Kalamata’s signature taste treats
The Koutavas family shares with the Oikonomakos family the longest tradition in preparing cured meats and other charcuterie in the city of Kalamata.
Their history goes back to when their great grandfather sold livestock. But when their grandfather, Apostolos Koutavas, married a woman from the Mani, he learned how to make the area’s famous synglino – cured pork – (called pasto in Messinia) as well as sausages.
In the ’90s, the next generation set up a model production unit specializing in cured meats. We visited the place and followed all the steps in the production of ‘pasto’, which is one of Kalamata’s signature taste treats. Our guide was Apostolos, an enthusiastic young man named after the grandfather who wisely listened to his Maniote wife.
We watched as they cut the meat – local, of course – pieces about 9 cm wide, scored it, and seasoned it with coarse salt and savoury, whereupon it would be left for 5 days to absorb the flavours. They also showed us later steps in which the meat is wiped off, slowly smoked with olive wood, and finally, once it is thoroughly dried, placed in a cauldron to boil with red wine, orange peel and plenty of spices. It is then drained and stored, preferably covered in olive oil.
The sausages are prepared in the same way, but with pork that is cut into smaller chunks and seasoned primarily with orange peel. Apostolos and his siblings have taken over the whole enterprise and their products can be bought in the market, vacuum packed and labelled Koutavas; their annual production reaches about 20 tonnes for each product.
Apostolos’ second sister – let’s not forget the role women have played in this business – is in charge of The Meat Shop, a ‘boutique butcher’ that carries select cuts* along with special time-consuming specialties like kokoretsi, kebabs and marinades, and is teaching the locals how to cook and eat them.
* Until recently, most Greek butchers paid little attention to how they cut pork and beef and no attention at all to ageing it.