LaQuercia handcrafted cured meats and their commitment to sustainability
LaQuercia founders and owners Herb and Kathy Eckhouse believe the food we eat can delight us each day. They strive to offer a memorable eating experience- one that causes you to stop and savor the moment.
Great food is more than great taste. It is healthful, nutritious and pleasurable. Great food satisfies the senses and the body, the emotions and the mind. It is part of a responsible food system that sustains you, the producers, the craftspeople, the restaurants and stores who support their communities and respect the environment.
The Eckhouses started La Quercia to create premium quality American prosciutto, then applied what they learned to other cuts of pork. Their appreciation for cured meats grew out of the three-and-a-half years they lived in Parma, Italy, prosciutto’s area of origin, where they saw how the careful treatment of fine materials resulted in an accessible, sublime and entirely regional cuisine. Their ambition to create their own prosciutto came from a desire to take the bounty that surrounds them in Iowa to its highest expression. They seek to contribute to the growth of premium artisan-made American foods by offering unique dry-cured meats of the finest quality.
La Quercia (pronounced La Kwair-cha ) means the Oak in Italian. The Oak is a traditional symbol of the province of Parma and, through its acorns, has been associated with the production of premium dry cured ham for millennia. It is also the state tree of Iowa.
LaQuercia is always working to make operations and activities more sustainable and decrease the carbon footprint.
First and foremost, the pork comes from sustainable producers who treat their animals and their land responsibly. Second, LaQuercia buys the raw material— the pork— right from where the pigs are. They focus their meat supply so that the vast majority comes from slaughter houses within 200 miles of the prosciuttificio. Most of the pigs are raised within that radius also. The way Herb and Kathy see it, it makes more sense to send cured— rather than raw— Iowa meat to the coasts. They take locally-produced meat, trim it, cure it (taking out most of the water weight) and then ship it out. Organic spices are used whenever possible, such as those by Oregon Spice Company, which has rigorous safety controls to ensure the purity and integrity of their product. All sea salt is from the United States.
Design and Equipment
When Prosciuttificio La Quercia opened in February 2005, it was built with energy efficient materials and used the latest, greenest refrigerant. The new curing space added in 2009 incorporates high density, non-ozone depleting polyurethane foam; Freon R404A; heat recovery from the refrigeration compressors to provide most of the heating and computer optimized compressors to minimize horsepower on-line. Landscaping utilizes low maintenance prairie grasses, native flowers and oak trees. Like all gardens, it’s a work in process and sometimes things move slowly, but it’s already evident that a habitat is being provided for a great variety of birds and insects. High-efficiency fluorescent lighting and on-demand hot water heaters have been installed to cut down on electricity and gas use.
Packaging is a huge concern for sustainability. LaQuercia added their first packaging made from plant sources for the Iowa White Spread. Made from corn or other biologically sourced sugars, the tubs are biodegradable. Curwood Eco-tite shrink bags are utilized that use less energy, less material, cut CO2 emissions, cut transportation fuel and produce less wastewater. Choices were made with the packaging for sliced meats to reduce waste, such as using lighter plastic films to avoid putting more plastic in landfills, and using recyclable paper sleeves rather than a heavy plastic tray. Biodegradable, compostable interleaving Eco-Tite bags made with recycled material. Unbleached boxes are used with a minimum of 90% recycled content. All boxes are pre-printed or stamped to eliminate unnecessary stickers.
Sustainability is also about the people- this is one of the themes that Kathy has been very strong on; she was very pleased to see that it was highlighted at Slow Food Nation in 2009. LaQuercia participates with a “co-employment” company that enables the company to offer health benefits, providing a work environment that is fair and productive to everyone involved. All meat is purchased on a sustainability basis— it is not sustainable agriculture if suppliers go out of business— so LaQuercia works with them on a cost-plus basis, independent of pork commodity prices.
Our very special evening with Herb and Kathy Eckhouse of LaQuercia hand-crafted cured meats is one week away (Wednesday, September 28, 6:30 p.m.) and we are excited to announce this fantastic menu featuring their unique award-winning products. The cost is $75 per person, plus tax and gratuity. For more information or reservations, call 312-642-8450.