Everything Old is New Again: Trends from NRA 2017

Maggie with chef Curtis Stone

Sometimes the more you look back, the further ahead you can see. This was certainly the case for the exhibiting meat companies at this year’s National Restaurant Association (NRA) Show. They demonstrated that the U.S. meat industry is staying “Ahead of the Crave” by returning to time-honored traditions that bring out the very best in our products. And the local hotspots in Chicago are completely in sync with this movement, with over-the-top meals that make us remember why we love meat.

Here are the top trends from the show and around town that stood out to this full-on foodie:

    1. The Face of the Brand: Chefs love knowing the purveyors who pour their heart and soul into their products. No one can tell their company story and family legacy of hand-crafted quality like Fred Linz and Cristiano Creminelli. The Meats by Linz and Creminelli booths showcased not only both companies’ premium product lines but also photos of the owners who have dedicated their lives to making the meat business better.
    2. Old-World Artisanal Craftsmanship: You can’t hurry the creation of world-class smoked meats. Nueske’s applewood smoked bacon is known around the world for its amazing taste and quality but perhaps Nueske’s most important ingredient is patience: the slow-burning embers – not flames – of applewood yield that amazing flavor. Cooper’s Country Meat Packers celebrates its “low and slow” tradition of smoking its sausages in a real hickory-burning smokehouse in Florence, Mississippi. The authenticity of these brands is what consumers crave!

Marcus Girard holding his prized culatello

  1. Intensification of Flavors: Time is also the key ingredient behind the art and science of charcuterie, which was on full display at the show from companies such as Zoe’s, Creminelli, Olli, and Alef. I loved spending time with Marcus Girard, salumiere of Tempesta Artisan Salumi in the Premier Proteins booth; he gave me an education about culatello (a very special cured and long-aged ham) which he calls the “epitome of the passion of crafting salumi.” Dry-aged beef is another “old but modern” trend that keeps getting play among high-end steakhouses like Swift & Sons, who featured a mouthwatering umami-filled 18-ounce bone-in strip steak from Meats by Linz.
  2. The Nos Have It: Celebrating and showcasing what’s not in our meat is as important as what is in it. “Pork, salt, and spices” were the main ingredients in Jones’ Dairy Farm’s sausage in 1889 and not a lot has changed since then. This is a great thing for consumers’ taste buds and Jones is one of many meat companies who are ahead of the clean label craze.
  3. Everything Tastes Better with Pork: All of us meatheads need a little surf to balance our turf so my last night in Chicago found me at Chef Giuseppe Tentori’s GT Fish & Oyster. I was delighted to find Nueske’s applewood smoked bacon in my clam chowder and pork chicharron topping my fish tacos! Even the seafood restaurants can’t resist pork to bring out the best in their dishes.
  4. Animal Fat is Back: My favorite meal while dining in Chicago occurred at a cool hipster joint located in Logan Square called Longman & Eagle. The meal was compliments of Shawn Peerless, the chief operating officer and third generation owner of Atlantic Veal & Lamb and my new foodie friend who lives in NYC. Folks, this was a culinary exploration of animal fat like no other that would make Nina Teicholz proud. We enjoyed salted beef rinds, fried lamb necks, meatballs, chicken liver pate, a flat iron with beef tallow béarnaise, beef fat fries, bone marrow with bacon jam and pork jowl! Fat is flavor and this was by far my most flavorful meal of 2017.
  5. Let’s Talk Healthy: Both traditional meat companies and newer-to-the-game “alternative meat” companies are adapting to consumer demand for food options that meet their health and wellness goals: pea-protein burgers, chicken and quinoa burgers and all sorts of plant-based proteins were on display at the show.

As for this confirmed carnivore, please give me the “real deal”; I am all about that animal protein. We didn’t claw ourselves to the top of the food chain to eat vegetables! There are so many delicious meat delicacies to be consumed, and I am happy to report that the meat companies exhibiting at NRA 2017 did not disappoint.

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