An Abbreviated Guide to Charcuterie
A local professional offers provisional wisdom.
In order to assemble an impeccable plate of charcuterie, you’ll have to know your victuals. Here, Stacey Penlon, owner and founder of beloved provisions shop, Beacon Pantry, shares a smorgasbord of cut and cure know-how.
Charcuterie, derived from the French words chair, meaning flesh or meat, and cuit, meaning cooked, was traditionally intended to save meat in the days before refrigeration (though this term may vary, depending on the region).
“Salumi — not salami — is the Italian word for dried and cured meats,” tells Penlon. Today, these traditional techniques are used to produce the array of unique flavors that come from preservation.
A number of diverse categories make up the world of charcuterie, but some of the more well-known varieties are whole-muscle cuts, “whole legs that have been cured and air dried,” explains Penlon. Prosciutto, for instance, is made from the hind legs of pigs, and is aged during a dry-curing process that characterizes the cut’s taste. Speck, another widely recognized choice, is actually a lighter flavored, smoked prosciutto developed in Northern Italy, and is sometimes sliced very thin and served as an appetizer.
Bresaola, an air-cured beef, is another whole-muscle cut, but is so distinct that Penlon considers it a case of its own. “It’s the same kind of meat as filet mignon and dried the way a cured meat would be,” she says. “It’s super lean beef and perfect for people who don’t eat pork.” And, she says, great when served with arugula.
Another category is salami, which is made from a mix of ground or chopped meats that are combined and then cured and dried. Types of salami — like Sopressata and Chorizo — can differ because of curing process, seasoning, shape, or size. Because these elements are all ground together, each salami is like a still life of the ingredients inside. As Penlon puts it, “you can see the pattern of the making when you cut into the meat.”
To prepare a proper board, Penlon advices, “you want a nice range of flavors, textures, and tastes; at least three types of meat is normally best.”
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