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The Eckhouses, Pork Perfectionists

After getting a taste of their award winning ‘nduja, we had to get the low down on La Quercia.  Luckily the couple that started it all, Herb and Kathy Eckhouse, were willing to dish on what makes their pork so perfect. 

Why pork? Why not wine? Why’d you pick the pig?  

Pretty simple– we have more pigs than people here in Iowa. It’s great for raising pigs here and not so great for growing grapes.  Being located here, it’s easier for us to access special meat–special breeds, special animal husbandry–and I think that’s worked well for us.

How did you get started in the pork business?

It wasn’t a straight path, that’s for sure.  We’d had the idea for making prosciutto when we moved back to Iowa from Italy (I was there on assignment for a company based here in Des Moines).  We felt that somebody should be making great food from the American prairie–one of the 2 most fertile places on the globe.  When we looked into it ten years later, it seemed that great American wines, cheeses, and beers were available, but that wasn’t so much the case for cured meats.  After studying it for 5 months, we decided to get in–not to jump, but to tiptoe.  We started by selling imports to see what people liked and didn’t like, to see if people were receptive to our concept, and to build some relationships with customers.  In 2001, we started making prosciutto at home to see if we’d learned anything through all that study, and it worked.  We only had one step left, and that was to jump in, so we did when we built our prosciuttificio in 2005.

What kind of secrets did you learn while you were in Italy?

When we lived there, we learned a lot about eating a lot of really good salumi.  That’s key–developing an experienced palate.  Later, when we decided to make salumi here, we developed a key relationship with a small producer who made the kind of prosciutto we wanted to make–there are many kinds and types.  He was very important in helping us make the transition from our basement to our prosciuttificio.  But no matter how many people you talk to or how many experts advise you, you have to draw your own conclusions and make your own decisions.

Do you have any advice for a newbie interested in getting in the charcuterie biz?

Plan for success, don’t protect against failure.  If you fail, you lose everything; if you succeed and haven’t planned for it, you lose the opportunity that you risked so much to create.

What makes you better than the other guys?

I like to think that we’re better than the other guys, but I never fully accept that we are.  We always strive to do better–to improve at every step.  We work on each piece of prosciutto 27 times.  We are always trying to improve the quality of the meat we buy and how we do each of those 27 steps.

What’s your most popular product and why?  

Prosciutto, specifically our Prosciutto Americano, because we make the most of it.  I think that our Acorn Edition Tamworth and Berkshire meats are clearly the best.

Any deep dark secrets of La Quercia we should know about?

We don’t make anything we don’t like to eat!

Favorite pig and wine pairing?  

I’m always happy to have a good sparkling wine or champagne with prosciutto–light, fresh, not too strongly flavored.  If I could afford it, I’d drink more Pol Roger champagne.

What is your favorite thing to make?  

Acorn Edition Prosciutto–it’s the most demanding and the most rewarding.

Where can people find your stuff?  

Check out our website.  We have a locator (very hard to keep up to date) and we partner with Murray’s and Zingerman’s for internet orders.

If you would like to try some for yourself, visit their website at laquercia.us

Interview by Michael Nunes

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