At first glance, it may seem like Aramis Jones is just a butcher, what with his thick apron and steel meat cleaver, but what he does with the 250-pound pigs that are delivered to him weekly takes a bit more finesse and much more patience.
Jones works at Gratiot Avenue Provisions in Eastern Market, and his hogs are locally-sourced and used primarily to make charcuterie. Probably you’ve heard the term, but maybe you’re unfamiliar with the process, and that’s some of why he and his partners do it.
So, then, what exactly is charcuterie? In short, it’s the dry-curing of meat – usually pork – which removes the moisture and increases acidity, which helps to ward off troublesome bacteria and, in turn, adds a unique flavor and increases the product’s shelf life without the need for traditional refrigeration. Jones says he tells people, “I’m gonna hang meat at 60 degrees, and they’re like ‘whoa.'”
But fear not. Gratiot Avenue Provisions director of operations Nick Chapman says, “Our ability to control the (aging) room is like mimicking cellars in Europe – a process that’s 1,000 years old.” Charcuterie was originally invented as a way to safely store meats pre-Frigidaire.
Chapman says, “If you dry it correctly and to a point – there’s also some fermentation happening so it’s getting more acidic – it is like forever shelf stable.” He adds, “Cleanliness is super important.” Jones seconds that, saying, “Every time you do something, you want to wipe your station down completely. Do it again. Repeat, repeat, repeat. You’ll drive yourself crazy with how many times you have to wash your hands.” He offers his cracked palms as proof of how often.
Each day is different for Jones; Monday is processing day, which means he’s butchering, fabricating and measuring out salt and cures. The amount needed is based on the weight of the cut. “The salt is a constant. It needs to be 3-8 percent salt at all times,” he says. “Charcuterie is all about salt and time.”
The whole cuts like coppa – made from the muscle running from the neck of the animal to the fourth or fifth rib of the pork shoulder – also get a bath in white wine to add acidity. Other days may be spent in the aging room, tying and hanging meats. In here hangs whole legs of pig, from which prosciutto comes, slabs of ribs and pork belly for pancetta.
Above the salt blocks – used to control the humidity – white mold grows on the dangling chorizo. “It’s penicillin; it’s a good mold,” Jones explains. “It kills all the other stuff, it prevents the other stuff from invading.”
Gratiot Avenue will be a two-pronged operation. Right now, the processing facility supplies to restaurants within their network including The Sugar House, Buhl Bar, Bad Luck Bar and Honest John’s. Their own accompanying restaurant is expected later this year, for which Jones will serve as head charcutier – he’ll prepare the meats and influence the dishes.
He started as a dishwasher at now-closed Blufin Sushi in Allen Park. “I just didn’t want to wash dishes anymore. So, I started training with the chef over there and got into cooking.” Jones moved from Blufin to Roast in Detroit, starting as a line cook before being promoted to sous chef and eventually executive chef. It was there that he says he was first introduced to charcuterie – and to pastry chef Shannon whom he married in 2017.
Charcuterie, he says, “shows a true craftsmanship. Anybody can cook a steak. I had to learn this shit the hard way, and I take pride in what I do. You watch something cure for three months, six months, a year, two years, and you crack that open and you slice it and it’s perfect; it’s like a child.”