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Food Dude

Feb 23, 2012
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Splash wines the charcuterie arts

By Jim Duncan

An Iowa platter at Splash Seafood and Oyster Bar, 303 Locust St., 244-5686. Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

Des Moines has become a serious charcuterie town. Ten years ago, Des Moines delicatessens typically sliced cured meats from industrial purveyors like Hormel. Antipasti trays in Italian restaurants here resembled Hy-Vee deli platters more than those of restaurants in Italy. Then suddenly the city became Parma on the prairie. Herb and Kathy Eckhouse began curing hams here in the ancient way of Parma, where they had lived while working for Pioneer. Their La Quercia brand became a national sensation. Playboy labeled it “the pork of the gods.” Vogue writer Jeffrey Steingarten said theirs was “the best prosciutto one can buy, domestic or imported.” Mario Batali declared, “it’s what I eat at home.” Bon Appetit wrote of their white spread, “if butter went to heaven, it would taste like this.”

La Quercia expanded into additional artisan cured meats. They now make prosciuttos, pancetta, coppas, speck, lonza, guanciale and lardo. Yet for a few years it was easier to find these products, or other homemade charcuterie, in Napa or Healdsburg than Des Moines. Then Gateway Market and European Flavors began making new fans for artisan meats. Gateway even developed their own charcuterie, including a divine nduja (fermented spicy salami with texture of pâté).

Restaurants started taking charcuterie seriously. Django makes several sausages and their own bacon, plus rillettes (pork reduced to a spread in duck fat) and a country pâté with brandy and fennel. Bistro Montage offers a pork terrine with raisins and pistachios as well as a classic pâté. Mojo’s on 86th puts forth a charcuterie plate entirely of house-cured meats. Baru66’s house pâté shares the menu with terrines which change seasonally and homemade Alsatian style cured meats and sausages. Alba changes its terrines weekly and cures sausage and bacon. Gateway Market and Cheese Shop of Des Moines slice La Quercia products with state of the art European machines.

Charcuterie entered the upper echelon of fine dining here earlier this month when Splash developed a new menu. Like Django they can pair charcuterie with a raw seafood bar and a grill. Splash brings the state’s most celebrated wine cellar to the party, too.

“We have 100 members in our wine club now and felt that charcuterie was a natural way to enhance the wine experience,” explained Splash chef Dom Iannarelli.

Splash’s “Iowa platter” presented a prosciutto and a coppa from La Quercia with blue and sharp cheddar cheeses from Maytag and Milton Creamery’s Prairie Rose. A “ham platter” matched La Quercia’s subtly smoked speck with Surry-ano ham from Virginia and Benton country ham from Tennessee. That Virginia ham was about half as dry and salty as most that bear that state’s name. It paired well with the sweet cheese from Milton Creamery. The Benton ham was sweeter and less salty than either of my prosciuttos. A relish tray that included house-smoked cherry tomatoes in a vinegar and Srichacha sauce, pickled peppers and a trio of olives accompanied both plates. Plates were also garnished with generous amounts of fig jam, stone ground mustard, candied nuts and dried fruits.

Sommelier Jason Vogelgesang selected a glass of Julien Frey 2009 Alsatian Riesling because “its dry acidity accentuates those cheeses” plus a glass of St. Joseph Domaine Flacher 2008, a French syrah which was considerably subtler and more balanced than any California syrah with which I ever spent a night. Splash is able to pour such exceptional wines by the glass because they have Vinfinity Wine Preservation Systems that keep opened bottled under vacuum. Bottom line — like Playboy said.

Side Dishes

Each final Tuesday of the month, Vogelgesang and Iannarelli will host a wine tutorial at Splash pairing worldly wines with appetizers. February’s class will feature chardonnays. 6 p.m., $35… Attendance at Bacon Fest 2012 tripled from the previous year, making it the most popular charcuterie event in Iowa. CV

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