charcuterie: what is it?
If you’re anything like me, cold cuts are a simple way to my heart (and stomach—but it’s likely those two organs are linked). Any time I go to a restaurant and see the words “charcuterie,” it’s an easy no-brainer for me. Duh.
But, you can do it at home too, and be just as fancy as the next guy (while getting shamelessly drunk on Chairman Select red wine in the comfort of your own kitchen).
CHAR·CU·TE·RIE :// noun
—cold cooked meats collectively.
C’mon. We all know it’s more than that. It’s meat. It’s cheese. It’s preserves. It’s olives. It’s nuts. It’s fruit! For the sake of a novel-length blog post, I’ll just stick to talking about what it traditionally means. We can get into the accoutrement at a later date. It’s an opportunity to create a completely DIY, culinary masterpiece that can take your taste buds on a thrill ride to flavor town. Thank you, Guy Fieri. While charcuterie board can mean so much more than meat, we will respect its rightful title of the cornerstone of it all.
It’s a good idea to provide a range and variety of meats. For the most part, there are three major categories:
Salumi — cured meats made from a whole cut of an animal, usually shoulder or thigh (like prosciutto, crudo and cotto); CRUDO meaning raw, cured meat and COTTO meaning cooked meat.
Salami — specific type of salumi that is air dried, smoked, or salted and left to age (like pepperoni)
Salsiccia — sausage, which is ground and encased
What does it mean for meat to be “cured?” “Curing” is a general term used to describe any process used to preserve meat, fish, or vegetables (if you ever stop by the Icelandic airport, you’ll see their version of jerky—but instead of beef, they use fish). This process includes brining, aging, salting, drying, canning, etc. It literally just pulls the moisture and juices out of the food. The ambition of this is to prevent the meat from spoiling at a faster rate (or halt any microorganisms and bacteria from growing). Plus, it adds some incredible flavor.
In order to have a healthy equilibrium of salty, mild, spicy, and strong flavors on your charcuterie board, there are four major subsections when it comes to choosing meat. Try to choose at least one from each to create a good balance.
All of these are pre-sliced at a deli. You can probably find these pre-sliced in a plastic container, but it’s much better (and you will notice a difference) when you get it sliced for you!
Air-cured ham from the leg of the pic, salted, fat rubbed, and aged for up to three years (which is why it’s so expensive!)
Air-Dried, salted, and spiced lean beef eye of the round (aged about three months). It’s known for it’s rich, darlin, red color.
Speck is actually a type of prosciutto—but the flavor is much more robust, smokey, and peppery. The pig thighs are smoked, dry-salted, and aged for less time than traditional prosciutto crudo.
Usually made from pork and veal, it’s a cured sausage that’s seasoned with garlic, white peppercorns, and red wine. It gives off a “fermented” flavor.
Salami cotto is cooked partly before or after the curing process. It is spiced with peppercorns and garlic and light in color.
Pork shoulder and cheek dry-cured salami, spiced with fennel, black pepper, and garlic.
Coarsely ground, extra-fatty, dry-cured pork sausage with black pepper and garlic.
Coarsely ground, fatty, pork sausage seasoned with hot paprika, garlic, and salt.
Cured sausage of pork or pork and beef, usually seasoned with ground red pepper and other spices.
Italian pork made from dry-cured pork shoulder or neck muscle. It is typically sliced very thin and American’s spice it with either red pepper (which makes it hot), or it can also go the sweet route (black peppercorns).
Pâté can come in the form of a paste, pie, or loaf. It consists of pureed, ground, or emulsified meat that contains liver. You will see common additions such as pork, beef, or vegetables. It derives from Belgium and France—don’t knock it until you try it!
Usually cut into slices, mortadella is emulsified (a mixture of two or more liquids that are normally unmixable or unblendable) sausage of pork, garlic, and spices, studded with neck fat and pistachios and steamed—think of it as very fancy bologna.