The Charcuterie Project

Well, looks like it is another preservation themed hobby and this time it is charcuterie. I spent the last three years studying the history and craft of beer making. This took me as far as hours into the Belgian country side, learning from some of the best and oldest breweries that exist. The historical importance of fermented drink can’t be stated enough. Though it is no longer necessary for the survival of our species, the craft lives on through creative expressions at the intersection of science and engineering.

For me the lure of charcuterie, which is broadly defined as smoked, cured, and preserved meats, is the same. Whereas in brewing the heroes are single-celled fungi called yeasts, salt is the major player in the preservation of meat. Of course, we now have carbon filters and refrigeration. But the side-effect of these processes that used to make food and drink safe for human consumption is the transformation of simple ingredients into something that is greater than the sum of their parts.

For this project, my goal is an exhaustive look into charcuterie. I plan to work my way through all recipes in “Charcuterie“, known by some as the “Charcuterie Bible”. The format is roughly borrowed from a coworker’s anachronistic cocktails project, in which he completed 100 vintage and classic cocktails. I realize that given my attention span, it is probably a bit foolish to take on such a large project. Completion will be on the order of years, not months. There are well over a hundred recipes, some of which are quite involved. Couple that with hard to procure ingredients and the fact that I have almost no exposure to cooking, and well check back with me in a couple of months and see how I am doing.

Most people probably don’t learn to cook by starting with charcuterie. But given that its history likely begins somewhere with the earliest Homo Sapiens, I think I am working fairly chronologically. I really am starting from scratch though. I accidentally over-cured some pork belly while making bacon, and the Internet suggested I could fix it by blanching it. I first had to google “what the crap is blanching”. If successful with this project, I will be taken through a huge range of cured and smoked foods, sausages, fermented meats, pates, terrines, confits, and even head cheese. If I fail, worst case is I now know what blanching means.

A quick word on eating meat: Most people who know me know how attached I get to animals, and yet I still choose to eat them. I realize this sounds a bit like when people say, “And I’m not racist, I have lots of friends who are black”, usually after saying something that is probably racist. Here are a couple of points on the matter:

Though I love them, I do not believe humans and animals to be equals.

Most people have diet that consists of too large a percentage of meat.

Animals should live and die without suffering.

Meat production and meat consumption is too far decoupled for most consumers.

This is probably another post, but I do believe it is possible to ethically raise and slaughter animals for food. I have slaughtered meat that I have consumed. 5 chickens, to be exact. I first learned when I was living in Kenya for a summer. It wasn’t fun, and it isn’t pretty, but it was peaceful and over very quickly, and to the Kenyans, it was a valuable source of protein. The unfortunate truth is that a lot of what goes on inside of large-scale meat factories can probably easily be classified as cruel and even torturous. And as petulant as groups like PETA can be at times, they are doing great work to bring attention to this fact while also fighting against ridiculous anti-whistleblower “ag-gag” laws which criminalize First Amendment rights to speak out and document animal abuse.

For this project, I am hoping to be mindful of where the meat I use comes from. This likely adds some expense, but also quality and peace of mind. Charcuterie appeals to me also because salt and time and not much else can transform even the least desirable parts of the animal into something delicate and savory, putting none of the animal to waste.

Bookmark this page to keep track of my progress, as I will be doing my best to keep an updated list of posts for completed items:

Fresh Bacon
Pancetta
Guanciale
Salt Pork
Fennel-Cured Salmon
Duck Prosciutto
Beef Jerky
Lemon Confit

3 Responses to “The Charcuterie Project”

  1. Pam says:

    Well done!

  2. Clay R says:

    Interesting commentary. I feel like I learned something and you’re right on about the ever-widening chasm between Americans and the source material of what we consume. Good luck on your journey! Also, ever heard of Nordic peoples who consume spoiled meat? Ive had the good fortune to traveling there and sampling the local fare…thank god for charcuterie, that’s all I have to say! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skerpikj%C3%B8t

    • kday says:

      Thanks Clay! No, I hadn’t heard of that. I feel like quite often calling something a “delicacy” is the same as saying “you are really going to regret eating this”.

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