On a recent damp Wednesday, under a gray sky and a forecast of plunging temperatures, “brisk” more aptly described the weather than the business at the Austin Farmers’ Market at the Triangle.Despite the light crowd, more than a few shoppers stopped by the booth run by Lawrence and Lee Ann Kocurek, owners of Kocurek Family Artisanal Charcuterie.
Some visitors were curious first-timers lured by the offer of duck-bacon samples. Others were return customers bringing friends—eager to open their eyes and taste buds to the Kocureks’ handmade specialties: smoked-pork rillettes, hot-salami-stuffed duck neck, brown-sugar bacon and duck and fruit pâté among them.
The art of charcuterie was finessed by the French some six hundred years ago. Originally developed to cure and preserve meat before the availability of refrigeration, the process born of necessity has evolved into a competitive culinary art form. Salting, curing, brining and smoking are all methods employed to create distinct flavors.
The Kocureks put a unique spin on the methods using only the freshest meats available from free-range animals raised humanely, locally and sans hormones, including pork and beef from Richardson Farms, lamb from Premium Lamb and fowl and rabbit from Countryside Farm.
The couple met nearly a decade ago in culinary school at Austin Community College. They moved to New York, where Lawrence graduated at the top of his class from the French Culinary Institute and Lee Ann received a degree from the American Sommelier Association before they returned to their Texas roots.
These days they focus their individual talents on a shared passion. “Sunday evenings, we sit and have a glass of wine and go through books on classic charcuterie,” says Lee Ann. Inspiration culled is shaped by what’s available from local ranchers. The rest of the week is divided between making their products in a rented kitchen space, dealing with the administrative side of the business and working four farmers markets.
The Kocureks’ fan base is growing fast, with plenty of repeat customers lining up week after week. “For me, it all started with the duck bacon,” says Carla Crownover of Austin Urban Gardens. “After that, I tried the roasted-garlic sausage. Since then, I’m hooked on pretty much everything, even the pâté, which I didn’t want to try at first.”
Crownover has also been won over by the duck butter, which she describes as tasting nothing like dairy butter, and a lot deeper and richer than oil. She’s so impressed with the Kocureks’ endeavor that she often hangs out with them at the markets simply to watch them work their magic on the crowd. “I’m getting a real education listening to them talk to customers. And it’s fascinating to watch people’s eyes get big when they try something new.”
Find the Kocureks at: Austin Farmers’ Market downtown and the Triangle, Sunset Valley Farmers Market and HOPE Farmers Market. Next workshop: March 14,“It’s All About Lamb.” For more information and upcoming workshops schedule: kocurekfamilycharcuterie.com.