I had an opportunity to eat my way through two of Western Europe’s most renowned meat-loving countries within the last couple of months, and I did it all without having to go through customs.
The first stop was a trip to Italy — or at least, as close as you can get to it in Chicago. For this month’s cover story, I visited West Loop Salumi to get an education on fine Italian cured meats. I’ve had the occasional opportunity to visit salami companies in the past, and they’re always incredible experiences. This was no exception. The products produced by Greg Laketek and his team at West Loop Salumi are mouth-watering delicious and produced with an attention to detail that’s hard to find. The company may be in the heart of a trendy neighborhood in Chicago, but the products are enough to transport you to a delicatessen in Parma. It’s no wonder that Laketek’s customer base is growing, even without any advertising or publicity campaigns.
Not long after that trip, I was off traveling again, this time, as a tourist. My wife and I celebrated our wedding anniversary in Helen, Georgia, a Bavarian community in the middle of the north Georgia wilderness. We stopped in for breakfast at a café on the main drag and tried their Bavarian cold cut breakfast. What came out was a plate full of colorful sliced deli meats that were absolutely fantastic on some freshly baked rolls. I later found out those German-style sausages came from Stiglmeier Sausage out of Wheeling, Ill.
Producing ethnic sausages is a niche market for the most part. Most people may be familiar with pancetta, but something like ‘nduja, a spreadable sausage, would be a new experience. Similarly, most people love bratwurst, but comparatively few have tried a German gelbwurst. Fortunately, the growing interest in ethnic foods plays to this niche. Consumers are more willing to try new flavors from around the world, and even the Old World areas of Italy and Germany can provide some new eating experiences.
Practically every region of the country that I have visited has its local specialties, or products that date back to the original settlers. Those traditional German, Polish, Norwegian or Italian products have their place in the market, even as consumers are expanding their tastes to include Middle Eastern, Latin American or Asian cuisine. There is a world of delicious meats out there, and thanks to all the meat processors, Americans can try it all, without a passport.