Charcuterie and processed meat that both actually quite poorly defined, because most of them have been deemed different things to different organizations and people.
So with a little bit of thought, I’ll give you my opinion on whether or not charcuterie is processed meat, and what process meat ad charcuterie is.
Way before I even decided to do a whole website on cured meat, I’ve looked at the process and also the many cultures across the globe that consume a lot of charcuterie or cured meat. Because they obviously know the process and have been doing it for a long long time.
Probably the cornerstone of most charcuterie and charcuterie board’s is the dry-cured meat. Dry-cured meat is generally always originally inspired by classic Italian Salumi.
Salumi is mainly the major cuts of pork that get salt-cured and dried out long enough to be preserved and intensify the flavor, it has been around for a few thousand years (Roman Empire Times)
Is Charcuterie Processed Meat? Dry Cured Charcuterie Meat involves a process, but may not tightly fit into the loose definition of ‘processed’ meat.
Now that is a rather blunt answer, so let me explain the definition above in more detail.
So for me, charcuterie is mainly the dry-cured meats that I am so passionate about and wish to share (like this!).
Also Salumi includes salami, but and the strict definition of dry-cured salami in the Italian traditional way.
I wrote a page on salumi vs salami and what each of these are in detail, please find that page here.
Definitions & Detail
Firstly, there is no ‘agreed’ definition of process meat, so it makes it rather ambiguous. Meat that isn’t fresh anymore is kind of vaguely what these organization came up with. That is a massive category.
Defining Processed Meat (the struggle)
The reason that it’s hard to find a hard and fast definition for processed meat is that there isn’t one. This term is defined a little differently by everyone. The American Institute for Cancer Research defines processed meat as “meat preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or addition of chemical preservatives.”
The World Health Organization has a slightly broader definition: “meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation.”
I’m not having a go at these professional organizations, but what you can see from the above is that they can’t agree to what actually processed meat is.
Since I’ve been looking at cured meats for a few decades I’ll give you an interpretation of what I see as processed meat.
What I think Processed Meat Is
Processed meat is the thing you generally find in western supermarkets like hot dogs and ham from the deli. These have sodium nitrates in them most of the time (just like I add nitrates to dry-cured meat), they also add a lot of other ‘preservatives’, flavor enhancers and ingredients which are numbers (since it’s hard to put the full chemical names on the package I guess).
They are also cooked and often hot smoked as well. Sometimes cold-smoked depends on the product in question.
This is quite different from dry-cured meat which generally the most basic of things like Prosciutto – which has salt, pork leg, nitrates, and nitrites (for the commercial types I have seen). Dried for 12 months minimum in Italy, thinly sliced and savored.
But there is no cooking and there is no smoke, for these classic Italian recipes.
What is Charcuterie?
My definition of charcuterie focuses on dry-cured meats.
And for some people, they also include salami, cold and hot smoked meats.
Now you can see how this can get a little bit confusing.
Charcuterie Dry Cured Meat
Like the Italian Classics which are dry salt-cured:
- Proscuitto – Pork Leg
- Pancetta – Pork Belly
- Coppa – Upper Neck Some Loin
- Guanciale – Jowl Jaw
- Spalla – Shoulder (bone-in or out)
- Lardo – Fat
- Lonza – Loin
Parma Ham – Pork & Salt
Parma Ham is interesting dry-cured meat its been around for hundreds if not thousands of years and Italy. You take it quality pig leg you rub it was salt, you make sure the peak has had a good diet including the leftover byproduct of making cheese.
And then you dried out for a minimum of 12 months in an environment which has a humidity high enough so the meat doesn’t dry out. Natural white mold grows on it otherwise known as penicillin, and once it’s lost 35% or more of its weight the slicing thinly and savory.
Courtesy of: ParmaCrown.com
Here is a link to the process of Parma Ham in Detail from the above institution (no affiliation if you were wondering, apart from buying and eating it).
There is a process to doing this type of dry cured meat, but I don’t think this is included in the definition of above of processed meat that has led to a bit of confusion.
Nitrates / Nitrites & Dry Cured Meat
Most of the time, when dry-cured salumi is made, they will contain a very low amount of nitrates/nitrates, but you create more in your body or eat more nitrates/nitrites in green vegetables, this quote explains it better.
From all the furore around processed meat, you may imagine it is the major source of nitrates in our diet. But in fact only around 5% of nitrates in the average European diet come from this source, while more than 80% are from vegetables. Vegetables acquire nitrates and nitrites from the soil they grow in – nitrates are part of natural mineral deposits, while nitrites are formed by soil microorganisms that break down animal matter.http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20190311-what-are-nitrates-in-food-side-effects
Scientific Study of Parma Ham
An interesting study of a ‘Processed by Hand dry-cured meat, Parma Ham.
There is scientific evidence that this is easier to digest and may actually be good for you.
If you want an overview of Dry Curing, I have a comprehensive page on the process I use here.
If you want to try doing some dry curing in your kitchen fridge, I have an easy guide here.
Thanks for dropping by, I’ve been passionate about meat curing for around 20 years now. Having been lucky enough to learn inside fine dining kitchens through to backyard smoking sessions. From doing courses, trial & error and reading extensively – finally, I thought it was time to share my passion online.
My insatiable appetite and passion toward classic Italian dry-cured salumi and all forms of curing and smoking are what drives this website engine. All the best, Tom