Thursday, July 3, 2008

What the heck is this Charcuterie Things?

A number of people have been asking me what this charcuterie thing is that I do. I usually give a simple answer that it has to do with sausages, terrine, pate, galantine and the sort. However, I started to realize that they probably did not know what a terrine, pate or a galantine was either. So in the interest of education I thought I would post the Wikipedia article which I personally wrote a few weeks ago describing the different aspects of the craft. The article is not complete, it is missing items such as confit and I do not have specifics found in different cuisines, so check back soon and there should be some more info on there. The platter you see up to the right there is an example of a competition platter I did a couple years ago utilizing charcuterie skills. I hope everyone has a wonderful 4th of July.

Charcuterie, derived from the French words for flesh (chair) and cooked (cuit), is the branch of cooking devoted to prepared meat products such as bacon, ham, sausage, terrines, galantines, pâtés, and confit, primarily from pork.[1] Charcuterie is part of the garde manger chef's repertoire. Originally intended as a way to preserve meats before the advent of refrigeration, these preparations are prepared today for their flavors that are derived from the preservation processes.[2] Charcuterie in Italy is known as salumi.


The Romans may be the first to have regulated the trade of charcuterie as they wrote laws regulating the proper production of pork joints; it was the French though, who raised the skill to an art. In 15th century France local guilds regulated tradesman in the food production industry in each city. The guilds that produced charcuterie were those of the charcutiers. The members of this guild produced a traditional range of cooked or salted and dried meats, which varied, sometimes distinctively, from region to region. The only "raw" meat the charcutiers were allowed to sell was unrendered lard. The charcutier prepared numerous items including pâtés, rillettes, sausages, bacon, trotters, and head cheese. These preservation methods ensured that meats would have a longer shelf-life.[3]

Products created with forcemeats

Forcemeat is a mixture of ground, lean meat emulsified with fat. The emulsification can be accomplished by grinding, sieving, or pureeing the ingredients. The emulsification may either be smooth or coarse in texture, depending on the desired consistency of the final product. Forcemeats are used in the production of numerous items found in charcuterie. Proteins commonly used in the production of forcemeats include pork, fish (pike, trout, or salmon), seafood, game meats (venison, boar, or rabbit), poultry, game birds, veal, and pork livers. Pork fatback is often used for the fat portion of forcemeat as it has a somewhat neutral flavor.[4]

In American usage, there are four basic styles of forcemeats. Straight forcemeats are produced by progressively grinding equal parts pork and pork fat with a third dominant meat which can be pork or another meat. The proteins are cubed and then seasoned, cured, rested, ground and then placed into desired vessel.[4] Country-style forcemeats are a combination of pork, pork fat, often with the addition of pork liver and garnish ingredients. The finished product has a coarse texture.[4] The third style is gratin which has a portion of the main protein browned; the French term gratin connotes a "grated" product that is browned.[4]. The final style is mousseline which are very light in texture utilizing lean cuts of meat usually from veal, poultry, fish, or shellfish. The resulting texture comes from the addition of eggs and cream to this forcemeat.[4]


Derived through French from the Latin sal, "salt", sausage-making is a technique that involves placing ground or chopped meats along with salt into a tube. The tubes can vary, but the more common animal-derived tubes include sheep, hog, or cattle intestinal linings. Additionally, animal stomachs, bladders, as-well-as inedible casings produced from collagen, plant cellulose or paper are used. Not all casings are edible; inedible ones are primarily used to shape, store, and age the sausage.[5] There are two main variants of sausage, fresh and cooked. Fresh sausages involve the production of raw meats placed into casings to be cooked at a later time, whereas cooked sausages are heated during production and are ready to eat at the end of production.[6]

Emulsified sausage

Emulsified sausages are cooked sausages with a very fine texture, using the combination of pork, beef, or poultry with fat, salt, nitrate, flavorings and water. These items are emulsified at high-speed in a food processor or blender. During this process the salt dissolves the muscle proteins, which helps to suspend the fat molecules. Temperature is an important part of the process, if the temperature rises above 60 degrees for pork or 70 degrees for beef, the emulsification will not hold and fat will leak from the sausage during the cooking process.[6]

Pâté, terrine, galantine, roulade

Pâté and terrines are often cooked in a pastry crust or a earthenware container. Both the earthenware container and the dish itself are called a terrine. Pâté and terrine are very similar: the term pâté often suggests a finer-textured forcemeat utilizing liver, while terrines are more often made of a coarser forcemeat. The meats are chopped or ground, along with heavy seasoning, which may include fat and other proteins. The seasoning is important for pâté and terrine as they will generally be served cold, as the seasoning must be increased as the flavors will be muted when cold.[7]

The mixture is placed into a lined mold, covered and cooked in a water bath to control the temperature, which will keep the forcemeat from separating as the water bath slows the heating process of the terrine. Pâté and terrine are generally cooked to 160 degrees, while terrine made of foie gras are generally cooked to an internal temperature of 120 degrees. After the proper temperature is reached the terrine is removed from the oven and placed into a cooling unit topped with a weight to compact the contents of the terrine. Then it is allowed to rest for several days to allow the flavors to blend.[7]

Galantine is a chilled production of poultry created after the French Revolution by the chef to the Marquis de Brancas. The term galant connotes urbane sophistication. Other origins are suggested: the older French word for chicken géline or galine or the word gelatin which sources suggest that the spelling of gelatin transformed into the words galentyne, galyntyne, galandyne, and galendine. The galantine is prepared by skinning and de-boning a chicken or other poultry. The skin is laid flat, with the pounded breast laid on top. A forcemeat is then placed on top of the pounded breast. The galantine is then rolled with the ends of the breast meeting one another. The galantine is then wrapped in cheesecloth and poached in poultry stock until the proper internal temperature is reached.[8]

