Meat+Poultry - August 2020 - 61

Ellen Cronin; Adam Albright

W

hen Kathy and Herb Eckhouse started La Quercia,
their cured pork processing business, in 2005, all
they really had in mind at the time was producing
prosciutto (Italian ham). It is made from the hind legs of pigs,
and typically there are two types: prosciutto cotto, which is
cooked, and prosciutto crudo, which is cured but uncooked.
In fact, when the company first got off the ground, the
Eckhouses called it Prosciuttifio La Quercia. They later
shortened the name to La Quercia, meaning "The Oak" in
Italian, which is a typical symbol of the province of Parma,
Italy, where Herb and Kathy lived for 3 ½ years, learning how
to make dry cured pork. The acorns from the oak have been
associated with the production of premium dry-cured ham
for thousands of years. The oak tree is also the state tree
of Iowa, where the entrepreneurs founded and operate La
Quercia in Norwalk, not far from Des Moines.
"We started La Quercia (pronounced "La-Kwair-cha")
to create premium quality American prosciutto, then
applied what we learned to other cuts of pork," Herb
said. But considering the couple - Herb, now 72, and
Kathy "somewhat younger," he said with a laugh - had no
background in meat processing at all, this has been quite
an accomplishment.
La Quercia is Herb's fifth career, with more than 30 years
in agriculture, but not meat processing.
"I was involved in raising seed potatoes, working
cattle, and developing and marketing commodity crop and
vegetable seeds including corn and soybeans primarily. That
included five years on a potato farm in Idaho.
"Kathy's background is working as a ranch hand and then
as a researcher in agricultural economics at the University
of California at Berkeley before becoming a homemaker and
mother," he said. "When we decided to try and do this, I was
working for an American seed company, but we were living
in Italy, where I was based for the company."
Before he and Kathy designed and built their
prosciuttificio, they studied prosciutto and dry-cured pork
products, spending five years researching, learning about,
experimenting with, and making prosciutto at home.
"Thinking about the pros and cons, prosciutto made
sense," Herb said.
They love making prosciutto - "it is like assisting at a
miracle," he said. "Our appreciation for cured meats grew
from the 3 ½ years we spent in Parma, where prosciutto got
started. That's where we saw where the careful treatment of
fine materials resulted in an accessible, sublime and entirely
regional cuisine. But then, our ambition to create our own
prosciutto came from our desire to take the bounty that
surrounds us in Iowa to its highest level, by offering unique
dry-cured meats of the highest quality.
"We know that American food can compete in quality
with anything Europe has. That's when we decided we were
going to make cured pork products."

"Living in Iowa,
where there are so
many pigs, we thought
it made sense to
produce American
pork products."
- HERB ECKHOUSE

The couple has two grown daughters and a son, all of
whom have their own careers, but who have pitched in over
the years, supporting the business at the Fancy Food Show,
handing out prosciutto samples in 45˚ F weather, mopping
floors, and offering their opinions about the business.

CONTINUED GROWTH
La Quercia's processing plant and business has grown. In
2009, they expanded the curing space.
"We do only pork and our plant totals about 30,000
square feet. All the meat we process comes from slaughter
facilities in Iowa, all small- and medium-sized plants. We
buy our material, the pork, right where the pigs are. Most of
our pigs are raised within the same area or within 200 miles,
mostly Iowa or Missouri. Living in Iowa, where there are so
many pigs, we thought it made sense to produce American
pork products.
"We also think it makes more sense to send cured, rather
than raw meat, from Iowa to the East and West Coasts. So,
we take our locally-produced meat, trim it, cure it - taking
out most of the water weight - and ship it out. We use
www.meatpoultry.com | 08.20 | MEAT+ POULTRY

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Meat+Poultry - August 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Meat+Poultry - August 2020

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