While Kris Kreiger may not be a household name, his store, Chef’s Choice Meats, is quickly becoming part of our vocabulary. Up until a few months ago, I wasn’t aware that a pretty impressive offering of cured meats, similar to Seattle’s Salumi, was nestled in Berea. But there is much more than a lengthy (and tasty) offering of all things cured. On any given day, expect to find a wide selection of cheese, seafood, pork, beef and chicken, most of which is from local farmers.
1. You have a lot of passion for your craft. How did you get started? I’m a chef by trade and have made sausage at home for a long time. My experience of living in Germany and learning and eating the many regional cookery has also led me to what I do now. I was close to opening a restaurant a couple of times but timing just didn’t work out. I chose the butcher shop then because I thought the hours would be better – ha.
2. Artisan-cured meats are growing in popularity. Why? That’s a good question. I’m not sure other than perhaps some people are concerned with what they are putting in their bodies. As a result, the products I make are authentic clean products which older folks remember them to taste like, and the younger folks realize the taste is down right yummy.
3. What’s the secret to curing meat? The right know-how and environment.
4. Who else is doing a good job of curing in Cleveland? The most interesting one I have tried is from MS [Michael Symon] and that’s his saffron salami. I don’t know if he still makes it but it was very interesting. Other than Mike, I know guys are trying to do it but I don’t know their products.
5. How would someone start curing meats themselves? Take my class on dry curing.
6. Are you currently experimenting with any new flavor combinations? In these couple of slow months I am trying a few test batches of new products. First, I’m trying a cold-smoked dry-cured Polish sausage. Second, I’m trying two new salamis: a Polish salami with cardomon and a Hungarian. The sausage will be ready in a month and the salamis in three months; however, I just made a killer batch of liverwurst and smoked braunschweiger. And in time for Mardi-Gras, I’ve made tasso ham. Also, I am going to resurrect two old ones, both dry-cured: Cuban-style chorizo and Chinese sausage.
7. If someone is coming to your store for the first time, what is a must-try item? That’s like asking which child is best. The most complex is my smoked andouille. Lately, my dried apple breakfast sausage has been very popular. On the dry side, my sopresseta, Genoa or linguisa are all excellent.
8. How does your selection of beef, chicken, veal, fish, pork, etc. differ from a traditional grocery store? Completely. I am a proud supporter of as many Ohio farms and businesses as possible. My beef is awesome. It’s Ohio Signature Beef (chemical-free beef). It is source verifiable and I can call the farmer. I get it by the side – my product has bones in it! Grocery store meat cutters, for the most part, wouldn’t know which end of the cattle to grab. Thus I can dry age product for better tasting steaks. I also get a series of what has come to be called Bistro Steaks: skirt, flank, flat iron and sirloin tri tip. But the stew meat and roasts are equally better. My poultry is free-range natural chicken and turkeys. Gerber in Kidron, Ohio for chicken, Albright in Dayton for turkey and Daisyfield in Sandusky for pork. And my seafood is almost always wild – Texas gulf shrimp as big as your finger.
9. What farmer’s do you regularly support and why? As mentioned above, I support as many Ohio producers as possible. I’ve just put a program together to start carrying an array of Ohio produced dry goods by small to medium producers. As for the why, I just think it’s smart business. The big box stores have all the advantages, but do we know where the products come from and how they are handled? With me and my small place, I know all the products and how long they have been kept and how they are handled. I’m also making more contacts by participating in the North Union Farmers Market at Crocker Park in the summertime. It’s been fun getting to know the other vendors, farmers and customers. I’m looking forward to participating again this year.
10. What’s your favorite way to prepare a steak? Better question is what’s my favorite steak. It’s my 2.5 inch Cowboy steak (our signature steak) which is a frenched down rib steak with a handle. It’s dry aged to perfection then allowed to come to room temperature. It’s seasoned with just Kosher salt, fresh garlic and of course black pepper, then thrown on a medium hot charcoal fire and grilled to medium rare (about 20 minutes – I said it was thick). It’s absolutely kick *ss! You could add sauteed button mushrooms in butter and sherry wine on the side and one of our twice baked potatoes with honey, maple bacon, cheddar cheese, sour cream, onions and chives. Why go out to dinner for a steak? Yum.
11. Why should a vegetarian visit your store? Provided they are not vegan, we have a killer cold-smoked salmon, fresh organic/wild salmon, cod, perch, lobster tails, king crab legs and shrimp. We do a host of prepared heat n’ eat foods like eggplant, rolotini, spinach, artichoke and a gruyerer quiche, plus a great boutique wine selection and beers from around the world.
12. What’s your favorite restaurant in Cleveland? LiWah in Asia Town.
13. What restaurants carry your products? Sokolowski’s University Inn, Buckeye Beer Engine, Mikes Bar & Grill, Donti’s Pizza and Cornerstone Brewery (I’m making Scottish Haggis for the Robert Burns Night this week) just to name a few.
14. What’s your favorite thing about Cleveland and what drives you nuts? Our ethnic pool – so much to choose from; however, we do little to celebrate it. Like instead of doing the Oktoberfest (lame) at the fairgrounds, why not have a sausage and dumpling festival? Each ethnic group has both. We could give awards for the best. Milwaukee does it. What really drives me crazy is our shitty economy and that the area’s leaders (that’s a joke) can’t seem to come up with a plan or even small steps to improve it.
15. If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing? I’m not sure but I’d bet it would be connected with food.
16. Would you ever consider opening your own restaurant? Yes, under the right circumstances. I’d like to do a German restaurant with a traditional beer garden attached serving wurst, schnitzel and sauerbraten. For all the krauts in Cleveland, the only descent German joint is Der Braumeister [on Lorain / 216.671.6220].