As highlighted by my broken spelling of Charcuterie, the origin of the word came from the meaning “cooked flesh.” How absolutely simple and graphic. Long before we started abusing the term “Farm-to-table” or “Snout-to-tail” many a culture made use of the entirety of its protein, often from their backyard, as a pure means of survival. The Romans are credited with having started the process and the French (not surprisingly) are credited with having perfected it. Practically every culture has some history of conservation, pickling, curing ecc and each comes with its own set of flavors and charms.
Despite its economic and generally tasty appeal, the art of preservation seems to be a lost one in the modern day household. Sure maybe your grandmother still gets the family together to can the tomatoes every August/September, but are you going to carry on that tradition? I’m not so sure. I will be the first to admit that charcuterie and pickling can be intimidating. First of all, I am so scared of the possibility of botulism that all my first attempts at pickles ended up in the refrigerator instead of in my pantry. I still have my mother’s voice in the back of my head every time I can something… Second, all these foods like chicken liver mousse or country style pate seemed so intimidating and beyond the scope of what my little home kitchen could produce. So I threw out the chicken livers that came with my chicken and let my grinder attachment gather dust. Well I did, but I won’t anymore.
As culinary student at the International Culinary Center (formerly French Culinary Institute) we have 10 classes dedicated to the art of Charcuterie. 10 glorious classes to essentially play with food and forever dispel the fear of offal or the intimidation of the terrine. As a side note, I would just like to apologize of behalf of the word offal: not great PR for the organ meats. Far from awful, offal is in fact quite wonderful. Anyhow, in our charcuterie classes, we learned with a little thoughtfulness and a full embracement of fat, you can conquer the world of charcuterie. My beloved chicken liver mousse was so simple and delicious! The pate, while perhaps slightly over peppered, was quite wonderful as well. The rabbit rillette transported me back to my time in France (almost.) The various dishes were very basic to make and generally, while they may have hung out in the oven a bit long, prep wise, there wasn’t too much to do. The simplest and the biggest crowd pleaser was the chicken liver mousse. I served them in little glass jars because they just looked adorable!
But most importantly the moral of this story is to go for it. Find a pate or terrine or whatever recipe online or in a darling book and make it. I certainly don’t suggest that you make 20 different types of charcuterie items as we did in class (nobody’s belly was happy after that meal) but make one or two and wow EVERYONE with it at your next culinary gathering. Recipes to come…