In the heart of Columbus, Ohio, North Country Charcuterie is more than just a business. It’s the result of a genuine love for great food and a shared family endeavor that has taken the form of creating exceptional sausages and cured meats. We had the pleasure of sitting down with Duncan Forbes, North Country Charcuterie’s Salami Monger, to talk about how they got started, how they source and create unique cured meats and what really excites chefs (and retail consumers!) about their products. I dare you to read this without wanting to try each and every one of these products!
Can you share the inspiration behind North Country Charcuterie and your family’s love for food and craftsmanship that led to its creation?
Duncan: “Absolutely. Well, we joke that it’s my brother’s fault. He was a chef for about 10 years in Columbus before we started the company. He developed an interest in cured meats along the way, was working at a couple of kitchens where the chef there was also dabbling. He bought a refrigerator off Craigslist for $150, converted it into a dry curing chamber in his apartment’s mudroom, and started tinkering at home, making bacon, salami, and other cured meats.”
How did you and your mom join the venture?
Duncan: “My mom and brother initially started the company, and I joined about a year later. It all started with conversations over cocktails, as my mom was looking for a change in her career. She wanted to work with James, my brother, and help him start the company. I got involved later, primarily overseeing sales, marketing, and business development.”
Your background is quite different, involving managing experiences and even leading canoeing expeditions. How do these experiences contribute to your unique perspective at North Country Charcuterie?
Duncan: “Oddly enough, all my experiences led me here, and the skill sets I developed works well for what we’re doing. My time in Amsterdam involved setting up an accelerator program for early-stage social enterprises, and that experience meshed with the startup ecosystem we entered when we began. The marketing experience I gained in Colorado and my involvement in sales components in various roles have all been beneficial.
Additionally, my family’s connection to the restaurant industry through our wine distribution company laid the foundation for our interest in restaurants. My grandfather started a wine distribution company in Cleveland, which my father and uncle owned and operated for years, so we grew up alongside the restaurant industry.”
North Country Charcuterie emphasizes the use of locally sourced pork from small Ohio family farms. Can you tell us more about your sourcing practices and why supporting local is essential to your brand?
Duncan: “We source 95% of our ingredients from within a two-hour drive of Columbus. This approach is akin to the concept of ‘terroir’ in winemaking, where the local environment influences the product’s quality. Sourcing locally ensures that all our ingredients, from spices to meat, work harmoniously. It’s also about supporting local businesses and economies while being mindful of our carbon footprint, especially as we expand our reach.”
Your collaboration with other local makers, such as beer and wine, sets you apart. Can you tell us more about these collaborations?
Duncan: “We wanted to use more unique, interesting ingredients to distinguish our offerings rather than just creating another genoa or salami. We wanted to put our stamp on it and that’s where James’ creativity as a chef really shines.
Collaborating with local makers is a key aspect of our products. For example, our Lupo Salami is incredibly unique, combining Russian Imperial Stout and Mexican mole seasoning, creating a distinct flavor profile. The most common reaction when someone tries it is, ‘I’ve never had anything like that’ and that’s how we know we’ve done something right.
The cheese we use in our No. 1 Salami comes from a local dairy, and the wine is sourced from Northeast Ohio. What also makes us different is that we use fresh ingredients—like hand-chopped sage and freshly ground black peppercorns—instead of pre-made spice blends that have been sitting on shelves for years.”
What should chefs know about using North Country products in their dishes?
Duncan: “Don’t be afraid to think outside of the charcuterie board. There are so many ways to use our products. For example, look at our Hoguera Spreadable Chorizo. It has a high fat content, a LOT of flavor and a little goes a long way, so you don’t need to use very much of it. It is great with seafood like mussels or clams and is great to add to a sauce or to use as a flatbread topping.
Our primary differentiator is flavor. Our use of fresh, high-quality ingredients results in superior flavor and freshness. Chefs should know that a little goes a long way with our products. Even though they might be slightly more expensive, they don’t need to use much to make a significant impact. Additionally, our products require less labor, which can balance out any cost concerns.”
North Country Charcuterie is a testament to the dedication to quality, local sourcing, and creative flavors. Duncan’s insights have given us a glimpse into how their family’s passion and diverse experiences have shaped their exceptional products. Duncan is happy to ship samples through What Chefs Want for chefs who are interested in trying the product and he always concludes his calls with an open invitation for chefs to visit their production facility in Columbus.
Find These Items at What Chefs Want
Hoguera Spreadable Chorizo (Item #95069) – 2021 Good Food Awards Finalist! – Best enjoyed on a baguette or added to a favorite Spanish recipe, their Sobrassada hits your tongue with a sultry surprise and fiery finish. Mixed with Hot Paprika, Chipotle and Cayenne, all from North Market Spices (Columbus, Ohio)
Tripel Pigs Salami (Item #03920) – Our most traditional salami with an American twist, subtly flavored with Tripel from Combustion Brewery & Taproom (Pickerington, Ohio).
Fino Salami (Item #03923) – This Finocchiona-style salami is a delicate balance of ground fennel from North Market Spices (Columbus, OH) and minced garlic.
Lupo Salami (Item #03924) – Deep, dark and mysterious, from the furthest reaches of the wild: A Russian Imperial Stout meets Mexican Mole to create a rich, globe-trotting flavor in this collaboration with Wolf’s Ridge Brewing
Rojizo Chorizo (Item #03922) – An intriguing fusion of European traditions and flavors from the Southern hemisphere like Hot Paprika, Cayenne and Chipotle, all from North Market Spices (Columbus, OH). But don’t be afraid, the flavor is stronger than the heat!
Zin Salami – (Item #94066) Where Wine Country meets North Country, we blend old-vine California Zinfandel with premium Ohio pork and seasonings, to create a robust flavor with notes of blackberry and hints of garlic and black pepper, in collaboration with Zanon Wines (Columbus, OH).
No. 1 Salami (Item #03921) – North Country’s richest and creamiest salami, boldly flavored with cheese from Blue Jacket Dairy (Bellefontaine, OH), Chardonnay from Debonnne Vineyards (Madison, OH), chopped garlic and fresh sage.
Herbed Wagyu Bresaola (Item #94498) – 2022 Good Food Awards Winner! Ohio-raised Wagyu Beef eye of round, delicately flavored with a blend of aromatic herbs and spices. Traditionally sliced very thin and served with a drizzle of olive oil, lemon juice and fresh ground pepper.
Coffee Bacon (Item #00459) – With hints of coffee and a mouthwatering sweetness, no breakfast is complete without their signature bacon, seasoned with ground coffee, brown sugar, salt & pepper.