The word charcuterie comes from France and refers to the creation of meats such as salami and ham that are traditionally cured and served cold on a charcuterie board paired with cheese or other nibbles. Making charcuterie is considered a fine art with those that make salamis even being called a charcutier (fancy right?).
Charcuterie has been an age-old French tradition and mastering the art of preparing top class charcuterie can take years. Which begs the question, what makes it so special?
Well, you’re in luck. We’ve rounded up the most delicious details we could find about charcuterie, how you can make an all-star charcuterie board, and why you need it on your menu for your next dinner party.
Starting with the basics and probably the most asked question - how do you pronounce charcuterie? In English, it's most commonly pronounced as shaar-koo-tr-ee. But if you want to be as authentic as possible and do it the original French way, it's pronounced as shar-coo-tree or shahr-koo-tuh–ree.
Short history lesson, Charcuterie is from the French term “chair cuit,” which directly translates to “cooked flesh.” Don't lose your appetite just yet, we swear it gets good. The term was used to describe pork butcher shops in 15th century France that sold products that were made from pork. But today, modern charcuterie describes a wide selection of cured meats which is often served with cheese, fruits, nuts, and other nibbles.
A bit of a longer history lesson - charcuterie is a culinary art that came about from necessity as the practice of preserving meat through salting and smoking dates back about 6,000 years to ancient Rome.
The official birth of charcuterie was in 15th Century France, when the French started curing offal and all aspects of the meat as charcuterie is rooted in the idea that none of the meat should go to waste. By not just using the “good” cuts of meat, butchers and cooks were able to practice the art that became known as charcuterie. They perfected this art by processing meat through the grinding up, sealing, and salt curing to increase its shelf-life as well as to use the ‘head to tail’ of the animal. Then herbs and spices came to play which perfectly seasoned various cuts of meats that brought out their unique flavours. And finally, the butchers went beyond just using pork and explored processing and curing other animals to develop the art of preparing charcuterie even more to what we know today - as cured or cooked meats that are thinly sliced and paired with cheese onto a board or platter.
Back then, it was really all natural ingredients and the traditional rearing of animals that made the quality of charcuterie stand the test of time.
That’s why provenance plays a huge role to be able to produce premium quality charcuterie. Cured meats are often minimally seasoned which is why the taste really relies on the natural savoury flavour of the meat that you can only get when meat is reared in high welfare environments and fed their natural diet. We talk more about this in this article (5 Questions to Ask when Buying Meat).
Charcuterie is made through curing meat using salt to draw out some of the moisture and prevent bacteria from setting in. This allows for the preservation process to happen.
The meat is then hung to start the drying and aging process which depending on the size of the meat, can take one to two weeks or up to one to two months. And in some cases even years (like a fine wine).
Today, the traditional practice has been modernised and glamourised as different types of charcuterie pop-up on fine dining restaurant menus and have become sure fire crowd pleasers during special occasions as it’s great for many people in one setting and did we mention it typically involves pairing it with wine? (that’s a good enough reason for us).
But another aspect that makes charcuterie a fan favourite is the way it’s delicately presented on a charcuterie board. The presentation and appearance of the board is part of its charm and appeal that it has evolved as a craft and trade over time with caterers and restaurants having their signature bespoke table arrangements for all types of gatherings.
More recently, it’s also become accessible too with online businesses offering sophisticated customised charcuterie boxes or better yet why not go for a quick Sainsbury’s run and pick up our delicious British charcuterie for those cosy nights in or picnics at the park (or when you’re just feeling fancy).
You can make it into a meal, if you want to. Eating an entire charcuterie board would definitely fill you up. But there's also lots of ways to add charcuterie into a meal. We’ve got some amazing charcuterie recipes ready for you to get cooking using our British charcuterie. It’s really perfect for when you want to add some protein and richness to your salad, pasta, or most recipes really.
Curating your charcuterie board is all about balance and contrast both in flavour and in texture. A typical charcuterie board will mainly have an array of meats and cheeses but there are no actual rules so you have free rein to get creative. Here are some tips and tricks that can take you from novice to expert charcutier real quick:
Meat is the star of the show, so don’t skimp on good quality meat. A good estimate per person would be 3 - 4 slices of meat when building a board. Try to include a variety of flavours like Smoked Paprika Lean Salami, Wild British Venison slices, and Cracked Black Pepper Steak Slices.
A charcuterie board won’t be complete without cheese. Again variety is key here - go for hard, soft, pre-sliced, and spreadable cheeses that have a mellow to sharp taste. Estimate about 30 to 50 grams per person.
Texture is key so don’t forget to add some crunch and chew to your charcuterie board. Flaky crackers, thinly sliced toasted baguettes, and a variety of salted nuts are perfect additions.
Pop some colour and sweetness onto your charcuterie board. Using dried and fresh fruit will add amazing colour and balance out the saltiness from the meat and cheese. Our favourites are figs and olives - the ultimate nibbling fruits.
To add more variety and a zing of flavour to your charcuterie, small bowls filled with dill pickles, olives, jellies, mustards and delicious dips will definitely hit the spot.
When it comes to arranging your charcuterie board, think about different sizes, colours and textures to make it vibrant and interesting. The board should look full so don’t be afraid to pile and stack foods together. You can also play with shapes by folding the meat a certain way, cutting the cheese into different shapes and sizes or even play with layers by adding some height like an elevated serving dish. There really is no wrong way to make a charcuterie board and you’ll develop your own signature style along the way.
Most of the items can be prepared, washed and/or sliced ahead of time meaning this easy appetiser can take just minutes to prepare. But do prepare your charcuterie board fresh, possibly within an hour of serving.
To make serving easier, use little serving spoons and cheese knives and keep any extra ingredients close by so you can easily refill the board as needed.
Usually, you would break out the good old charcuterie board for special occasions like New Year, Christmas, a fancy date with your partner or wine night with friends.
But when something is this delicious and easy to put together, why wait for a special occasion? Especially now that our British Charcuterie is available online, which makes whipping up a charcuterie board easy peasy. Tuesday nights are the new charcuterie nights.