Charcuterie And The Wonderful World Of Preserved Meats

Charcuterie refers to a centuries-old process of preserving meats like bacon, ham, sausage and pâtés, most commonly from pork. First developed as a way to preserve meat before the invention of refrigeration, charcuterie is now enjoyed by foodies and online culinary school students alike primarily for the unique flavors that the preservation process produces.

The preservation of meat has roots going back 6,000 years, but the use of salts in the process arose during the Roman Empire and really became an expression of the culinary arts during the Middle Ages. Charcuterie is derived from the words “chair cuit” which translates to “cooked meat” in English. During that period in time, European, and especially  French, markets were lined with stands selling meat loaves, sausages and a variety of cured meats. In the late 15th and early 16th centuries, the charcuteries were affected by their inability to prevent food-born illnesses and diseases that stemmed from their markets. The French government began to enforce strict regulations that prevented the sale of preserved meats, causing dissension among artisans and butchers who believed that they should have sole control over the production of their charcuterie products. These regulations subsided during the 1600s and interest in charcuterie was revived.

More and more people began to experiment with charcuterie. The use of different types of meat and fowl was introduced to the neighboring regions of Germany and Italy. In Frankfurt, the frankfurter became a popular sausage of that time, and genoa salami and bologna became popular in the rural regions of Italy.

Types of Products
There are literally dozens of products that can be made through the process of charcuterie, but the most popular and well-known is the sausage. Traditionally, sausages are made by grinding raw meat with salts and spices. This mixture is then placed within a natural or synthetic casing. Types of sausages that need to be cooked, smoked, dried or fermented include Italian, Spicy Pablano, and Keilbasa.

Sopressata is another dry, cured sausage that closely resembles salami. Its appearance is very marbled due to the large chunks of fat deposited in the mixture.

Unlike most sausages, Coppa, made of large chunks of meat, is prepared and cooked without any sort of casing. It has more similarities to a cured ham than sausage and has a more earthy flavor.

The sausage chorizo is heavily influenced by Spanish flavors and can be either smoked or dried as part of the preservation process.

Smoked bacon, pork belly confit and head cheese are also products that come from the charcuterie method.

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