Charlito is Charles Wekselbaum, but the nickname given by Spanish-speaking friends and family has long eclipsed his birth name. He was working at his Cuban-born father's hardware store by day, and moonlighting as a culinary student by night. Studying under a master charcutier at New York City's French Culinary Institute, he was able to dive deep into the old world wonders of cured meat to discover a real passion.
After graduation, instead of a more typical externship, Charlito headed to Spain to stay with familly in Salamanca and Extremadur – known to cured-meat lovers as the promised land, the land of Serrano ham and the (until recently) forbidden fruit, the one and only, Jamón Iberico. “My cousins are really old school country mountain men. They cure their own olives, chorizo, make their own wine in their own home, just as the family has been doing for generations.” Charlito learned technique, process, and the importance of paying attention to every last detail when making these old family recipes.
How Wekselbaum managed to pull himself away from all that gustatory bliss, we’ll never know. But we’re glad he did, because he clearly inherited the family gift. He wasted no time – Charlito’s Cocina was up and running by early 2011. “I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be cool someday to have a little inn or restaurant that followed the business model of a microbrewery – bar in the front, wholesale business in the back. Wouldn’t that be awesome to do that with charcuterie?” Did we mention how happy we are that he returned to the states?
The business runs out of Long Island City, though Charles makes sausage itself in a larger facility in St. Louis, MO. The 100% pasture-raised, heritage-breed Berkshire Pig is mixed with hand-harvested fleur de sel and other spices in small 200-pound batches (larger producers uses industrial machinery that mix 500-1000 pound minimums). Then, it is stuffed by hand into all natural beef casings and tied one at a time before hanging up to dry for a minimum of 6 weeks. For the vegetarians, Charlito's also created a very special 'sausage' of dried black mission figs that holds its own on any cheese plate.
Note: The name Wekselbaum might sound familiar to you if you've been reading our Meet Your Maker series thoroughly! Charlito's mother is none other than Nancy Wekselbaum of The Gracious Gourmet. So, if you pair Charlito's sausage, some cheese and The Gracious Gourmet's Spiced Sour Cherry Spread or Artichoke Tapenade on a big platter, it's a true family affair.