Employee Spotlight: Jonny Hunter, The Origins of Underground Meats

By: Zach Diamond

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It’s no secret that Underground Meats isn’t your ordinary meat processing company. Created with a focus on sourcing local, humanely-treated, and quality animals, the origin story of Underground Meats captures our raison d'être - our values and our mission. Jonny Hunter is the co-founder of Underground Food Collective and a key part of the Underground Meats community. His unconventional background has been the cornerstone to Underground’s culture and drive. Here we discuss the origins of Underground and the values on which it was founded.

An Activist Bent

"We decided that food could be accessible and cheap and still sustainable."

When Underground was started, it was created with intention. “We founded Underground with an activist bent. We wanted to push ideas with some sort of central perspective,” says Hunter, “sustainability and community are both things we really care about, but we also strive to create a healthy workplace and take care of people.” Hunter didn’t initially pursue a career as a chef. Rather food became an avenue to promote his values. “I wanted to pursue an activist career. When I was a student, me and my brother and our friend Kaleen founded a kitchen called the Catacombs. We took a place and created a community with a vision and goal around food that would support that community. We decided that food could be accessible and cheap and still sustainable. By the time we started Underground it was this loose group of people that wanted to start events and bring a conversation about food to the table,” Hunter says. With activism in mind, they began cooking at events for other activist organizations.

Due to the price of high quality ingredients, they realized that the food being served at these organizations didn’t necessarily fit the ideals of Madison’s activist community. By offering sustainable yet affordable food, Underground was able to fix that disconnect. For example, on one occasion, a company brought in coffee growers to discuss the importance of fair trade coffee. “We thought if they were starting a conversation about ethical and sustainable coffee then they definitely shouldn’t be serving food that is antithetical to that.” Finding success as activists while making delicious, ethical food, Underground was born.

Thoughtfulness

"We wanted to bring a thoughtfulness to the meat processing world."

When Underground began, it was originally vegetarian. Committed to serving food that was quality, ethical, sustainable, and affordable, incorporating meat was a difficult task. Therefore, the team took it upon themselves to find a solution. “When we started Underground Meats in 2009, it was a reaction to not having access to meat processing in a way that we wanted,” says Hunter, “we wanted to bring a thoughtfulness to the meat processing world.” In a pro-consumption society, it becomes easy to look at meat as simply a commodity. However, the culture of consuming more and more meat at low costs is toxic to our environment, animal welfare, and the food system as a whole. “We want people to think about where their food comes from, and it comes from farmers and it comes from animals,” Hunter says, “and animals have an interconnected relationship to both our community and to nature.”

Located in south central Wisconsin, Underground Meats is fortunate to be near farmers who raise some of the nation’s most quality pasture-raised heritage pigs and goats. The relationship we have with our farmers is not one of pure business, but of trust and comradery. Hunter says, “In Madison, having access to the farm community is incredible. I know my farmers, I’ve been to their houses and they live close enough to where we can build real relationships and have really awesome experiences outside of business interactions.”

Moving Forward

Almost ten years after Underground Meats was created, we still strive to improve both our company and the food system in which we work.

One issue that has plagued our food system, is the problem of waste. With the volume of food production so high, methods to reduce the amount of waste are limited. Therefore, we strive to use the entire animal. The team at Underground Meats constantly experiments to make creative products that are both delicious and generate less waste. Hunter says, “A lot of it has to do with waste. We think a lot about how to create new products that would be helpful to farmers or to small processors. That is what some of our experimentation is for but I do just enjoy the process of experimenting with food. It makes me very happy.”

Hunter also recognizes the issue of celebrating individuals rather than the entire team in food companies. “My goal in the last few years is to make myself less important organizationally and build an institution that is successful as a group,” says Hunter. Underground Meats now has a strong team of __ employees and has created a tight-knit community. From farming the animal, to processing it, to making salami, “it’s always a team.”

Chorizo: A Worldwide Favorite

By: Zach Diamond

One of our most popular salamis we sell is our Spanish Chorizo. A riff on chorizo rioja, we use cascabel, pasilla, and guajillo chiles as the base to the flavor. We then add sherry, cayenne and smoked paprika to produce a rich, spicy and balanced pork chorizo. While our chorizo is Spanish-style, there are several different kinds of chorizo, and the history of the sausage is quite unique. Let’s take a deeper look!

