We often hear, read, or encounter the word “charcuterie” today, what with people posting boards filled with different kinds of meats. So what is charcuterie? Charcuterie refers to any of the two: a delicatessen specializing in dressed meats and meat dishes, or the products sold in such a shop, according to Merriam Webster. This means both the shop and the products are called charcuterie.
There is a third use for the word “charcuterie” and this is to refer to the practice of cooking prepared meats like bacon, sausages, hams, and other meats that are typically but not exclusively pork since it has been established that other meats can be part of charcuterie. Larousse Gastronomique, an encyclopedia of gastronomy, defined charcuterie in 1961, explaining that charcuterie is “the art of preparing various meats, in particular pork, in order to present them in the most diverse ways.”
The term charcuterie comes from two French words – meat and cooked. The person skilled in this craft is called a charcutier – a fancy designation which means pork butcher.
- The accounts of Strabo, a Greek geographer, philosopher, and historian, about the movement of salted meat to and from Gaul is considered as one of the earliest accounts of the presence of charcuterie.
- Charcuterie was born out of practicality. After the good meat has been acquired, what was left are less desirable parts, and butchers experimented on ways to preserve these parts, turning them into something useful and edible.
- Nuts, cheese, jams and spreads, and assorted snacks are part of the modern concept of charcuterie as a stylized way of presenting and eating meat.
- Charcuterie is French. The Italian counterpart is salumi.
Charcuterie Buying Guide
Here are some things to consider when buying charcuterie.
- Buy from a legitimate charcuterie or delicatessen business. Shady transactions to acquire meat for a cheaper price are not advisable.
- Take time to learn. Now that information is readily available, there is no excuse not to be informed. Charcuterie involves a lot of different kinds of meats, and it pays to take some time to learn about every kind of charcuterie meat.
- For meats that you will eat for the first time, buy smaller quantities first and taste it. This way, if you don’t like it, you can just dispose of what’s left and not be wasteful.
- Talk to your local butcher/meat specialists/meat professionals if you want to explore charcuterie.
- Talk to your doctor. Meat is good food. But you may have health conditions that make eating meat ill-advised.
- If it is an option, then buy meat from the deli or charcuterie selling preserved meats if you are preparing a charcuterie board, not the frozen, canned, and processed meats in the supermarket section.
Charcuterie Production & Farming in Texas
The charcuterie business is alive in Texas, primarily because of the meat industry. Restaurants are offering charcuterie meats for diners. Butcher shops are selling and preserving meat. The rise to popularity of charcuterie resulted in the rise of numerous charcuterie board specialty stores and shops. Without question, Texans have extensively explored the many different facets of the business side of charcuterie. If you Google the words “charcuterie” and “Texas”, you will find a lot of charcuterie recommendations located in different parts of Texas.
Pesticides, Additives, and Chemicals:
Food additives are found in charcuterie. Some of the common food additives used in charcuterie meats include nitrite salt, dextrose, phosphates, ascorbic acid, potassium nitrate, meat acidifier, and transglutaminase. Nitrite salt helps in curing meats like sausages. Dextrose is used in making dry sausages. Phosphates act as binding agents while ascorbic acid helps enhance the color of the meat and potassium nitrate makes sure the color stays the same by preventing meat color loss. The meat acidifier helps lower the pH of the meat which is important in the safe production of sausages, while transglutaminase helps bind protein in the meat.
The practice of preserving meat dates back to ancient times. Charcuterie is believed to have started when regulations were put in place and there were general, organized practices, rules, and methods in the production and sales of preserved meats, from the 1st century AD practices in Gaul to the 15-century guilds in France. Charcuterie has evolved over the years – from the production of the meat to the preservation methods to the overall awareness of what charcuterie is and what it constitutes.
Today, charcuterie is present in every country even if in some cases there is a local term equivalent to charcuterie because where there is preserved meat, there is the essence of charcuterie.
If you buy from a charcuterie, they’ll probably use butcher paper for the packaging of the meat you bought. There are also frozen meats in sealed plastic packs as well as canned meats in the supermarket and grocery.
The reason why it is tricky to give general advice on how to eat charcuterie is because of the reality that many people take too many liberties in what they consider charcuterie. This will make it easier. No raw meat on the charcuterie board. Everything here should be eaten without having to cook it. Cured meat is technically pre-cooked which means you can eat it without cooking. Can you cook it? Sure.
When eating charcuterie, it is best to pair it with cheese, bread, or fruits. If the meat is whole, cut it into thinner and smaller pieces so that everyone can partake. If you are invited to a charcuterie party or eating at a charcuterie restaurant, it helps if you read about charcuterie etiquette. Watch videos on YouTube. Read online articles.
Should you use utensils? Read the crowd, read the room. Formal dining requires utensils. A more casual setup means it is ok to use your hands. If there are utensils set in front of you, use them. If you want, follow the lead of your host and everyone around you.
If you cannot eat cured meat because of personal, medical, or other reasons important to you, decline the invitation. Or go and simply avoid eating cured meats.
Forcemeats and cut cured meats need refrigeration. Uncut cured meat should be stored in a place where the temperature is at 50-55°F. If you leave cut meats in a warm location, the meat will oxidize and begin to spoil. Check the meats in your storage and make sure to dispose of any meat that has a bad smell or discoloration.
Frozen meats should be kept in the freezer if you are not cooking them. Canned meats are shelf-stable. You can keep it in the pantry at room temperature.
Make your own charcuterie board
It is a fun, new experience you should try out with family or with friends. The challenge is to find the ingredients. If it is also your first time, it can also be challenging setting up all the ingredients on the board. If you are a beginner and this is your first time, there is no harm in copying other charcuterie boards you can find online.
This recipe serves 2-3 persons
- Meats: prosciutto, capicola, garlic sausage
- Cheese: aged Irish cheddar, Gruyere, sundried tomato and olive Gouda
- Bread: sliced baguette, roasted garlic and herb crackers
- Accompaniments: dill pickles, grapes, pitted dates, almonds
Arrange all the items on the board. There is no exact rule but it helps if you do not line up all similar items close together. Alternate meats, cheese, bread, and accompaniments so that each type is placed in different parts of the board. Divide the board into twelve parts and put one item on each space until everything is set. Go crazy! Get creative! Browse the internet for inspiration.