Food & Drink

NC State offers charcuterie school – the science of meat for chefs & foodies

Glasses of pilsner and India pale ale in hand, students help themselves to platters filled with capicola, pancetta, lomo salami and nine types of bacon (a taste test of brine-cured, dried and injected.) There also are pickled vegetables, fruit, crackers and cheese, including fresh chevre that two students brought from their Eastern North Carolina goat dairy.

This feast, celebrating the end of charcuterie school, is unfolding in the basement of Schaub Hall, home to N.C. State University’s food science department. Inside this building is a full dairy that produces the beloved Howling Cow Ice Cream as well as a brewing lab for students who want to study beer-making and fermentation. The upper floors are filled with laboratories where professors do research that ends up in the pages of esteemed scientific journals. On what he says is the other end of the spectrum is Dana Hanson, an associate professor of food science who describes his job as “making bratwurst and grilling them.”

Hanson, 46, grew up among the wurst-loving people of Wisconsin before getting his doctorate in food science from the University of Nebraska. He’s been teaching at N.C. State for 14 years. His students won a gold medal in January for their dry cured pork capicola at a competition in, of course, Wisconsin put on by The German Butchers’ Association and the American Association of Meat Processors. One indication Hanson, who also teaches the university’s new barbecue camp, chose the right career path was how he spent this year’s spring break: traveling to Louisiana to slaughter a hog on a family farm and make Cajun sausages.

Hanson’s charcuterie school was the result of discussions with state and local regulators who were seeing more chefs seeking variances to be able to cure meats, which isn’t really regulated by the food code. Hanson said he and fellow N.C. State food science professor Ben Chapman, a regular contributor to a website called the Barf Blog, asked themselves: “What can we do so these guys can make salami?”

Hanson decided to offer a four-session class, held on Mondays when most restaurants are closed, that would not only explain the regulations and the science behind making sausages and cured meats but also offer hands-on lessons. It is not exclusively for chefs – home cooks are welcome too – but professionals are the main audience. “It’s been a good marriage for those chefs who are trained in ‘how’ if not ‘why,’ ” Hanson explained.

And so on a recent Monday, about a dozen students gathered in a basement kitchen in Schaub Hall for a lesson on sausage making from Gerhard Wolf. Wolf is a board-certified German-trained master butcher who left Germany 33 years ago and now lives in China Grove, northeast of Kannapolis. (“My wife is American. She’s from Tennessee but cooks like a German,” he said. “She makes the best schnitzel.”)

Wolf, Hanson and their families took that spring break trip together to Louisiana, and so Wolf will demonstrate how to make boudin, a rice and meat sausage popular in Cajun country. Wolf picks the meat off a pig’s head and two whole picnics (a smaller cut of the shoulder) to end up with about 20 pounds of meat. He adds that to cooked rice, scallions, parsley and some “Best Stop Cajun Seasonings,” which the men bought in Scott, La., also known as the “Boudin Capital of the World.”

Watching Wolf separate the meat from the fat and bone, student Ruby Stephens said: “I’ve got two heads in my freezer. I’ve been wondering what to do with them.” Stephens, whose family raises cows, chickens and hogs, is the animal science teacher at East Bladen High School, about two hours south of Raleigh. She hopes to teach these charcuterie skills to her students who may pursue farming and could create what they call “value-added agriculture” products from the animals they raise. “It’s just something in my toolbox to share with students,” Stephens said.

As a teacher, Stephens is in the minority among the dozen or so students; there’s only one other teacher in the group, a culinary instructor at Fayetteville Tech. Most are caterers or chefs wearing clogs and the classic chef’s jackets and pants, a few with visible tattoos and trucker hats. Among them is Steven Goff, a former butcher at Raleigh’s Standard Foods restaurant who will be launching the Brine Haus Meat Provisions food truck.

Chef Timothy Grandinetti, a partner at Spring House Restaurant Kitchen & Bar in Winston-Salem, said the class had been inspiring to himself and his staff: “Since I’ve been coming, we’ve broken down three whole pigs at the restaurant. It’s become contagious.”

Caleb Flint and Alan G. Miller, serious hobbyists who have been making sausage, bacon and salami, hope to open a butcher shop in Winston-Salem. The class has given them a better understanding of the laws that will affect their business. “It’s very science-driven,” said Flint while watching Hanson and others make cherry-and-tarragon lamb sausage. “It’s been hard to find good consistent information.”

After two sausage-making demos, the students gather around chef Eddie Wilson, who worked for the university’s dining services. He demonstrates how to put together a charcuterie board: slicing the cured sausage at an angle, adding cheese, a quenelle of stone-ground mustard and pickled vegetables in a presentation he calls “flow salad.” His bottom-line advice: “Anything you wouldn’t eat on a ham sandwich doesn’t belong on this plate.”

The students aren’t shy about taking samples as Wilson offers them. Taking a small taste of lomo, a Spanish air-dried cured pork loin, Stephens says: “I’m having a religious experience.”

Soon the table is laden with overflowing charcuterie boards, as well as baking sheets full of bacon for the taste test. After lining up at the brewery tanks for glasses of beer, they dig in.

More Information

The next sessions of N.C. State University’s charcuterie school likely will not run until late winter 2017. The cost is $500 per person. To be informed when registration opens for the next classes, contact Dana Hanson at 919-515-2958 or