CHAPTER 10: INTRODUCTION TO CHARCUTERIE
Charcuterie has come a long way since the medieval days in France, when the term
referred to products of the butchers shop. Charcuterie is the art of transforming pork
into various other products. Derived from the words chair and cuit, it literally means
The origin of the process goes back several hundreds of years ago to 1500 BC During the
height of the Roman Empire. Sausages became very popular. The Romans enjoyed pork
products that were often flavored with pine nuts, black pepper and bay leaves. Sausages
were also featured at the fabled pagan banquets and one Christian emperor even went to
the extent of having them banned. This of course led to the illegal production of
charcuterie, which in turn caused illness, sickness and even death.
In the Middle Ages, strict separation between fisheries, slaughterhouses, butchers and
prepared meat shops was enforced in order to control disease. Not until the 16thC did
the charcutiers, as these cooks were known, legally obtain the right to butcher their own
pigs and sell both raw and cooked pork products. Charcutiers were permitted to sell
salted herrings during the period of lent, the time Christians have to abstain from meat.
As legal restrictions eased and other meats became more abundant and available,
charcutiers included them in their repertoire. Slowly, fish and vegetables also showed up
in the products.
Charcuterie has come a long way since those times. No longer is it limited to just pork
products, but instead, the word is used in a broader sense to represent a method and
style of cooking as well as a manner of serving the food. International and ethnic
influences have broadened the scope of charcuterie so that today it comprises a wide
variety of foods. Savory pies come in all kind of shapes and sizes. Sausages are now being
made out of fish and vegetables. Meats as well as fish and vegetables are stuffed and
poached to become galantines or are roasted into ballotines. There are dessert
timbales….the gastronomic possibilities are endless.
Charcuterie is one of the most versatile and adaptable cooking methods. It lends itself to
an innovative approach to cooking. There is nothing rigid complicated or exact about it.
Once you are familiar with the fundamentals, you can invent your own specialties using
the ingredients that are available or that are in season at the market. Commercially,
making your own charcuterie will help you control costs, assure high quality and serve
dishes that are quite out of the ordinary. There are no rules to cooking charcuterie, the
only imperative is fresh ingredients of high quality. Charcuterie products can be served
morning, noon or night; for breakfast, lunch or dinner and even as snacks with cocktails.
They can be served as appetizers or as a main course, a side dish or a snack. Although
they are invariably eaten slightly chilled, some could be equally delicious when eaten warm