of rosemary, fennel seeds, lemon zest, garlic, Dijon mustard, olive oil, salt and pepper blended into a paste and pressed onto the top of the roast. The conventional pork roast was just fine, but the Berkshire pork version was over-the-top delicious. I never looked back.
So when I heard that Chef Pascal Besset had launched a new business, Angel's Salumi & Truffles in Carlsbad, and was using Kansas-raised Berkshire pork to make his salumi, I wanted to get a taste of it. Plus, I'm awfully fond of truffles.
I spent an afternoon with Besset in his warehouse and retail shop, which will also be where he holds cooking classes. Not only does he use Berkshire pork, but he also uses wild boar, bison, duck, and New Zealand venison for his different salumi varieties. The products are processed in a production facility in the L.A. area, which has three large dry rooms, each holding 43 racks filled with 680 pounds of product. Besset does all the buying and creates the recipes.
So, what does he make?
There's the wild boar prosciutto, very sweet and light, thanks to dried herbs, peppercorns, rosemary, sage, mace, and garlic. This smooth meat is a perfect pairing with dried fruits and nuts, a strong cheese, and craft beer. His duck prosciutto is just what you'd want to include in a charcuterie plate or add to pizza, pasta, soup, or salads. Besset says it's his number one selling product.
Then there's the black truffle pork salami, which incorporates black truffle oil and peelings. It has a heady aroma and would go well with champagne.
The white alba truffle salami uses white truffle puree (which Besset sells to restaurants for making dishes like risotto). Not surprisingly, it has a much more subtle flavor than the black.
Soppressata is one of my personal favorite salumis so I was curious about how Angel's would compare. I loved it. Usually, I'm psyched to get a punch of heat and garlic, mixed with fennel. This one was different, more sophisticated in flavor. I still got the fennel but instead of heat, there were sublime smoky overtones, thanks to his use of Spanish pimentón. Here's something that would pair wonderfully with a Pinot Grigio.
The dried, cured Berkshire Lomo Embuchado was stunning. It's made from the loin, which is massaged with four Spanish paprikas and then slowly air dried. Try this with a rosé.
That's not even all of them. Then we get to the truffle products. Now, I know the disdain people have for truffle products like oil and salts. But Besset gets that and as a chef he's keen to create products that colleagues will want to use and that customers will enjoy. He sent me home with a 500 ml container of white truffle oil, white and black truffle compound butters, and a small jar of truffle "caviar,"winter truffle juice created into tiny pearls that are color enhanced with the use of squid ink. (He also sells truffle juice, truffle carpaccio, truffle salt, and porcini butter.)
Have I had fun with these products. The truffle oil has gone into popcorn, been drizzled over roasted vegetables, and incorporated into salad dressing. I indulge with the truffle butter with its large flecks of truffle in the simplest ways, like spreading on my favorite toasted sourdough rolls or adding to baked potatoes. And that truffle caviar was stunning just topping scrambled eggs.
While Besset sells to restaurants like Sea & Smoke (chef/owner Matt Gordon is a big fan), his products can also be found in L.A. and Irvine, and in San Diego at retailers like Specialty Produce, Venissimo, Bottega Americano, Brothers' Provisions, Major Market, Baker & Olive, and We Olive. The company is also in the process of setting up an online retail store.