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Charcuterie has become rather popular throughout the world, but who invented it?
Traditionally composed of assorted meats and cheeses with modern twists incorporating everything from bread and fruits to dessert boards, charcuterie has certainly transformed over time.
Even over the years of writing this blog about charcuterie, salumi, and cured meats, I’ve noticed the interpretation of charcuterie.
But, with all of the different varieties, you might be curious about the historical roots.
Who invented Charcuterie? In the 15th Century, the French created charcuterie, which involved using offal and all aspects of the meat. The traditional process of using salt to cure meats dates back to the Roman empire nearly 2,000 years ago, like for salumi such as prosciutto.
Interestingly, today, this traditional practice has been modernized- particularly in the United States- as different types of charcuterie become more popular in homes and on fine dining menus.
It’s also very marketable ‘charcuterie’ (“shaaarcooterrie”) sounds fancy!
In knowing the history behind charcuterie, you can come to appreciate it even more, and you can be quick to notice what constitutes traditional charcuterie and what is a more modern twist.
History of Charcuterie
Charcuterie is a French derivative meaning, literally, cooked flesh, and referring to the practice of using all parts of an animal for possible consumption (sometimes not cooked through).
Branch of cooking devoted to prepared meat productsCharcuterie – Wikipedia
This includes the animal’s organs and its more traditional sources of meat like the hindquarters and underbelly.
This practice developed from the desire not to waste a single portion of the animal.
Instead of using only the “good” portions of meat, butchers and cooks could practice the art known as charcuterie.
Instead of just using what was freshly cut, meat began to be processed through grinding up, sealing, and salt curing to increase its shelf-life to last longer, as well as to use the ‘head to tail’ of the animal.
This has become more fashionable across Western society, but it has always been the way through Asia – using bones and offal a lot.
Various seasonings were added to various portions of meat, and different butchers began to use different sources (animals) to practice the art of charcuterie.
Now, you will see charcuterie as cured or cooked meats that are most often thinly sliced, decoratively displayed, and delicately paired with cheese or other options incorporated onto a board or platter.
Examples of traditional French Charcuterie
- Dry Cured Meats
- Salami or Saucisson
When you look up traditional or modern charcuterie, you might be surprised that the two are slightly different. In a sense, modern charcuterie simply developed from the French traditional roots where charcuterie was born.
But, if you saw a traditional charcuterie board next to a more modern one, you might be shocked at some differences.
Traditional charcuterie, as mentioned above, comes from the French custom of curing meat (history of preserved meat, article I wrote) sometimes and using all portions of the animal to create a long-lasting and unique flavor.
This custom is still popular today, and traditional charcuterie boards are offered at various formal and informal gatherings and on restaurant menus worldwide.
A few distinguishing factors of traditional charcuterie is that it is more heavily focused on the meat. Since the traditional charcuterie refers to the cooked and cured meats, a traditional charcuterie board will follow suit and use these as the highlights of the board.
You can still find assorted cheeses and a few other offerings on a traditional Charcuterie board (ideas and inspirations for a board), but the main focus will be on the delicious, savory meats that have been well prepared and highly sought after.
Modern Charcuterie differs depending on which region of the world you are in. For example, a more modern take on charcuterie in the United States could even include a dessert charcuterie board, though this is quite a stretch.
More often, modern charcuterie boards are more inclusive of fruits, nuts, jams, spreads, and other assorted snacks accompanying the meat provided.
But, even on a modern charcuterie board, the cooked or cured meat is still considered to be the platter’s central (and most pivotal) portion.
The modern charcuterie board, and all of its twists and variations, is more closely attributed to the practice of making this meat go even further.
Instead of having a protein-heavy board, hosts will use the meat as a central component but pair it with other snacks to help spread out the offering.
This can also help make a more cost-efficient selection as you will likely spend less on cut vegetables or nuts than on delicious meats.
Of course, what you choose to include on a modern charcuterie board should still be considerate of its purpose: to provide you and your guests with something delicious to eat.
Is Charcuterie French or Italian?
As more regions have caught onto the trend of charcuterie as a popular option to serve friends and family, you might have begun to see Italian meats pop up more frequently on the charcuterie board. This might be a bit confusing, as charcuterie is known to be a French custom.
Put simply, charcuterie is a custom from 15th-century France in which meat is cured, sealed, and sliced to serve. But now, Italian meats are used in a similar concept called salumi.
So, Charcuterie is French, but salumi is a similar practice that comes from Italy.
Regardless of the region from which this practice originates, the concept is the same. Cooked or cured meats are thinly sliced, placed on a platter, and served in various ways.
These meats are paired well with other cheeses (and should be paired with a nice glass of wine).
Some people have even gone so far as to take the concept of a charcuterie board and use sweet treats to create items like a “hot chocolate charcuterie board” or a “S’mores charcuterie board”- completely eliminating the meat (the central component of a traditional Charcuterie board) entirely.
If you are wondering about an “Italian charcuterie board”, you should consider the popular practice of salumi. This differs from the Italian meat and salami, although the two resemble one another in spelling by varying one letter.
Salumi is primarily about the 8 major cured Italian meats.
The whole muscle cuts, one beef cured muscle, and salamis (though the salamis included dried, cooked, and emulsified/cooked like Mortadella)
Regardless of who invented charcuterie, many twists make it a well-loved practice throughout the world today. So, if you are in the mood for a light snack, or you plan to make this your whole meal, you cannot go wrong with the traditional or modern version of charcuterie.