By Robin Mather
Meatcrafters, an artisanal producer of specialty cured meats, debuted its Skinny Salamis at the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York recently. Skinny Salamis are the only lactic-fermented meat snacks on the market, said Mitch Berliner, one of the company’s three founders and self-proclaimed “Chief Sampling Officer.”
“They are cured, uncooked products, made in traditional ways that date back to the Egyptians and early Romans. They are high in protein, low in calories, have no sugar or carbs and are gluten-free. They’re made from antibiotic- and hormone-free meats.”
Skinny Salamis are unique for several reasons, Berliner said.
“We were just at the Sweets and Snacks Expo in Chicago,” Berliner said. “All the other meat snacks we saw were cooked, whether dehydrated like jerky or extruded and cooked like the familiar meat sticks.”
Meatcrafters is among the few companies in the US to have gained USDA approval to produce such products, and the only one in Maryland, Berliner said. “We don’t outsource our production,” Berliner said. “We do everything ourselves, from sourcing the meat from local farmers to grinding our own spices to producing and packaging the salamis.”
Skinny Salamis are designed to be a portable snack that fits easily into a pocket or purse. The snack salamis are available in three flavors: Original Black Angus Beef, Truffle (pork) and Street Cart Schwarma (lamb). Three more flavors will be available later this year: Merguez (lamb), Spicy Argentinean Chorizo (pork) and Casbah (pork), flavored with North African spices. The salamis come four to a package, and suggested retail is $6.79—$7.95.
Berliner said the company trialed its products at farmers markets and were selling more than 300 salamis a week from very early on. “And then a wine distributor tried them and said, ‘If you put this in grown-up packaging, I’ll buy it for distribution.’ So we went to work on grown-up packaging.” The company’s designed-from-the-ground-up packaging recently won awards for its graphic design, Berliner said.
Chefs visiting the market also liked Meatcrafters’ salamis, and they now appear on menus at restaurants in Maryland and Virginia, including Patrick O’Connell’s much-lauded Inn at Little Washington in Washington, Virginia.
“We like to help local farmers,” Berliner said, noting that they work with local producers of Black Angus beef, heritage breed Duroc pork and all-natural lamb. “In addition to our own products, we make specialty sausages with our farmers’ meats so they can offer their own customers salami made from only their meat. We also make specialty sausages for brew pubs using their beers, and for local vineyards using their wines.”
Meatcrafters has been in business since 2009, producing duck breast prosciutto as well as a variety of specialty salamis. They include Chajari, an Argentinian-style salami flavored with garlic, nutmeg, clove, cinnamon and whole peppercorns; Chorizo de Pamplona, an aged Spanish-style classic with cayenne and Spanish smoked paprika; Chesapeake, seasoned with Maryland crab seasoning; Cacciatore, a traditional Italian hunter’s sausage of Duroc pork flavored with sea salt, pepper and garlic; Truffle Mania and Porcini Salami, two fungi-forward flavors that capture the best of the much-loved ingredients; Cinta, another Duroc pork salami flavored with long pepper, lemon zest and mace; Ararat, a Duroc pork salami seasoned with smoked paprika, fenugreek and the Turkish pepper called urfa biber; a wild fennel pollen Duroc pork sausage called One Wild Fennel; a traditional Spanish salami called Fuet, simply seasoned with salt and pepper to showcase the flavors of the Duroc pork and the lactic fermentation; and Dillio, made with dill pollen, garlic and red wine.
The Landover, Maryland, company, founded in 2009 by Berliner, his wife, Debra Moser, and their friend Stan Feder draws on decades of experience the three share in charcuterie and the food business. Berliner, who’s been in the food business for more than 50 years, started as a food distributor. Moser brings a diverse background in food and business experience. Feder, who’s studied with charcuterie experts in Spain, Italy and the US, has a lifelong passion for salumi.
“We’re Baby Boomers who failed at retirement,” quipped Berliner. “We pulled money out of our retirement funds to start this company, and have never taken loans or investments from anyone else to keep going.”
The founders were inspired to start the company when they realized that “we had visited Italy many times and we didn’t know why there wasn’t more good American salami. So we were an upscale charcuterie and then, a little over three years ago, we thought, ‘why don’t we take our salamis and put them in a meat snack product?’ “
The “failing at retirement” thing seems to be working for the company’s founders. “We just knocked out a wall to expand our space,” Berliner said.