The Technique of Charcuterie
Creating cured meat products is a French technique, or art, called Charcuterie. It was originally intended as a way to preserve meat before the invention of the fridge. Nowadays, it is the flavour derived from the preservation process which is the primary reason the process continues to be used.
The word Charcuterie was originally derived from the French words for “flesh” (chair) and “cooked” (cuit). From the 15th century, it was used to indicate which shops sold products made from pork, as well as from offal. It was the French who were very inventive when it came to the preparation of pork as they were not allowed to sell uncooked pork. As a result they produced a variety of cooked, salted and dried dishes to be sold at a later time such as pâtés or rillettes.
The process of curing is the addition of combinations of salt, nitrates or sugar which draw the moisture from the food by the process of osmosis. It’s the reduction in water content which makes the food inhospitable to bacteria that cause the food to deteriorate. The nitrates not only help kill bacteria, but also give the meat a pink or red colour and produces a great flavour. Smoking meat to be cured helps to seal the outer layer of it so bacteria find it more difficult to enter. However, it also adds another dimension to its flavour.
Today, a visit to your local supermarket or delicatessen is where you will find a whole variety of cured meats and air-dried sausages. If you look at restaurant menus many will serve an appetiser course on a platter consisting of cooked and dry-cured meats, sausages and pates, along with bread and pickles.
On the curriculum of Culinary arts students around the world, the techniques of charcuterie are taught covering the procedures to produce sausages, terrines or pates. However, knife skills are a key element to any cookery course, where the practical and theoretical knowledge of working with knives is taught and then practised.
Good knife skills are essential if you want to maximise the meat you can extract from the carcass and avoid waste. For example, bone tunnelling, if done correctly, removes the meat from around the bone in tact with little or no flesh remaining on the bone.
Here at the Gascony Cookery School we offer a 4 day French Charcuterie course. We teach you the skills of traditional French Charcuterie. Suitable for those who have a good basic cooking ability we cover many kitchen techniques such as knife skills, sectioning a pig and sausage making. You also make pastry, prepare 7 types of pates and rillettes, and a duck terrine. For more information on this course please click here.
We always look forward to welcoming our new students at The Gascony Cookery School and there’s still time to enjoy the sunshine, our beautiful surroundings, and of course our gorgeous food and wine this season.
Dave, Vikki and Bernard