Simon levy has made a name for himself as the master of the art of charcuterie. One of the hottest food trends, it is the artisanal skill of curing, salting, smoking and preserving meat. Considered to be the oldest form of meat preparation for many cultures, including Jamaica, it was really the French, Spanish and Italians who brought it into the realm of haute cuisine.

Follow him @RoastMeats

Tell us how and when your fascination with charcuterie began?

I’ve always had a passion about food, from high school days – mostly grilling over an open fire. Then when I came back to Jamaica after University I reconnected with an old school friend, Darshan Young. We would cook-up after work on a Friday, experimenting with different food and inviting friends over to sample the various dishes. From there we began catering for private dinner parties and events, from smaller sized BBQ’s right up to larger events such as the Shaggy and Friends concert. We participated in the food festivals and entered several of the chef cook-off competitions.

We eventually sold the Bad Dawg brand to CB Foods and launched the brand Roast! Then in 2009 we started doing Christmas hams – we would get fresh pork from Copperwood, salt cure it ourselves to then smoke to offer a ready-to-eat product. In those days, the only ham available was from Grace which people would bake the old-fashioned way, glazed with pineapple rings and cherries. We did a delicious crunchy glaze with brown sugar, cinnamon and black pepper. That first year we did a dozen hams which has now grown to about 150! In 2012 I took an extended trip to Italy and when I came back I started playing around with prosciutto-style meats and decided to dig deeper into the art of curing.

What do you produce?

Artisanal hams, slow-smoked BBQ and assorted prosciutto style smoked and cured meats, which you can’t get here in Jamaica. I also produce other meat products on a small scale, such as pates and salamis.

Charcuterie is described as ‘simple food done well,’ but it seems very scientific and technical, what’s your process?

The process is very technical, it is definitely a science. Technique is very important. You have to know your cuts. You have to measure out all your salt and spices and curing times. It’s all crucial to the success of the final product. I have a fully equipped kitchen with the tools needed to produce the items – curing chambers, deep freezers, grinders, sausage stuffers, and custom- built smokers.

They say a dish is only as good as the quality of the meat you use, where do you source your meat?

90% of what I use is pork, and I get most of my meat from CB Foods / Copperwood Farms, otherwise I get directly from pig farmers around the island.

What about local spices and seasonings, what ingredients do you use?

I use as many local products as possible such as pimento, bay leaves and whatever I can get locally in my production because I believe in supporting local farms and businesses. Unfortunately I can’t get everything I need locally at which point I have to import.

Entertaining friends, what would your charcuterie board include?

It’s all about combining a variety of textures and flavour profiles – salty, fatty, acidic and sweet. For the meats – cold cuts of sliced prosciutto, pancetta and salami; to contrast these firm/salty textures, I would have a soft, creamy liver pate; to add sweetness, maybe some guava jam, fig preserve or pepper jelly. Perhaps a few cheeses of different textures, maybe a non-dairy goat cheese; mustard spread or a dip; fresh fruits like grapes or apples; nuts roasted or raw; pickled vegetables and olives; breads, crackers, sliced baguettes. And of course, wine and beer.

Describe your perfect dinner?

A chef is never well-fed in the same way a gardener’s garden is never well kept. But for me I don’t go for an array of courses, I prefer a quick and easy one plate, even one pot meal. Pasta or lamb chops. Simple things.

what are your thoughts on how our local food culture evolving?

Our local food scene is booming. There is so much influence out there now with social media and the many food-based shows on television. Anyone with the interest can experiment and develop their cooking skills via avenues as simple as YouTube. We are seeing a lot more local chefs starting out, most don’t go the restaurant route but do catering for private and corporate functions due to the lower overhead and operational costs, whether it’s an intimate dinner party or catering for over a hundred. What’s good about it is that you get immediate feedback, you quickly get to know what works and what doesn’t.

You are participating in the Jamaica Food and Drink Festival this year, What can we expect?

I am running the sponsored CB Foods booth at the Launch event. For Pork Palooza I will also be managing the CB Foods sponsored booth there roasting whole hogs alongside a few porchettas, which is basically half a hog rolled up and tied then roasted on a spit… I am also involved in the Crisp event this year doing a Tapas board with assorted toppings.

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