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A Reason to Eat Meat

By Sarah Seidel Photos By Romina Olson Issue Sept 2010 Neighborhood East Side

When we arrive at “the shop” in Niederwald, Runkle and his assistant, Thomas, have just filled the sausage maker with a mixture of ground pork and Runkle’s own pancetta, spiced with ginger, garlic, and chili powder. Though Salt & Time mostly offers dry cured meats, Runkle has made hotdogs and fresh sausages over the last few weeks to sell to the public at HOPE Farmer’s Market.

The casings in place, Runkle turns on the machine, and within seconds the first batch of sausage is snaking across the counter while Thomas coils it and pops any remaining air bubbles.

After ten years as a vegan, Runkle decided that eating pork from the farm “down the road” was better than eating heavily processed monoculture-produced soy. He joined a meat Community Supported Agriculture farm with Marin Sun Farms in northern California, later apprenticed with the farm as a butcher, and finally “hounded chefs and butchers around the Bay Area to tell me all their secrets.” When he moved to Austin, he says it was inevitable that he would begin his own salumi business.

Vital to Runkle’s post-veganism and to his business are the locally-sourced, locally-produced ingredients he uses. “I think it’s the butcher’s job to build the relationships with farmers and visit the farms to see how animals are raised and treated,” Runkle says. “It’s one of my favorite parts of the job.”

For his farmer’s market customers, Runkle lists the farms from which he sources on a blackboard, as well as in his weekly emails. This list is in addition to his walk-in display of cured meats (Sopressata, Genoa, Chorizo, Brianza, Tuscano, and Peperoni Salumi)—not to mention his pickled items, which I’ll get to in a minute—and he’s pretty much solved any meat-eating dilemma.

Several of his customers have even told him that his salumi takes them back to Italy. “That’s about the highest compliment I can get,” Runkle says. “It’s right up there with, ‘I don’t eat pork, but I made an exception for Salt & Time.’”

As for pickling, which involves so much more than your average pickle, he uses both vinegar brining (how most commercially available pickles are made) and salt brining (an older form in which vegetables are submerged in a salt brine and natural yeasts ferment the sugars to create tangy, sour flavors).

So what exactly does Runkle pickle? Just about anything: jalapeños, garlic, cucumbers, okra, radishes, fennel, beets, squash, and lately, eggplant.

But what truly sets Salt & Time apart in the charcuterie market (though Runkle prefers the Italian term “salumi”) is the dry curing process. To dry cure a meat is twofold: first, he ferments the meat in a high-humidity, high-heat environment for 48 hours until it reaches the correct pH, and then he transfers it to a cool (50-60° F), dry (73% humidity), and dark room where the meat will hang for at least two months. Runkle is the only person in town to use this process.

Eventually, Runkle would like to have a Salt & Time storefront in Austin, but for now his goal is to expand to other farmers’ markets sometime in September and to sell to more of the Austin restaurants he admires.

Until then, you can find a selection of his salumi in Antonelli’s Cheese Shop, on Hotel St. Cecilia’s charcuterie plate, or meet Runkle and sample his full range of meats and pickled products every Sunday from 11-3pm at the HOPE Farmer’s Market at 5th and Waller.

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