With his facial hair and tattoos, Brock Macdonald looks like a hipster butcher straight out of TV’s “Portlandia.” But don’t call him that. “I’m a salumist,” explains Macdonald, who oversees production of cured meats and sausages—aka salumi—at midtown’s Block Butcher Bar and its next-door sister restaurant, LowBrau Bierhall.
Macdonald began making charcuterie (the French word for salumi) while working at the now-defunct Restaurant 13. He learned by doing—and by reading books like “Charcuterie,” by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn, and Paul Bertolli’s “Cooking by Hand.” At Block Butcher Bar, he started out making sausages for LowBrau and branched out into cured meats when the restaurant acquired a Stagionello Evo curing cabinet from Italy. Making sausage, he says, is easy compared to charcuterie, which requires scientific precision: Over the course of several months, he allows the meat to cycle through precise temperatures and humidity levels while monitoring the product’s pH. One wrong step and he’s got an epic fail, rather than epic salami, on his hands.
At Block, Macdonald makes more than a half-dozen salumi products, including calabrese salami, coppa and finocchiona, a Tuscan fennel salami seasoned with espelette pepper, red pepper flakes and whole black peppercorns. He recently passed a state certification exam that allows him to sell duck and venison pepperoni “snack stix” and other salumi products from Block Butcher Bar’s retail counter just inside the front door.