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Food & Wine The science of salumi: Duo brings artisanal charcuterie to Calgary

FOOD

The science of salumi

Dave Sturies and his partner, Karen Kho, bring artisanal charcuterie to Calgary with Empire Provisions, with a focus on local, ethical ingredients

Empire Provisions co-owners Karen Kho and Dave Sturies, seen in their Calgary store on Dec. 11, began their business as a humble side project in 2016, eventually expanding to a brick-and-mortar location as they continue to provide quality cured meats to a number of local restaurants.

For Calgary's Dave Sturies, making meat is something that has always been in his blood. Looking back to his childhood, the scientist-turned-salumist has fond memories of sitting down at the kitchen table and snacking on homemade soppressata that his mother and aunt would make regularly.

Since my childhood snack time consisted of bologna slices and chunks of marble cheese, this makes me fairly jealous.

Mr. Sturies went on to obtain a degree in environmental sciences and start a career in that area. But his family food traditions combined with his European travels kept whispering to him to make a change.

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"I spent years working in a field that gave me little satisfaction and instilled even less passion," he says. "My mind always travelled back to food … I began to explore the idea of using my science background and applying it to food."

It was this interest in curing meats at home that would lead Mr. Sturies to honing his craft, first butchering at Second To None Meats (now the Urban Butcher in Calgary's Mission neighbourhood) and then working for Teatro Ristorante for years as their dedicated charcuterie maker and butcher. All of this fundamental passion, home experimentation and learning would eventually materialize into Calgary's celebrated charcuterie business, Empire Provisions, which he owns with his partner, Karen Kho.

The popularity of Empire Provisions has grown in Calgary over the past year and a half.

Ms. Kho and Mr. Sturies met while working together at Teatro. Their business began as a humble side project in 2016, out of a small kitchen space located on the lower level of Una Pizza and Wine. It was there Mr. Sturies would prepare all sorts of cured and fresh meaty creations such as classic coppa and guanciale to Toulouse (a fresh sausage with pork, garlic, fresh herbs and wine, traditionally used in cassoulet) or nduja, a spicy, tangy cured sausage that is spreadable. (The latter is a favourite of chefs these days, so look for it on restaurant menus if you've never tried it before.)

"For us, it's always been about achieving consistency. What we learned early on was that we never wanted our recipes to overpower the flavour of the meat," Ms. Kho explains. "There is very little point to using naturally raised animals if you can't taste the quality of the product."

This consistency has led Empire Provisions' popularity to grow in Calgary over the past year and a half. Initially selling upstairs at Una Takeaway exposed their products to hungry consumers. At the same time, restaurants became equally eager to get the cured meats into their kitchens.

The Beltliner, Calcutta Cricket Club and Bar Von Der Fels are just a handful of local eateries where you'll find Empire's products. Two Penny Chinese also enlists Mr. Sturies to create their lap cheong (Chinese sausage).

This October, Empire Provisions opened up their own bricks and mortar location. This café-meets-meat-shop offers up all of the cured meats Calgarians have become accustomed to with, as well as simple sandwiches, savoury pastries and more. It's a bright and inviting little spot that is well worth paying a visit to, if only to see how invested Ms. Kho and her partner are in the meats they've sourced and prepared.

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Empire Provisions is a bright and inviting little spot that is well worth paying a visit to, if only to see how invested Ms. Kho and Mr. Sturies are in the meats they’ve sourced and prepared.

"Being proudly supportive of Alberta farmers and focusing on ethically farmed products is our passion," Ms. Kho says adamantly. "We have a story to tell and consumers who like to have a connection to their food enjoy hearing it."

Although artisanal charcuterie shops are still fairly uncommon in Western Canada, other cities including Saskatoon and Edmonton have also seen contemporary salumists pop up in the last year or two.

Edmonton's Steve Furgiuele owns and operates Fuge Fine Meat. Like Empire Provisions, Mr. Furgiuele has taken his European family roots and applied them to his business, making plenty of classic salumi such as saucisson sec and Spanish chorizo. You'll find Fuge at various seasonal markets and boutiques such as Boulangerie Bonjour as well as eateries including Café Bicyclette and Chartier.

Of all of his creations, the blueberry rooibos tea salumi seems to be his showstopper. A mixture of pork and beef is combined with dried Alberta blueberries, tea, mushroom powder, nutmeg and walnuts is aged and then cold-smoked.

"I grew up making cured meats and sausages with my Italian family in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Every January came with a weekend or two of production, as we listened to music, drank wine and shared many laughs," Mr. Furgiuele says. "I absolutely love walking through the products with the customers – explaining the minutia and subtle flavours within each product."

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