Roulade is similar to a galantine. There are two major differences, the first difference is that instead of rolling the poultry evenly for the ends of the breasts to meet, the bird is rolled into a pinwheel shape. The second difference is that when the roulade is cooled it is chilled after it has been removed from the poaching liquid.[8]

Salt-cured and brined products

Salt serves four main purposes in the preservation of food in the charcuterie kitchen. The first is inducing osmosis: this process involves the movement of water outside of the cell membranes of the proteins, which in turn reabsorb the salted water back into the cell; this process assists in the destruction of harmful pathogens. The second is dehydration, which means that the salt pulls excess water from the protein, which aids in the shelf-life of the protein as there is less moisture present for bacteria to thrive in. Fermentation is the third, in which salt assists in halting the fermentation process in meat which would otherwise completely break it down. Finally, salt assists in denaturing proteins, which in essence means that the structure of the proteins are effectively shifted, similar to the effects of cooking.[9]

Before the discovery of nitrates and nitrites by German chemists around 1900, curing was done with unrefined salt and saltpeter (potassium nitrate). As saltpeter gives inconsistent results, and has been outlawed in the United States for culinary uses since 1975, nitrate and nitrates have increased in popularity for their consistent results. Nitrates take a considerably longer period of time to break down in cured foods than nitrites; because of this fact nitrates are the preferred curing salts for lengthy curing and drying periods. Nitrites are often used in foods that require a shorter curing time and are used for any item that will be fully cooked.[10] Eventually a portion of the nitrates will break down into nitrites.[11]

Nitrite has multiple purposes in the curing process. One purpose is flavor, the nitrites give a sharp, piquant flavor to the meat. Secondly the nitrites react with the meat molecules to produce nitric oxide. In producing nitric oxide the iron becomes incapable of breaking down the fat in the meat, thus halting rancidity. The binding also creates the characteristic reddish color found in most cured meats. Finally the nitrite inhibits the growth of botulism which would ordinarily thrive in the oxygen-deprived environment in the sausage casing. German scientists originally named botulism poisoning Wurstvergiftung or "sausage disease". The term botulism derives its name from the Latin term for sausage.[12]

Nitrates and nitrites have been noted to react with one another and form nitrosamines which are known to cause cancer. Recent research has proven this risk to be minimal, but regulations in the United States limit residual nitrates and nitrites to 200 parts per million (0.02%) as a cautionary measure.[12]

Curing salt blends

There are two main types of curing salt mixtures used by the charcutier. The first is known by multiple names, including "tinted cure mix", "pink cure", "prague powder", or "insta-cure #1". The mixture is 94 percent sodium chloride and 6 percent sodium nitrate. When used, the recommended amount is a ratio of 4oz/113g for each 100lb/45.36kg of meat or 4 percent of the total weight of the meat. This blend is colored bright pink to keep the charcutier from confusing the mixture with regular salt.[13]

The second curing salt blend is called "prague powder II" or "insta-cure #2". Also colored pink to differentiate it from table salt, this blend is produced from salt, sodium nitrite, and sodium nitrate. This mixture is used for dry-sausages that require a longer drying period which requires the presence of nitrate.[13]

Seasoning and flavoring agents

Sweeteners and other flavoring agents are necessary in the production of many cured products due to the harsh flavors of the curing salts. A number of sweeteners can be used in curing foods, including dextrose, sugar, corn syrup, honey, and maple syrup. Dextrose is seen often in cured meats as it not only mellows the harshness, but it also increases the moisture content of the cured product while not adding a sweet flavor to the cured meat. The sweeteners also assist in stabilizing the colors in meats and it also helps the fermentation process by giving a nutrient to the bacteria.[14]

Numerous spices and herbs are used in the curing process to assist with the flavor of the final product. The sweet spices regularly used include cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, mace, and cardamom. Other flavoring agents may include dried and fresh chilies, wine, fruit juice, or vinegar.[14]

Fermented sausage

Fermented sausage are created by salting chopped or grounds meats to remove moisture, while allowing beneficial bacteria to break down mild flavored proteins into highly aromatic and flavorful molecules. Bacteria, including Lactobacilli and Leuconostoc, break down these protein molecules and create lactic acid which not only affects the flavor of the sausage, but also lowers the pH from 6 to 4.5-5, making the environment less suitable to bacteria that may spoil the sausage. The effects are magnified during the drying process, as the salt and acidity are concentrated as the moisture is extracted.[15]

The ingredients found in a fermented sausage include meat, fat, bacterial culture, salt, spices, sugar and nitrate. Nitrate must be added to fermented sausages to stop the formation of botulism bacteria. The sugar is added to aid the bacterial culture in the production of lactic acid during the 18-hour to three-day fermentation process, the time depending on the temperature in which the sausage is stored at: the lower the temperature, the longer the fermentation period. A white mold and yeast normally adheres to the outside of the sausage during the drying process. This mold adds to the flavor of the sausage but also aids in preventing harmful bacteria attaching itself to the drying sausage.[15]

There are two main types of fermented sausage. The first would be the dry, salted, spiced sausages found in the warmer climates of the Mediterranean in countries such as Italy, Spain, and Portugal. As these sausages contain 25-35% water and more than 4% salt, they may be stored at room temperature. The sausages of northern Europe are usually contain less salt, usually around 3% , 40-50% water and as such do not dry well in the humid climate of countries like Germany.[15]


samaBlog said...

You MADE that????

Dude, I worship you... someday I hope to have half the skills you evidently possess...

Christopher Allen Tanner said...

Thanks for the complement, I just do what I enjoy and hopefully others gain enjoyment from it as well.

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