An Artisan At Work
Scott Buer says some of the Italian old-timers in Milwaukee call him Mr. Prosciutto. Which is quite a compliment. While Buer isn’t Italian, he does make prosciutto. And pancetta. And guanciale. And Paletilla Hungara. And two or three other dry-cured, artisan meats that you don’t find produced much in this country, and certainly not in Wisconsin.
That void was what motivated Buer, a motivation that came to him during a visit to, of all places, Fromagination here in Madison.
“We have so many great artisan cheeses,” says Buer, “but we need artisan meats, too.” So Buer found some space on the fringe of Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood and opened Bolzano Artisan Meats, which he says is the first and only company in Wisconsin that is dry-curing meat. Dry-cured meats are not cooked. They require neither heat nor refrigeration. Rather, they arecovered with salt and the liquid is pressed out.
“We lose about thirty percent of what we started with,” says Buer, and then the meats are hung in a temperature- and humidity-controlled curing room for as long as the different styles require—fifty days for pancetta, for example. Nine months for the speck prosciutto.
“It’s a more slow and delicate process,” Buer says. That allows for subtle things like esters to stay in the meats. The end result is “complicated, delicate and intensely flavored,” he says, “like cognac as opposed to wine.” His pigs are an heirloom breed of Hereford hog and they all come from Lyle Bogard’s farm in Lake Geneva. The pigs are all pastured and humanely raised and receive no hormones or antibiotics. Because dry curing allows flavor subtleties Buer is aware of what the pigs eat and how that affects the end product. He says he’d like an acorn finish, the traditional method for producing the great Spanish hams, “but it’s a little tricky to get enough for all of the hogs and we want to keep it local, not ship acorns across the country.”
But the relationship is important to Buer as well. “In dry curing especially, it shows off what small farms can do. I couldn’t do it with a cheap product. It’s what small farms do best.” Buer started his business a little over a year and a half ago. Dry curing meat had been a hobby while he worked his “real” job in food marketing. There he saw an unmet need in artisan-made, dry-cured meats.
“A lot of people are excited about charcuterie,” he says. “We have a sophisticated group of foodies in Wisconsin.” He describes his business as “a cross between a cheese factory and a microbrewery,” and says people who like either or both tend to like his products. The company is really only made up of him, but he adds “people like that it’s me at the farmers’ market, and me butchering the hogs.”
In return, Buer is working to make his products more accessible to the consumer. He offers classes and it’s one of the things that separates him from other meat and sausage producers. The classes are conducted roughly once a month (the next on whole hog butchering is scheduled for October 31) in his space in the former Great Lakes Distillery in Riverwest. It’s “a clean, but well broken-in industrial building,” as he describes it.
“We’ve had really good response so far,” says Buer. “Some of the class participants are culinary students; some are foodies who want to talk to their butchers more confidently.” He doesn’t sell his products at his headquarters: “our store is the farmers’ market.” But they’re currently available at about a dozen locations around the state, including Fromagination and Steve’s Wine Market in Madison. You’ll also find them on the menu at Brasserie V.
“We’re doing good,” he says. “It’s still a lot of education and explaining the product and maybe getting the meats into a few more restaurants. We’re the ambassadors of this food and we’re demystifying it.”
For more information on classes and where to buy Buer’s meats, visit bolzanomeats.com.
Nancy Christy is the former owner of the Wilson Street Grill. She now runs the consulting firm Meaningful People, Places and Food. Neil Heinen is, among other things, her hungry husband. Comments? Questions? Please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.