A decade ago, a young chef left the kitchen and travelled to France to learn traditional cooking and preserving pork from old-school charcutiers in Gascony and French Basque Country.

Now, writes Richard Cornish, he is known for some of the best air-dried charcuterie and salumi in the country.

What is it?
Salt Kitchen Charcuterie is a small, boutique charcuterie business based in Ballarat and founded by former fine-dining chef and local lad, Mick Nunn. A team of 12 including other former chefs, hand-salt pork for air-curing to make a small ham called noix de jambon, as well as fiocco from the thigh, capocollo from the neck, flat pancetta and guanciale. The team also smokes hams and bacons, as well as wagyu girello for pastrami. The French training shines in Salt Kitchen’s rustic pate de campagne and terrine of jellied ham and parsley called jambon persille, and they also produce a range of raw breakfast and barbecue sausages and smoked bratwurst.

Who’s producing it?
Mick Nunn moved from Ballarat to Melbourne as a young man to start his kitchen career under Mario De Pasquale and Mario Maccarone at the Continental in Prahran and then Marios in Brunswick Street. He learned Italian under Guy Grossi, Spanish with Frank Camorra at Movida and classic French when he worked in London with the Roux family. “Looking ahead, I didn’t want to still be behind the pans at 40,” says Nunn. “So I took myself to France in 2012, knocking on doors to learn the ancient art of pork preservation.” Three years later, he had his own headquarters in the meat-packing district of Ballarat. He’s since been joined by other French-trained charcutiers and fellow former chefs to form the Salt Kitchen Charcuterie team.

Where is it?
Salt Kitchen Charcuterie is the direct-to-restaurant brand, while his second brand, Mr Canubi ,is the label he developed for wholesale for distributor Savour and Grace. Both labels are distributed around Victoria.

Why it’s different
The secret is in the pork. Certified free-range pork, grown by Western Plains Pork in the Western District from larger, older sows. These big animals have large muscles and more intramuscular fat than the average pig. Bigger muscles and more fat allow for longer, slower maturing in the air-cured cuts, which means more complex and deeper flavour. What is noticeable about Salt Kitchen Charcuterie and Mr Canubi products is the sweetness and richness of the flesh and the appealing burgundy colour of the cured cuts.

Who’s a fan?
Sean Marshall from Le Bouchon at Attwood Wines in Glenlyon in Central Victoria cooks a compact French-inspired menu to match the French-style cool-climate wines. “We were looking for a high-end product for our high-end wines, “says Marshall. “The buttery rich lonza and noix de jambon matched the acid in the whites, and the velvety, almost gamey wagyu bresaola pairs perfectly with the pinot noir. These are old-world products,” he adds. “Mick doesn’t shy away from fat or flavour.” Dianne Kerry from social enterprise Streat uses Salt Kitchen bacon and ham in sandwiches and panini. “His ethics align with what we are doing,” says Kerry. “He uses real free-range pork. He hand-makes his product. He looks after his staff and has a workplace where people can prosper and thrive. This is the real deal.”

Where can I get it?
Scicluna’s in Mentone, Tooronga and Sorrento; Skinner & Hackett in Carlton North; Kitchen & Butcher in Healesville; Wilsons Fruit and Vegetables in Ballarat; and online at saltkitchen.com.au

By Richard Cornish