A Beginner’s Guide to Charcuterie

Charcuterie has become quite popular these days and most trendy establishments will have some sort of a charcuterie board or platter on their menu. At first glance the arrangement and variety can seem a bit daunting (and it sounds a bit snobby too…), but it’s simpler and more rustic than one may think! First, a little history:

Charcuterie is derived from the French words chair, meaning flesh, and cuit, meaning cooked. It was traditionally intended to preserve meats in the pre-refrigeration days, but today charcuterie techniques are used to produce the unique flavours that come from preservation. Charcuterie has been recorded as early as the first century AD and reached its peak in the 15th century in France where the guild of charcutiers was established.

The variety of products produced within charcuterie is great. Cured and fermented sausages, pâtés and terrines, salt and brine cured meats, etc… With all charcuterie, three main ways are employed to preserve the meat:

-Salt Curing (For example: lox or bacon)

-Dry Curing (For example: prosciutto or pepperoni)

-Cooking & Preserving in Fat (For example: duck confit)

Smoking is a key step in nearly all charcuterie techniques. Smoking meat predates all the fancy charcuterie skills; this was something cavemen discovered! The combination of salt curing and smoking meat provides a delicious flavour and preserves the product through controlled drying.  When simply dry curing meat, the goal is to remove as much of the moisture from the meat over time (weeks usually). Adding a smoking stage will accelerate the drying process and impart that tasty smokiness.

Curing and smoking walks the fine line of preservation and spoilage by culturing the good bacteria to out-number the bad bacteria, so please be certain to keep very clean surfaces and hands through the process and to follow your recipes precisely. Here are some links to some great recipes that you can make with your Bradley Smoker:

Elk Landjæger Sausages

Cold smoked salmon

Kabanos Sausages

Boar Ham

Spicy Boar Pepperoni Sticks

The combination of preservation flavour from these unique techniques, and your own addition of seasoning and spices make for outstanding dishes. And the best part, in my opinion, is that you can make such an amazing final product from essentially scraps! When I visit my local butcher I often ask what scraps and trim they have lying around that I can use. You can use it all: fat, trim, odd cuts, anything really to make sausages, terrines, pâtés, roulades, etc. Not only does it spur the creative side in you, but it’s such an affordable way to produce fine, good quality food and nothing goes to waste.

Now after you’ve laboured over cured sausages, hams, terrines and such it is time to present (whatever you haven’t already eaten!) to your adoring friends and family on one of those coveted charcuterie boards! When making your own charcuterie board remember that variety is key, include some mild and some bold flavours to suit everyone’s palette. Add some pickled items and sweet items (jams, dried fruit, etc…) to the board for some contrast and the some nice sliced breads and crackers. And voilà! you have a first class, artisan, homemade charcuterie board to impress everyone with!