What is Charcuterie & where did it come from?

Charcuterie (pronounced shar-COO-tur-ree) originally referred to a selection of cold cured meats, and it has been a food staple in Europe for over 500 years. Curing is a process that dries the meat out slowly, while preserving it with salt and spices – instead of modern-day preservative chemicals such as nitrates. So basically, curing with salt and spices cooks the meat and keeps it from going bad at the same time. Sometimes it can take months! There are many types of Charcuterie meats, including salami and prosciutto; even more common things like pepperoni and bacon are technically cured meats.

A Charcuterie platter – also called a Charcuterie board, but it doesn’t have to be served on a wooden platter – usually includes a broad supporting cast of cheeses, spreads, crackers, nuts, fruit, produce, and fine sweets like dark chocolate.

Charcuterie began hundreds of years ago in Europe as a mixture of cured meats that highlight forms of preservation or flavor enhancement. Ideally, flavors are contrasted or paired to magnify enjoyment; likewise, a combination of textures and colors are also used. A well-planned Charcuterie board offers variety and is visually appealing when displayed on a platter.

Charcuterie really came into its own as a food staple in France during the Middle Ages. In France, pigs were raised by virtually every household and slaughtered when the chill of autumn took hold, to fill the larders for the winter with lovely bacon, ham, potted pork and lard. To this day, in the French countryside, the pig slaughter and resulting day of cooking that follows is taken on as a communal ritual. And no part of the pig is wasted, from the intestines to the hooves.

In the classic encyclopedia of French cooking, Larousse Gastronomique – considered the world’s best guide to gastronomy – classical French charcuterie is defined as emphasizing pates, rillettes, terrines, sausages, boudin, and salamis – many of the classic types of French preserved foods. This post by Center of the Plate blog dives deep into the storied history of Charcuterie and each European nation’s traditions and contributions to this food staple’s long-lasting popularity.

Nowadays, modern Charcuterie has a much broader definition. Learn what to include and how to start building your own Charcuterie masterpiece here.

Before refrigeration, meat was preserved primarily with salt, but some types of meats were also cured with vinegar, fat or smoke. These variations bring out differences in flavors and are increasingly being used in various ways to bring Charcuterie and naturally cured meats into the mainstream.

Have you heard of prosciutto or Parma Ham? In the most classical interpretation, Prosciutto is pork cured with salt for a minimum of 12 months including the curing and the drying. It is one of the finest examples of simplicity and slowly perfected food in action, and it’s been around forever – prosciutto was said to be a delicacy during the height of the Roman Empire. 

An even more specialized version of prosciutto is Parma ham, which is prosciutto from the area of Parma with strict name protection and rules of production, kind of like Sangiovese is a strictly produced and closely monitored variety of the Chianti type of red wine.

Shop our selection of Charcuterie meats in our online shop or come visit our store at 77 Spring St. in downtown Eureka Springs!