Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Adoration of the Charcuterie (Part I)

I don't know about the rest of you but there's nothing quite like the rush of diving head first into a nice board full of charcuterie.  A well-marbled slice of the soppressata- only slightly greasy to the touch sits next to a thinly sliced piece of imported prosciutto.  You choose the prosciutto.  Gently, you lift the labia-like fold of cured ham to your mouth and savor it's velvety mouthfeel before swallowing.  Truly, a divine Charcuterie experience can be a life changing event.

Technically speaking, Charcuterie is the branch of cooking devoted to prepared meat products, such as bacon, ham, sausage, terrines, galantines, pates and confit, primarily from pork.  So the above photo is actually a modern day adaptation (or bastardization depending on your level of purism) of a true Charcuterie platter.

Ah...that's better.  Note the lack of extraneous cheeses, breads, crackers or olives directly on the Charcuterie board.  This is true Charcuterie in it's most raw, emotional and natural form.  Cured meats served on a rustic, wooden board.  One might imagine a Sicilian farmer in 1890 returning from a day amongst the olive groves.  His wife lights a candle and pours her husband a glass of home made red wine.  Next, she presents him with Charcuterie.  He looks up from the Charcuterie, takes her hand and smiles lovingly.  It can be a very romantic thing...that is to say...Charcuterie.

The earliest historical reports of Charcuterie's existence date back to the first century AD when the import of salted meat from Gaul found it's way throughout Eurasia.  It may have even been regulated by the Romans who wrote laws regulating the proper production of pork joints.  It's been rumored that Charcuterie was served to Jesus and his apostles at the last supper although it's curious that as a proud Italian, DaVinci would have chosen to omit any visual reference to a Charcuterie platter in his famous fresco of said event.

See?  No Charcuterie...

In regards to the proper amounts and structure of a Charcuterie platter- the line between good and poor taste remains blurred.  The "bigger is better" outlook seldom pays real dividends for a novice Charcuterist who rams his fists into mounds of chemically-colored pepperoni from Wal-Mart.  The real joy in experiencing a true Charcuterie is the individual time spent with each cured meat.  Certainly, one could choke down a mountain of B-grade Capicola, Bresaola and Speck without ever having had a truly singular Charcuterie experience.  When it comes to Charcuterie, quality reigns supreme and the focus of a truly Artisan Charcuterie chef can help to realize a story of sorts told not with words...but with meat.

Like any craft, the creation of Charcuterie is an art form in and of itself.  Despite its seemingly crude rudimentary elements, the construction of fine charcuterie tells the story of a metamorphosis.  As a pupae encases itself in a silken cocoon so it may emerge a lovely monarch; gristle and meat scraps are encased in a rinsed intestine and left to ferment and cure.  The process is a labor-intensive one.  Furthermore, precise temperature and humidity requirements are apt to render the amateur Charcuterist useless in producing a high quality cured meat product.  However when executed correctly, the resulting product can be a work of art en par with the finest of Tiffany Lamps or Faberge Eggs.

At this point in our musings on Charctuerie, we may find it prudent to make brief mention of the recent upswing in the Global Charcuterie Market or as I have deemed it; The Great 21st Century Salumi Boom.  With global demand for Charcuterie on the rise and wide spread vegetarianism on the wane, it seems that the fragile balance of our cured meat ecosystem or "cuemeatcosystem" is in danger of being upset.  Imagine the panic should Chorizo become a scarce commodity.  Or think of the terror caused by the threat of a low yield Mortadella crop.  In many professionals' opinions, there could be drastic consequences suffered by future generations should we fail to properly conserve and secure our Charcuterie interests in the Middle East and beyond. 

But for the purposes of our discussions on Charctuerie in this series, let us focus on the positive roles that cured meats play in all our lives.  Because man cannot live on bread alone.  There must be bread...and Charcuterie.


  1. Where would one find such a fine display of meat product in the 413, or better yet, the 802?

  2. Great question Dan. In the 413 I would recommend visiting Frigo Foods in downtown Springfield or Pajer's Italian Imports in Agawam. In Vermont, I'm not as well versed. But I do know that Singleton's General store near Okemo has a wonderful array of smoked meats and game available.

  3. Doc, only you can make Italian cold cuts sound sexual! oye!!!!

    Romito & Sons in East Longmeadow is equally as delightful as Frigos. Seating available.

  4. Oh God...Oh God. yes! Yes!! YES!!!! Romito & Sons!!!
    (I just pulled a "When Harry Met Sally")

  5. Thanks for the info, good doctor. I shall check out these fine establishments and DOMINATE some fine meats.