Meet Iowa Winner La Quercia
Posted on Thursday, September 29th, 2011 in Charcuterie by Jen Flaxman
A three-year stint living in Italy and passion for healthy, delicious food led husband and wife team, Herb and Kathy Eckhouse, to consider how they could use the vast resources that their home state of Iowa had to offer. Herb thought that although there had been a huge development in artisan cheeses and premium wines, there hadn’t been much progress in high quality dried meats. After heading back to Italy to learn the basics of making prosciutto, the Eckhouses decided to take a leap of faith and open La Quercia.
Speaking with Herb, it is clear how much he enjoys food. Making it, eating it, talking about it – he loves it all. He credits a lot of that love to the time he spent with his family living in Italy, “Most Italian people believed that each day they were going to eat something that made them happy to be alive. That’s what we strive for”. For the Eckhouses, going into the prosciutto business was an easy choice. Besides the meat itself being rich in protein and nutritious fat, Iowa’s farms provided more than enough resources for their growing business. Herb and Kathy made a commitment to using no confinement or commodity pork “anytime ever” and make it a point to work only with local farmer groups. Now that La Quecia’s customers are ordering meat on a regular basis, they’ve had to start ordering from multiple farms including Niman Ranch and Eden Farms.
Opening La Quercia meant taking a giant leap financially, and it was incredibly nerve wrecking waiting for those first hams to finish curing. “One night,” Herb tells me, “I woke up in the middle of the night worrying about it, so I just went in there and told those hams to be delicious. And now it’s a tradition. We always make sure to tell those hams to be delicious.” Now La Quercia’s program is evolving to all different cured meat varietals. “We got into this as eaters,” Herb explains, “We make prosciutto and eat it. When we eat it, we learn about this one versus that one. Differences and similarities.” The Eckhouses hope that people can learn to appreciate the subtle differences in prosciutto just like those in a fine wine. Different breeds of pork, just like different varietals of grapes, age and develop flavors differently. This is only one of the challenges La Quercia faces working in the cured-meat industry, another is the preconception that the only good prosciutto is Italian prosciutto.
Ultimately, however, Herb and Kathy love being a part of the craft food industry. Of course, there’s the perk of constantly being able to eat the great food, but what really makes it great is the people. They are “genuinely passionate, committed, innovative and exciting to be around.” When I asked Herb about what it meant to him to win a Good Food Award he answered, “I appreciate the recognition and respect of not just peers but experts in our industry and endeavor, but its much more personal than that.” Since 2005, La Quercia has grown to have 22 full-time employees as well as be recognized by countless print, online and radio media, but still employs the same value it started with: eat great food.