A BUSHWICK CHEF IS DETERMINED TO REVIVE THE DELICIOUS SALUMERIA TRADITION
BY MATT SCANLON PHOTOS BY HUGO ARTURI
Translated from the Italian, a salumeria is a butcher shop that specializes in salumi Italian cold cuts and other cured meats, predominantly pork. It might also incorporate products like cheese, eggs, and pasta, though salumeria has come over time to mean any establishment that regards its meat preparation as at once art and business. It was, in part, a lack of artistic approach to sourcing and rendering that motivated John Ratliff to begin Ends Meat out of his Bushwick apartment in 2011, even while he was working as a sous chef.
“The idea was born of frustration about and interest in salumi,” he explained, “…a general lack of knowledge in the industry about it, which was frustrating but understandable, considering the regulations imposed by city governments regarding curing and fermentation. I was pushed to explore this unknown territory because I saw it as the root of the culinary world I felt I knew well. The business’s focus was, and is, on using locally and humanely raised animals to make old world style dry cured products. Generally, production like this isn’t made from whole animals including skin, bones, and organs that people might not have an easy time selling but it’s my job to do that.”
Fermentation, Ratliff explained, is an alternative to heat treating products, and involves bringing the pH of meat to a level of acidity that deters the growth of harmful bacteria a process that can take months. The owner described his start as a five fridge operation out of a loft space built into the back of an upholstery shop, along with some notable early moments, including the buying of his first pig.
“I bought it in the spring of 2012 from Todd Apple Baum [of Sussex County, New Jersey’s Roaming Acres]. My friend Leon asked me, ‘How the hell are you going to make ends meet out of that?’ It was a good question.”
Early days were spent schlepping dried cuts on the subway and out of his backpack to chef friends around the city.
“Looking back, it was all crazy,” Ratliff recalled, “but then again, I’ll probably feel the same in coming years about how I’m running my business now.”
Restaurants began to take notice, the business grew, and now operates out of Industry City in Sunset Park painstakingly sourcing only from local providers and offering cuts and cured products, but also fresh sandwiches, soups, and a variety of daily specials.
“That one bedroom operation has now expanded to include a 240 square foot drying room full of various fermented and aging products,” said the owner. “Sometimes it’s difficult to explain to people coming in the door and straining to look for the potato salad that we’re not a typical butcher shop, and not exactly a deli.”
House specialties include coppa, made from a whole muscle located at the top of the shoulder (“great for grilling, roasting, and braising,” Ratliff explained); lonzino, made from pork tenderloin; and guanicale, made from the cheek and jowl. Preparation spices can include salt, pepper, sugar, rosemary, thyme, garlic… even coffee.
A recent innovation is the business’s Meat Club, in which, typically every week, subscribing members receive three to four pounds of responsibly raised and pastured meat from farms like Duell Hollow Farm in Buskirk, NY and Cascun Farm in Greene, NY. Prime cuts can include dry aged porterhouse, flank steak, pork chops, and chicken breasts, and roasts incorporating beef short ribs, pork belly, and chicken legs and thighs. Ground pork, ground beef, sausages, and kebabs are also part of the fun. A 12 week membership is $480, though half shares are available for $264, with pickup points in Sunset Park, Williamsburg, and Park Slope
254 36th Street. Unit 38 / 718.801.8895 / endsmeatnyc.com