Derived from the French term cuiseur de chair, meaning “cooker of meat” charcuterie is a type of prepared meat made mostly from pork like commonly eaten bacon, ham, and sausage. Less common are terrines, galantines, pâtés, and confit.
These meats were originally produced out of necessity before refrigeration but are now kept alive as a proud culinary heritage representing distinct flavors and preparation.
The Romans may have been the first to regulate the charcuterie trade when they wrote laws stipulating how pork joints had to be properly seasoned. The French later elevated these exacting standards to an art during the 15th century. Local guilds supported tradesmen called Charcutiers who specially rendered these dried meats. Over time, certain ingredients and methods of preparation became unique by region.
A careful combination of ingredients is the key to optimal flavor. Spices and sweeteners like sugar, honey, and maple syrup mellow the harshness of the curing salts, increase moisture, stabilize color, and help the fermentation process by giving nutrients to the bacteria during aging.
Numerous spices and herbs of course give the meat zest including cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, mace, and cardamom.
Here are some examples and what makes them unique:
Pâté and terrines – often cooked in a pastry crust or an earthenware dish called a terrine. Pâté is mostly fine ground foie gras or liver with heavy seasoning, which may include fat along with other proteins. Seasoning is even more important for pâté and terrine since they are served cold.
Galantine – often made from chilled duck. Derived from the French word géline (chicken) and galine (gelitin), galantine is prepared by skinning and de-boning a chicken or other poultry. The skin is laid flat, a pounded breast laid on top, and then finely ground meat is layered over both. The galantine is then rolled with the ends of the breast meeting one another, wrapped in cheesecloth, and poached in poultry stock.
Roulade - similar to galantine except that the breasts are rolled into a pinwheel shape and when it is cooled, it is chilled after it has been removed from the poaching liquid.
Salami – this familiar standby is really fermented sausage created by salting chopped or ground meat to remove moisture, while allowing beneficial bacteria to break down mild flavored proteins into the resulting highly aromatic and flavorful meat.
photo courtesy of cookstreet.com