In the steaming kitchen of Olympic Provisions in Portland, Chef Elias Cairo is carrying on an old-fashioned tradition that is one of Portland’s newest trends — charcuterie. Cairo is one of many Oregon chefs who have renewed the age-old practice of custom cutting and curing their meats in house.
“This product has been made since we’ve been trying preserve meat — before refrigeration,” he says, slicing into a spicy dried salami. “The technique is all as Old World as you can possibly get.”
A look at Olympic Provisions menu tells the end of the story with offerings like chorizo rioja, sopressata, mortadella and capicola. But for Cairo, the real narrative starts 100 miles south of Portland at Sweet Briar Farms in Eugene, where he buys his pork.
Here farmers Petrene Morland and Keith Cooper tend to such creatures as a handsome 300-pound Berkshire hog bound for Cairo’s kitchen, sows with wriggling pink piglets and the giant resident boar named Wilbur. “He’s made a lot of babies for us. He’s been a good boar,” Morland says as Cooper gives his big head a scratch.
For the Sweet Briar farmers, it’s about more than product — it’s about relationships. “We’re not a large operation. We just want to stay connected with the farm and connected with our customers,” Cooper says. “It’s important for us to know that our pigs are happy pigs,” Morland says. “That they’re listening to country music during the day and they’re fed and put to bed every night. It means a lot not only to us but also to our customers and to the animal.”
That chain of connection is what Cairo finds meaningful and is part of his professional satisfaction. “Patrene cares so much about her pigs every step of the way,” he says. “Then she brings it to us and we are allowed to have hands-on care about everything that we do. We pass it onto the customer and the customer can taste difference of the quality pork that we use.”
Explore more: Take some time to explore the food scene. Make a reservation at one of Olympic Provision’s restaurants or plan a farm tour in the Willamette Valley. Book a room at the Inn at the 5th in Eugene or at the Valley River Inn. For more inspiration about Oregon’s charcuterie, check out our video on Nick’s Italian Café in McMinnville.