There are a lot of local artisans in the food space – bakers, bread makers, coffee roasters – but what there are not a lot of are salami swamis. That’s the self-proclaimed title of James Forbes, the chef behind North Country Charcuterie.
The business is family affair with mother Jane Forbes dubbed the salami mama and brother Duncan Forbes, salami monger. With mom lending business knowledge from successful entrepreneurial adventures and Duncan the official taste-tester and marketing guru, James creates the business’ line of salamis, chorizo, coffee bacon and still-curing-until-they-are-just-right whole muscle cures.
“[James] really wanted to take the tradition of charcuterie and cured meats and put kind of a twist on it,” Duncan says.
North Country puts an Ohio twist on its meat, using state-sourced Saddleberk Pork and other locally-based businesses’ products to build flavors. The Tripel Pigs Salami (their top seller) gets its flavor from Rockmill Brewery’s Cask Aged Tripel. No. 1 Salami marries cheese from Blue Jacket Dairy and wine from Debonne Vineyards. The chorizo gets its spice from the selection at North Market Spices.
The coffee bacon was a happy accident, but cured with brown sugar, coffee, salt and pepper, the bacon almost serves as a hook to bring people in. Bacon, the average eater knows, “Charcuterie and cured meats, people are very curious and really interested and excited, but people are generally unfamiliar with it,” Duncan says.
Whether curious or well-versed in cured meats, eaters can get the full North Country experience with their to-go boards that feature five different pre-cut varieties (and you get to keep the board!). Things are also in the process of getting more adventurous. Two prosciuttos are curing, as well as pancetta (cured pork belly), lonza (cured pork loin) and guanciale (cured pork cheek).
North Country is in an interesting position as a food producer. They can’t create a recipe, whip it up and know right away if it’s on point.
“We have to wait a minimum four weeks with a salami then the prosciutto could be 12 months,” Duncan says.
Charcuterie is a slow-moving business in general. North Country has been several years in the making, but good cured meats come to those who wait.
James actually started in a different creative field than food. He studied arts and sculpture in college, but post-graduation took a job bussing tables at Figlio in Grandview while exploring arts careers. He worked his was up to the kitchen where he realized food was a great creative outlet.
Up next was sous chef certification at Columbus State and an apprenticeship at Rocky Fork Hunt & Country Club.
“He was able to explore a lot of different aspects of the culinary industry, especially in building out his own menus and recipes, and that’s where he first experimented in cured meats,” Duncan says.
While the first salami didn’t quite go as planned, he continued working at it, eventually wrapping up his apprenticeship and heading over to Gallerie Bar & Bistro where he was met with even more opportunity to explore. James’ interest continued to grow, seeing both a lack of locally-made products in the market, and an increased consumer demand with restaurant after restaurant adding a charcuterie plate.
A trip to France to visit Duncan who was living abroad at the time would seal the deal.
“As soon as James saw some of those cured meat products…he really became even more motivated to try to create his own company back in Columbus,” Duncan says.
North Country formally started in April of 2014. The initial year of business was largely spent taste-testing with friends and family, then James and Duncan stumbled upon ECDI and the Food Fort. The duo took the organization’s small business development classes and moved their operations to the Food Fort in March of 2015. It formalized the process, actually allowing them to sell their products. When the Food Fort decided not to continue with their meat inspection license, as luck would have it, The Commissary was working towards the same designation. North Country headed over to the facility in November 2015.
“Thankfully both of these resources are available,” Duncan says, noting they wouldn’t be nearly as far as they are now without either.
Being housed at The Commissary is allowing North Country to pursue wholesale as well. Their labels are currently under review – a process Duncan hopes will be completed soon. They’ve been working at it for almost a year and a half, largely hindered by the fact the Ohio Department of Agriculture doesn’t see a lot of cured meats.
Wholesale will take North Country from outlets like the Grandview and New Albany Farmers Market and pop-ups at North Market to stocking restaurants and stores.
“We want to be in a lot of restaurants and markets but we’re going to be very careful about how we do that,” Duncan says.
The long lead time means they need to be strategic about sales, avoiding over promising.
In the meantime, James continues to experiment with new products like nduja, different types of pâtés and terrines and pâté en croûte, all eats that don’t take quite as long to get to market.
North Country Charcuterie’s website is still “curing” but visit them on Facebook.