Spanish Chorizo

When Europe’s population began rising again after the Black Plague, communities needed a food source that would last longer than fresh meat to accommodate more people. They found that dry curing and smoking sausages significantly increased shelf life, causing a surge in the popularity of sausages around the 15th century. In the 16th century, as Spain colonized Central and South America, paprika peppers were sent back to Spain from Central Mexico. Combining their love of the two foods, the chorizo was born in Catalonia, where there are 17 recognized varieties. Nowadays, chorizo is a central ingredient in Spanish cuisine. Spain alone produces 65,000 tonnes per year, making up for 40% of Spain’s sausage production.  It can be spicy or sweet, smoked or unsmoked, eaten at room temperature as tapas, or cooked into dishes like paella. While chorizo originated in Spain, several other cultures now have their own version.

Mexican Chorizo

As the Spanish exported paprika back from Mexico in the 16th century, they brought pigs into Mexico. As a result, chorizo became a central figure in Mexican cuisine as well. Unlike Spain’s version which is dry-cured and fermented, resulting in a harder and drier salami, Mexican chorizo is eaten fresh. The raw sausage is grilled or fried before eating and tends to be much spicier than its Spanish counterpart. The city of Toluca is known for inventing the green chorizo, made with fresh ingredients including garlic, tomatillo, cilantro and green chilies. All over Mexico, chorizo is found in several dishes like tacos, burritos, queso fundido, and chorizo con huevos.

Portuguese Chouriço

Very similar to Spanish Chorizo, Chouriço incorporates more wine into the flavoring and is dried via a slow smoking process. The traditional Portuguese dish Chouriço à Bombeiro blackens the sausage over a flame. High proof grain alcohol is ignited in a clay baking dish over which the sliced sausage is placed on a lattice until crisp. As a result of Portugal’s colonialism, the Portuguese Chouriço has been spread to several other countries including Brazil, South Africa, India and the United States. In Brazil, the popular bean stew feijoada includes sliced chouriço in black beans. In Goa, India, Indian spices such as turmeric, cumin, ginger, and cloves are added to the sausage which is eaten with bread or rice pilaf. In Portuguese-influenced areas of New England, chouriço is found sliced and cooked with little neck clams and white beans. The Portuguese Chouriço has become a staple ingredient used all over the world.

Are you chorizo craving yet? Whether slicing it and adding it to stews, or eating it on a charcuterie plate, Underground Meats Spanish Chorizo is versatile and rich in flavor. Order yours here!

 

Sources:

https://easyportugueserecipes.com/chourico-bombeiro/
http://www.swissclubnsw.com/single-post/2014/07/06/CuliTemp-Corner-The-History-of-Chorizo
http://blog.nh-hotels.com/countries/partonechorizo/
http://edibleidaho.ediblecommunities.com/recipes/choricero-chorizo-rare-pepper-makes-traditional-basque-sausage-sing

A Taste of Calabria: ‘Nduja Sauce Recipe

By: Zach Diamond

Calling all lovers of heat! All lovers of umami! Ready to immerse yourself into the Calabrian world of aromatic complexity, rich acidity and latent spice? Well, cheers, this one’s for you. It’s no wonder that Calabria is located at the toe of the boot of Italy, because their flavors really kick. The main ingredient doing the kicking in this recipe is ‘nduja, the spicy, spreadable salami providing meatiness and funk. It’s also incredibly versatile. If the above flavors have you drooling, then you’ll probably want to use this sauce on just about everything. In this recipe, we’ll provide you with an ‘nduja sauce that can be used as the basis to a variety of dishes and then show you one of our favorite implementations.

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The Sauce
Yield: 2 cups
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz ‘nduja, casing removed (room temp if possible, 1 oz reserved for later dish)

  • 2 oz diced guanciale (can also use prosciutto)

  • 2 cloves garlic - minced

  • 1 medium shallot - sliced thin

  • 1 sprig fresh oregano

  • 1 cup dry white wine

  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

  • 2 cups chicken stock

Directions:

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  1. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add ‘nduja and guanciale. The pan should be hot enough to render the fat from the meats but not too hot to burn them. With a wooden spoon, mash the ‘nduja so that it breaks into crumbles. Stir to avoid overcooking, approximately 2 minutes.

  2. Once the pan is oily from the rendered fat, turn heat to medium high and add in the garlic, shallot and fresh oregano. Stir about 1 minute or until fragrant.

  3. Add in white wine and vinegar and bring to a simmer. Allow the wine to reduce and some of the liquid to evaporate. This step should smell amazing. Open a window to make your neighbors jealous. Invite them over if you so desire.

