A little travel, an online deal and a commitment from his family were all James Forbes needed to make the jump into the meat business. He and his mother, Jane Forbes, founded North Country Charcuterie in April of 2014. Best loved for their Tripel Pigs Salami and Coffee Bacon, the pair, with the help of James’ brother, Duncan, got their start at the Grandview Farmers Market and regularly pop up in the North Market.
“We’d just gotten back from France, and I fell in love with the charcuterie in shops there,” James remembers. “I got a $100 refrigerator off of Craigslist, turned it into a curing refrigerator on my porch. That’s when we decided to create the business.”
First came research. The family studied industry leaders such as Fatted Calf Charcuterie in Napa and Publican Quality Meats in Chicago. They’ve also reached out to experts for guidance. James connected with the owner of Nduja Artisans on charcuterie-themed Facebook groups, and took advice on food safety plans, sourcing and the science.
Reading about the industry-whether online or in books-has been paramount to the company’s growth. “James’ Christmas list has been the same for the last three years,” jokes Duncan. “It’s 90 percent charcuterie books.” His first book? “Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing,” by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. After that intro, he leaned heavily on “The Art of Making Fermented Sausages,” by Stanley and Adam Marianski. “It’s pretty dry reading,” James admits, laughing at the directness of the title, “but it’s got lots of good information.”
Making sausage is a family affair, with Jane helping with production, recipe testing and working with accountants. Duncan handles bookkeeping and marketing efforts. And as the product gets made, the group dreams of its own brick and mortar location. North Country works at The Commissary, the only rentable commercial kitchen in Columbus to have a meat inspection license from the Ohio Department of Agriculture. For James, making the charcuterie is a two-day process. “When I do it on my own, it’s a good 10-hour day, each day.”
“They have done their homework,” says Kate Djupe, owner of The Commissary. “I love that they’re always experimenting, but are also being very methodical about what they’re doing.” The scientific process is important, she stresses, due in part to timing: “When you’re preparing sausage and charcuterie, it takes months to find out if your experiment worked.” Some products, such as prosciutto, take 12 to 18 months to complete. The family is waiting to see how theirs turned out.
The family soon hopes to make its return to North Market, and is working toward a license to sell wholesale to stores and restaurants.
And even though they’re regular fixtures at The Commissary, rest assured that that $100 fridge hasn’t gone to waste. “It is still at my apartment,” says James, “for experimenting.”