Learn about the history of curing meat and discover a few of our favorites!
"Curing" refers to the process of preserving food by drawing out moisture through various methods while "charcuterie" usually refers to the resulting cured meats. Removing water from the meat makes it inhabitable to bacteria. What is now a process to make delicious charcuterie was once performed out of necessity: before refrigeration, people needed a way to preserve meats to last throughout the winter months.
The first recorded instance of preserving meats was in Mesopotamia around 3000 BC, when meat and fish were preserved in sesame oil, then dried and salted. By 200 BC, curing meats with salt was a common practice in Greece and the Roman Empire. It was during this time that Roman military leader and political figure Cato the Elder wrote the following instructions for salt curing ham in his framing manual, De Agricultura:
"When you have bought the hams cut off the hocks. Allow a half-modius of ground Roman salt to each ham. Spread salt on the bottom of the jar or pot; then lay a ham, with the skin facing downwards, and cover the whole with salt. Place another ham over it and cover in the same way, taking care that meat does not touch meat. Continue in the same way until all are covered. When you have arranged them all, spread salt above so that the meat shall not show, and level the whole. When they have remained five days in the salt remove them all with their own salt. Place at the bottom those which had been on top before, covering and arranging them as before. Twelve days later take them out finally, brush off all the salt, and hang them for two days in a draught. On the third day clean them thoroughly with a sponge and rub with oil. Hang them in smoke for two days, and the third day take them down, rub with a mixture of oil and vinegar, and hang in the meat-house. No moths or worms will touch them."
850 BC was the first instance in which nitrates were used during the curing process. Saltpeter, which naturally contains nitrates, was used in curing. They did not know it at the time, but when used in meat curing, nitrates preserve the color and flavor of meat and stops bacterial growth.
Today, meat is cured by the addition of salt, sugar or nitrates and nitrites. These cure ingredients are either rubbed onto the surface of the meat, mixed into the meat (dry curing), or dissolved in water in which the meat is submerged. The result of these methods is extremely flavorful, slightly-salty meats that can be stored kept for an extended period of time without spoiling. Cured meats are great additions to cheese boards, as toppings on dishes such as pizza and sandwiches, or enjoyed as delicious snacks on their own. With so many different cured meats on the market, it may be hard to choose. Here are our must-try charcuterie! All images courtesy of their respective vendors.
"Made from the rear haunches of the pig, our French-style Dry Cured Ham is carefully cured over 14 months with just enough salt to preserve it while also allowing the meat to remain tender and sweet to the taste." No nitrates or nitrites are added.
This French dry cured ham has the perfect amount of salt and is sliced to the perfect thickness so that it does not fall apart when removing it from the package. Wrap it around slices of cantaloupe for the perfect sweet and salty snack.
"Bresaola is a classic Italian delicacy seasoned with herbs and spices. It's just like a prosciutto but it's made with beef instead of pork. It's ideal for snacking and salads or drizzled with olive oil and lemon."
One of the lesser-known cured meats, Bresaola was originally made in Northern Italy and is very lean compared to other chacuterie. It is traditionally eaten with lemon, olive oil and freshly ground black pepper. Bresaola has a salty, beefy flavor that is to die for!
Elevation Meats makes salami in funky flavors such as Mexican mole, Whiskey and Sour Ale. Infused with Trinity 7 Day Golden Sour Ale and a sprinkle of black pepper, this salami offers a unique twist to your everyday salami. "Elevation has become known for its creative flavors that are changing the way you think about salami."
Pancetta is salt-cured pork belly. To make their's, La Quercia uses "the thick bellies from 50% heritage Berkshire pigs, big and meaty with generous layers of rich, creamy fat. Rubbed with juniper berry, bay leaf, and peppercorn and fully aged for 2 months. Perfect for rendering for a vinaigrette, making lardons, wrapping around meat or seafood. Or crisp up for a knockout PLT!" This pancetta is made with pork that is raised humanely on family farms. Full of salty, fatty goodness!
"Capicola (also called Coppa, Cotto, or Gabagool) is made from the prized cut of the neck and shoulder. It is cured for ten days, after which it is then coated in black pepper, fennel seed, coriander and anise, and slow-roasted to produce a tender shoulder ham." This coppa is fatty, but not overwhelming so. It's delicious and slightly-smoky with a flavorful rub on the exterior. Perfect for a delicious New Orlean's Muffuletta sandwich!