By Anne Brennan
“There’s never a day when I say, ‘Aargh, I have to go stuff sausage,’ ” she says. “I say, oh, my gosh, I’m excited – I want to break down that pig we got!”
With her business partner, Penny Barend, Khoury founded Saucisson, a Cleveland-based, artisan-cured meat and sausage company, in 2013. (Saucisson is a salami-style cured meat that originated in France.) They met when they were line cooks at a restaurant in Orlando, Florida and remained friends.
Their culinary creations are sold at two major, year-round farmers markets and featured on local restaurant menus and at tasting dinners and catered events. Currywurst, a twist on bratwurst, “is a fan favorite – our claim to fame,” Khoury says. Mortadella[SM1] , an Italian-style bologna with dried cherries and black peppercorns, and their special beef jerky are two other best-sellers.
While working as a female butcher may not be the most traditional profession, it makes perfect sense for Khoury, who is half-Lebanese and grew up with the memory of meals bringing the family together at the table. She and Barend, both classically trained chefs, grew up in the kitchen, comnfortable with knives in their hands. Barend, who’s half-Italian, spent a year living in Italy.
All this background contributes to their passions for Mediterranean flavors and innovations in meat and pork. “We take inspiration from different cuisines,” she says, “[using] simple ingredients at the peak of their season. As restaurant chefs [by training], we always want to come up with something new.”
Khoury points out that Saucisson isn’t trying to put traditional farmers and butchers out of business. “We’re not competing with them,” she says. “They do a great job with the basics. We challenge customers to try the unknown.”
Saucisson’s regulars are superb word-of-mouth PR and built-in focus groups for the butchers. When they like something, customers will spread the word to their friends and families. Khoury imagines her customers may revolt if the beef jerky recipe was ever changed. “We encourage honesty. If you think we screwed up, give us a chance to fix things,” she says.
If Saucisson’s hand-mixed sausage tastes better than the supermarket variety, it’s not your imagination or mere coincidence of special spice combos[SM2] , Khoury says. No mechanical tools, other than a grinder, are used in making their sausages, and hand-mixing them makes the food noticeably artisan.
“It’s different on a molecular level. There’s less fat in ours,” she says.
The meat is fresh, antibiotic- and hormone-free, pasture-fed and raised humanely on local farms[SM3] . They don’t use nitrates or any other preservatives, so the meat doesn’t sit on a shelf getting stale.
In the food business, there’s no such thing as a “normal” day, which appeals to Khoury. A typical week starts with Monday as a day for butchering, Tuesday for grinding and Wednesday through Friday for finishing up. Saturdays are for farmers markets, where the women sell their chorizo, terrines (loafs), smoked Tasso ham, linked sausage, raw and smoked pork and cured meats.
Other business ventures include catering, teaching classes, participating in cooking events – “anything to keep our name out there,” Khoury says.
Right now, Saucisson operates out of a shared, rented commercial kitchen, but the women plan to open a storefront in Slavic Village in 2016, if everything goes according to plan.
Their usual work attire consists of jeans and T-shirts, overalls and aprons. Another perk: the work comes with a built-in exercise program. “We move 50 pounds [of meat] at a time. We got this,” Khoury says, but concedes they may need some cardio to complement the heavy lifting inherent in their jobs.
So what’s Khoury’s favorite Saucisson offering? She’d probably give pork an 11 on a 10-point scale. “The pig is the only animal raised [exclusively] for meat,” she says. “There’s no secondary reason like with a cow…You can utilize the whole animal [for food]. It’s magical.”