Charcuterie is an ancient art that started nearly 6,000 years ago. The word comes from the French chair cuit, which translates into cooked meat. For me, and many others, charcuterie is the art and science of the pig — butchery, preparation, curing and aging.
In a more modern age, this art has been the work of old world artisans, and part of the cycles of their food season. As everyone knows, the pigs are raised and fattened for slaughter in the fall, then cured and ready to eat during the lean cold winter.
As usual, the old ways have always attracted the interest of chefs, and in the last few years, a number of Toronto chefs have begun to celebrate charcuterie by making their own. And now it seems everyone is mad about it — in a good kind a way.
The funny thing is that, over the last 10 years restaurateurs couldn’t sell an antipasto plate to save their lives, but now it’s cool, which is fine by me. You see, Im also mad about charcuterie.
My Italian in-laws have been making charcuterie all their lives. Not long ago we started making it together, Pa and Ma and me [their real names are Lodovico and Messalina; my wife’s role is to enjoy the final products].
We make prosciutto, prosciuttino, lonza, sausages and now chorizo, curing it in their cantina. We also age fresh, local pecorino, cacciocavalo, provolone and fruilano cheese for our own tables, to share with friends, because as we all know, it’s illegal to make and sell charcuterie without the proper inspection, certification and licensing — which is fine by me. In the meantime, I get to learn from a master. How lucky can I get?
Quick story: during the holidays Locovico asked me if I wanted to go for ride. He wanted to show me something. He said it in a funny kind a way. If something happens to me, you will know where to get the meat for proscuitto, he said it, because I can see you want to continue the tradition. I don’t mind telling you that I got a little choked up. I love that guy.
So, there we were at Globe Meats, a couple of kids in a candy store. Honouring the pig in every possible way, the store had charcuterie hung in rows from the rafters, like an upside down forest of proscuitto, literally hundreds of them — more that I have ever seen in my life. They were arranged in various stages of curing: one month, two months. one year. You get it
Then, Lodovico introduces me to his paisanos [aka his buds], and I got the chance to talk to the floor manager — ironically someone named Carlos. He told me that they buy their fresh pork locally from Conestoga Meats in Breslau, Ont., near Kitchener.
If you want to age your own, you can buy one ready to cure [three for $99; team up with a couple of pals], but you will need to befriend an Italian family and their cold room. And don’t even think of asking Lodovico. We are chock full. Sorry.
You can also buy a professionally cured prosciutto for about $125, and just refrigerate and make your own antipasto platters. Add lovely crusty bread, pickled vegetables and plenty good wine.
La vita e bella; Life is good.
Yours in good charcuterie
Next post: Charcuterie-chefs in town [licensed to knock your socks off]