Home experiments yield charcuterie success for self-taught Calgarian

Julie Van Rosendaal_CBC.png

'I wasn't too worried about poisoning myself,' says Sturies of his first attempts

Dave Sturies is a self-taught "salumist," or maker of high-end charcuterie and sausages. 

He started out in his apartment, and now the cured meats and salamis he and Karen Kho produce for their company, Empire Provisions, are in demand on restaurant menus and charcuterie boards across Calgary.

Sturies, who left a career in environmental science, started small.

"The guanciale is easy, and you cook it after too, so I wasn't too worried about poisoning myself," he said of his first at home experiments.

He moved on to experiment with a friend who worked at Cilantro, where they have a little curing fridge, before becoming the butcher at Teatro. 

Kho still works as the operations manager of the Teatro Group, but Sturies left his day job to work at Empire Provisions full time.

Inside Sturies' curing fridge lies an assortment of hams, cured meats, sausages and spiced cuts. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

International flavours 

Sturies and Kho have been making their own fresh and cured sausage as well as prepared delicacies, like rustic pork pâtés and duck rillette (French-style spreadable duck seasoned with star anise and thyme) for about two years now, taking over some space beneath Una last June to take it more seriously.

"This now consumes my entire life," he said. "It's a lot of work, but extremely rewarding."

Sturies' curing fridges are loaded with sirloin hams, coppa (cured pork neck rubbed with herbs and spices), lonza (cured pork loin with thyme, bay leaf and black pepper) bresaola (air dried beef with juniper and thyme, pancetta, guanciale (cured pork jowl with juniper, rosemary and thyme), and culatello, one of the most prized of Italian salumi, which are rare in Alberta. 

Sturies and Kho's culatello takes five to six months to cure. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

Sturies and Kho make their culatello from Broek Pork Acres Berkshire pork, and each takes five to six months to cure.

Sturies tries to focus on four or five dry-cured salamis at a time, working with locally-sourced meats. But he's inspired by international flavours and his own travels.

You may find a range from saucisson sec (a classic French dried salami) to classic Spanish chorizo with smoked paprika and red wine.

Their fresh sausages include lamb merguez, Burmese sausage with lemongrass, cilantro, ginger, chilies and turmeric, and Korean sausage with garlic, soy and gochujang.

The Esposito was the sausage that started it all. The spicy Calabrian fennel sausage has been passed down from generation to generation in the Empire family, but these days his favourite is the finocchiona, a Tuscan-style salami with fennel, garlic and red wine.

They also make 'nduja, a spicy fermented Calabrian salami that at 50 per cent fat, 50 per cent meat is surprisingly soft.

"When it comes to room temperature, you can just spread it on your bread," Sturies said. "It's also amazing on pizza."

Where to find it

Empire Provisions charcuterie can be found at Sunnyside Market, Janice Beaton Fine Cheese, Our Daily Brett and the Cookbook Company, and at restaurant menus around Calgary.

"Originally it was plans for a sandwich shop and casual restaurant that turned into me learning this, which morphed into where we are now," Sturies said. "We'll get the sandwich shop soon enough."

And they'll surely be some of the best sandwiches in town.

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David Sturies