Charcuterie, the art of crafting cured and preserved meats, is an exercise in faith, patience, and time. Requiring both precision and creativity, the field is ideal for patient, ambitious cooks with a penchant for personal expression. Preservation techniques came about as a matter of necessity for our ancestors, but today’s practitioners enjoy the benefit of modern technology through temperature and humidity-controlled chambers.
Considered the “father” of artisan charcuterie in the modern Omaha dining scene, Bryce Coulton is an unassuming, thoughtful person with varied passions, one of which happens to be preserving meats and produce. After retiring from the military and desiring a more hands-on, artistic outlet, Coulton completed an intensive culinary program at the famed Irish farm and cooking school, Ballymaloe. Returning to Omaha, he began working for Paul Kulik at The Boiler Room, where his analytic brain lent itself to starting an in-house charcuterie program.
Next, Coulton took his charcuterie expertise to Pitch, and then he opened The French Bulldog in Dundee. After that spot closed, he assisted at Grey Plume Provisions, and today he continues to share his wealth of knowledge, occasionally consulting with Omaha salumists.
Carrying on the tradition at The Boiler Room are award-winning Executive Chef Tim Nicholson and Salumist Lucas Severson. Nicholson’s countenance echoes the restaurant space: calm, clean, open, and bright. The overall vibe on the morning I visited was focused but relaxed. To wit, I caught a bit of Justin Bieber blaring from the restaurant’s speakers as the chefs prepped for service.
Severson set out to be a baker, but after a stage at the Boiler Room piqued his interest in charcuterie, he set his sights on a position as line cook. Soon he was devouring books by Michael Ruhlman, scanning the internet for ideas, and simply trying things at the restaurant.
Local purveyor TD Niche has provided the pork since the restaurant’s inception. Employing classical techniques, the chefs make use of every inch of the animal through meticulous fabrication and preparation. Nicholson remarked, “We don’t like throwing stuff away here unless it is totally and completely spent.”
The most popular cured meats at the restaurant come from whole muscle cuts: copa (shoulder), prosciutto (leg), fiocco (small muscle of hog leg), and culatello (leg) followed by cured sausages such as salami. Classic flavor profiles are preferred, but the chefs enjoy experimenting, tweaking ratios until the desired taste is achieved. Only then will the product find its way to the diner. One recent creative offering was a negroni salami, modeled after the popular cocktail.
In addition to charcuterie, Severson creates beautiful and delicious pâté en croûte. These traditional dishes feature distinct layers and unique flavor combinations wrapped in pâte brisée and baked. Broth (often made from prosciutto bone) is clarified and natural gelatin leveraged to create an aspic, which is then added to the item and cooled.
The served boards at The Boiler Room manage to be at once extravagant and restrained, reflecting all things local, including the walnut that comprises the board itself. Bolstered by a hearty, house-made sourdough, sliced thick and grilled, the meat board typically comprises four base items (rillettes, salami, cured whole muscle meats, and an auxiliary) and accoutrements.
Rillettes is a name used to describe cooked, shredded meat preserved in fat. The result is a spreadable texture and flavor reminiscent of the canned meat that my grandma preserved and cousins coveted. Salami, a well-seasoned dried or cured sausage, provides flavor and texture, whereas thinly-sliced cured whole muscle meats such as prosciutto bring a contrasting buttery softness. Popular accoutrements include house-made lacto-fermented pickles, mustards, spiced nuts, and local preserves.
Charcuterie boards lend themselves well to all wines, effortlessly bridging the gap between red and white. For example, red Burgundy pairs beautifully with prosciutto, and rosé enjoyed with charcuterie is a revelation. All of the wines offered at The Boiler Room pair well with charcuterie, but Nicholson’s favorite is champagne. “The bubbles do a great job of cutting through the richness of the meat, preparing your palate for the next bite,” he explained.
Ready to try curating a board for your next home gathering, possibly crafting a component or two in your own kitchen? Nicholson recommends thinking about the board as an interactive experience—include both sweet and savory flavors, a vehicle such as breads or crackers on which to consume bites, and a cheese option, if desired.
For homemade accoutrements, consider bursts of flavor and texture provided by mustards, jellies, or candied/spiced nuts. Baking homemade bread or crackers is also an easy and impressive way to customize your unique offering. Place items on the board not just for visual impact, but to encourage guests to try different bits and bites together, finding new, appealing combinations.
Omaha offers excellent options for those who wish to try their own hand at crafting charcuterie or simply pick up locally made products. Cure Omaha provides both private and public classes, as well as many incredible items available for purchase. Metropolitan Community College occasionally offers charcuterie courses through its Continuing Education program, and Sage Student Bistro often features house-made charcuterie on its dinner menu.