  4. Stir in stock and let simmer for 20-30 minutes not allowing for too much liquid to evaporate.

  5. Strain the sauce. It should be a vibrant red color, tasting complex and spicy with a silky texture.

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This sauce tastes great as is - you can spoon it over grilled pork or roasted chicken, or add a splash to dishes that need more spice or acidity.  We like to add it to crushed tomatoes with a little extra ‘nduja to make a surprisingly light but spicy pasta sauce.

 
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The Dish
Yield: Serves 2
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 oz ‘nduja

  • 1 cup fire-roasted tomatoes, drained

  • Splash of white wine

  • 1 cup ‘nduja sauce

  • 14 oz fusilli pasta (can substitute any pasta here)

  • 1 lemon wedge

  • Chopped fresh parsley for garnish (optional)

  • Fresh grated parmesan cheese for serving (optional)

Directions:

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  1. In a saucepan over medium high heat, add ‘nduja and mash with a wooden spoon until fat begins to render and the meat crumbles.

  2. Add tomatoes and splash of white wine and bring to a simmer.

  3. Add ‘nduja sauce and stir.

  4. While the sauce simmers, cook pasta until al dente and drain.

  5. Add cooked pasta to the saucepan, squeeze in the lemon and mix to cover the pasta.

  6. Transfer to bowls and serve immediately, topped with any extra sauce, fresh parsley and grate parmesan.

Did you enjoy this recipe? Tag us in pics of your 'nduja dish on Instagram - @undergroundmeats! Purchase 'nduja from Underground Meats here.

Top 5 Salamis of 2018

By: Zach Diamond

‘Nduja

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‘Nduja dates back to around the 13th century in the southern part of Calabria and has been pleasing mouths with a proclivity towards spice ever since. While we love the heat it offers, ‘nduja makes our list because of its versatility. Our ‘nduja is made from berkshire fatback and shoulder trim. With smoked hot paprika and a blend of 5 dried chilies, this spreadable salami has been a top seller because of its immense versatility. Add a spoonful to pasta to raise the heat, or infuse it into butter to make the perfect ingredient for basting. If you’re a purist, spread it on fresh bread with a ripe cheese and pair it with a full-bodied Italian red. ‘Nduja is great for those who like to be creative in the kitchen. With a rich, creamy texture and unique blend of heat and flavor, we know you will find a way to use it. Post a picture of the dish you make with ‘nduja and tag us on Instagram!

Soppressata

To be fair, this salami would make it onto our top 5 list every year. A traditional, dry-cured salami hailing from southern Italy, Soppressata has many variations from region to region. Our soppressata is highlighted by red pepper flakes and aromatic fresh thyme to add subtle earthy sweetness. Soppressata is a crowd-pleaser - slice it thin to put on sandwiches or add it to any charcuterie plate. Check out this recipe where it can be used as the salami!

Spanish Chorizo

Like the soppressata, our Spanish chorizo is hanged and dry-cured to achieve perfect ripeness. However, this salami boasts strong herbs and spices such as garlic, cayenne, and smoked paprika. Add this to a charcuterie plate to give your guests something new to try and to switch it up from Italian-style meats. Dice it to add richness to a paella or a tapas dish, or eat it simply with manchego and crackers paired with a nice Rioja. Most traditional spanish chorizo is strictly made from spanish pimenton and garlic. Our version is made with three different types of chiles, sherry, and herbs to produce a rich salami with a nuanced flavor profile.

Summer Sausage

A Wisconsin favorite! While not technically a salami, our Summer Sausage is too good to miss the list. We learned the technique for this sausage from a 4th-generation German chef. Fermented overnight for a subtle and pleasing tang, this smoked and fully cooked sausage stands out from the rest. Robust and minerally beef heart is the main ingredient, balanced by rich pork belly. Mustard seed and allspice push the flavor over the top. For the perfect picnic snack, pair this sausage with a smooth, neutral cheese like havarti or cheddar to complement the acidity. Of course, chase it down with a cold German Pilsner. Otherwise, slice it, pan fry it slightly and put it on an English muffin with egg and cheese for a breakfast treat. If you are really feeling adventurous, slice thin lengthwise and grill it as a pastrami substitute for an amazing Reuben.

Finocchiona

During the Renaissance in Europe, prices of black pepper soared due to increased demand. In response, people of Tuscany turned to a local weed that was growing rampantly in the countryside - fennel. At last, the finocchiona salami was born. This brightly flavored salami is dry-cured and our version leans on a lesser known northern Italian recipe, using white wine instead of the traditional red. Loads of toasted fennel seed and white pepper make this salami a favorite of young and old. On a charcuterie board, finocchiona goes splendidly with parmigiano reggiano and Mediterranean olives.