An introduction to Charcuterie—The art of preparing and assembling cured meats
For thousands of years mankind has been preserving food to prevent spoilage and to provide food in times of shortage. Long before refrigeration, we were pickling, salting and preserving. Some famous examples of preserving are parma ham, confit duck, biltong, rillettes, salt cod, sauerkraut and kimchi.
Imagine you’re in Italy (back in time)
I like to give an imaginary example on my courses that goes something like this—Imagine you are in Italy: For hundreds of years families would grow their own grapes, olives and vegetables. They would raise some livestock including a pig and would make their own bread. The pig would be slaughtered in winter when it was cool. In order to make the work more of an enjoyable social exercise, the neighbours would be invited over to come and help out with the meat preparation process. The speed with which the entire exercise was to be done would also be important so as to prevent the meat from spoiling.
All meat-cuts would be used, nothing wasted. The large cuts would be salted and left for up to a month allowing the salt to optimally penetrate the meat. After salting, the meat would be dried during the spring season, reaching its desired fully stable cured state (at room temperature) in the early summer. This would allow families to have a protein supply all year round without having to slaughter an animal every week.
Pork prepared in a variety of ways
The pork would be processed in a variety of ways:
- Legs for Prosciutto (Italian word for ham)
- Necks for Capocollo or Coppa(salami made with pork neck)
- Bellies for Pancetta (salt cured salami made with pork belly)
- Loins for Lonzino (air-cured pork loin)
- Shoulders for sausage and salami
- Liver eaten fresh or used in pate
- Fillets eaten fresh or used in salami
- Heads used for pate or terrines and the cheeks removed for Guanciale (cheek bacon)
- Blood used for blood sausage
- Kidneys used for pates or eaten fresh
- Skin used for sausages
- Kidney fat rendered for lard
Charcuterie: meat curing process
Today—all over the world—the aforementioned meat curing process is pursued as an art—a decision of choice. It’s better-known as Charcuterie (pronounced “shahr-ku-tuh-ree”)—the art of preparing and assembling cured meats and other meat products. This much-loved charcuterie process delivers the most delectable assortment of flavours a meat-lover can dream of.
For starters: finding the right pig is the primary challenge that makes all the difference to the subsequent charcuterie process to follow. Modern pig factories produce thousands of animals a week, but the quality of the pork is not always that great: it is somewhat pale in colour owing to the lack of exercise during the life of the pig.
In addition, the pork often has an odour from poor sanitary conditions and having been fed with antibiotics and other permissible hormones to increase the meat yield of the pig. Pigs that have been reared under these conditions usually live in stressful environments. More often than not, the quality of meat from these pigs is determined to be pale, soft and exudative (PSE). The Pork Gateway information portal states that, “this condition is evidenced by a very light grey colour. Also, the muscle is very soft in texture and lacks the ability to hold water. Thus, the appearance of PSE pork reveals a very light colour with soft appearance and separation between muscles with ‘exudate’ (i.e. drip, purge, or moisture loss from the muscle) that ranges from light red to clear in colour” (www.porkgateway.org).
Richard Bosman Quality Cured Meats: Stellenbosch-based specialty charcuterie enterprise
Over the past 10 years, Richard Bosman Quality Cured Meats have established solid relationships with 4 farms, supplying them with only the very best in pork charcuterie products. One such farm is the popular Fairview farm near Paarl, where our charcuterie products feature prominently. Our pigs are raised in pastures and are not fed any routine antibiotics, hormones or GMO feed. Pigs usually weigh about 100kgs which is significantly larger and heavier than pork that is purposefully grown for fresh (non-cured) meat. The meat colour of our pork presents itself like red wine, with absolutely zero odour or pungent smell at all. A function of our charcuterie process, to do as little to the meat as possible during the production process, so that the top quality of the meat truly comes to the fore in the final assortment of fine charcuterie products.
Discerning client base demands ethically sourced pork
Our discerning client base are becoming more aware of the origins of their pork (and other) meat products. For them, it’s imperative that their charcuterie products have been ethically reared and processed. During the course of the past few years, our ethical standards have stood Richard Bosman Quality Cured Meats in good stead. However, challenges remain: the process of educating the broader charcuterie market on these important ethical standards continues. Similarly, education drives in the sphere of sales and distribution continues too.
Charcuterie—A bespoke meat curing industry requiring pride, passion and perseverance
Charcuterie is a bespoke meat curing industry requiring pride, passion and perseverance. For example, making Prosciutto is easy, but making a living from making prosciutto is a lot harder. In the South African charcuterie industry, we continue to face a variety of challenges: these include the trade and distribution restrictions being encountered during the current Covid-19 outbreak, the drought in many part of the country, to ongoing economic recessionary conditions, to listeria outbreaks, etc. To top it all, entrepreneurs with a vested interest in the speciality cured meats charcuterie industry, we have to deal with these challenges largely unassisted by government and NGOs. However, our underlying passion for charcuterie keeps us going strong. As long as there’s a demand for our delectable charcuterie products, we will continue to meet the demand of this discerning market. Our pride and passion is your satisfaction after delighting in the eating enjoyment of our unique meats.
A guide to the perfect charcuterie platter—A recipe to tantalise your taste buds
We leave you with a recipe to tantalise your taste buds (a guide to making the perfect charcuterie platter):
- You will need 3-5 different speciality-cured meats. My favourites include prosciutto, bresaola, chorizo, coppa, salami, Eland bresaola and Caña de lomo (Spanish-cured pork tenderloin).
- You will also need your preferred choice of cheeses: about 2-3 different kinds, with preferably soft and hard cheese varieties in the mix.
- The meats and cheese can be quite rich and fatty. Some acidity is essential. Pickled artichokes, capers, olives, sun dried tomatoes are sources of acid to cut the fat.
- Decent bread. Say no more!
- Some sweetness can be great too. Fresh figs or melon, chutney or piccalilli.
- It also nice to have either rillettes or a slice of terrine which gives different texture and flavours.
- When plating try to get some height to make the platter look interesting
- NEVER roll the slices of meat into tubes. PLEASE never ever.
- I prefer white wine with charcuterie. Sauvignon blanc, Chardonnay and MCC all work well. As a fun experiment next time you make a platter try pairing some wine while you enjoy it with your friends (after social isolation of course). You’ll be amazed how some items work better with certain wines.
About Richard Bosman Quality Cured Meats
Since 2009, Richard Bosman’s Quality Cured Meats has been producing exceptional Italian and Spanish style charcuterie using traditional methods of salting and drying. Special partnerships with selected farmers allow the small factory to source the very best pasture-reared animals, delivering superior quality and flavour to the meat. With a philosophy of interfering as little as possible with the meat, Bosman and his team rely on quality and time to make the magic happen. The meat is hand-salted, hung and cured for 2 – 12 months, resulting in delicious, artisanal fare that’s well worth the wait.
For more information please contact Richard Bosman: http://richardbosman.co.za/
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Author: Frits Van Oudtshoorn Frits van Oudtshoorn is a rangeland ecologist residing in the Limpopo province of South