WHAT I’M LEARNING...
Thomas Heaton delves into the ancient art of charcuterie.
New Zealand makes incredible charcuterie. Lambsciutto is the next big thing...
WHITE-JACKETED sausages dangling from the roof alongside corpulent pigs’ legs; below sit meats moulded with old-world tools, glistening aspic and crosssectioned, claret meats.
It’s not a sight easily found in New Zealand – it’s best imagined. Those cylinders and tranches are the result of ancient technique dedicated to the preservation of meat. Every piece of the animal was used, either preserved or eaten quickly over the following days. In a time before refrigeration, this was out of necessity as much as it was out of enjoyment.
Most cultures have their own versions of meat preservation, but it seems the French, Italian and Spanish cultures are most famous for it. They have honed the craft over thousands of years, with special ways of preserving different cuts and animals.
But New Zealand is experiencing something of a renaissance, or simply a naissance, in charcuterie, with local producers bringing foreign tradition to our shores.
The term charcuterie goes back a long way, but it’s a job that’s largely been absorbed by butchers over time. However, a small but growing number of New Zealand charcutiers are practising the art, echoing a renewed interest in charcuterie worldwide.
Philippe Arregui is one of four Frenchmen creating terrines, rillettes, pâtés, parfaits and sausages for Auckland-based L’Authentique Charcuterie. Arregui is originally from France’s Basque country and his knowledge of charcuterie runs deep – essentially it’s in his DNA. Arregui grew up around meat, with his father a butcher and his grandfather a charcutier.
“Europe’s story for food, it’s a really long story,” Arregui says in his thick accent. “The process of keeping the food was absolutely necessary all over Europe.”
It was the Romans who pioneered charcuterie, he says. But the collective term for the products is French, from ‘chair’, meaning flesh, and ‘cuit’, meaning ‘cooked’, as it further developed there during the Middle Ages.
“What happened at this time in France, there was a lot of pigs,” Arregui says enthusiastically. “Each household had a pig, they had their very own room and they lived off the family’s scraps.”
Because pigs were so easy to raise, families made the most of them, letting them fatten up to around 120kg each. With that much meat, charcuterie in France was a necessity and it ensured plenty of protein for the winter – pork would feature alongside other animals preserved in various methods, such as confit.
“Everything is good on pork,” says Arregui. “We use everything, [nothing is] for feeding dogs. We can’t just say, ‘we just want this part of the animal’.”
Arregui grew up with charcuterie, mostly cured meats because that’s traditional in Basque country. Now he is making classic rillettes, pâtés, parfaits and sausages for L’Authentique.
The cured meats, which can also be found in Spain and Italy, include whole cuts of meat that are salted and aircured – such as jamón ibérico, bresaola, coppa (or cappicola) and jambon de Bayonne.
It’s not just the expat Europeans bringing the art of charcuterie to our shores
– Kiwi chef Rachel Priestley offers all kinds of cured meats at her Greytown deli and wine bar La Pancetta. The wine bar’s namesake, pancetta, is of course on the menu – a beautiful bacon from the pig’s belly smoked with indigenous manuka wood. Then there’s guanciale: the swine is washed in wine and rubbed with plenty of herbs and spices, later smoked like the pancetta. Priestley makes coppa and lardo too, with a couple of other cooked meats such as mortadella and prosciutto cotto (Italian-style ham).
“I spent two years in Italy. It was just part of my life, creating charcuterie and eating it as well,” explains Priestley.
“I came back from Italy three years ago, started making it for myself at home. One of my Italian friends said: ‘Give up everything, do this’.”
So that’s what Priestley did. And having mastered the classics, she’s now starting to mix things up in a quintessentially Kiwi way, applying the traditional prosciutto-making method to New Zealand lamb to produce “lambsciutto”. On top of that, she’s working with a local pig farmer to cross two breeds, large black pigs and duroc pigs, to make them optimal for charcuterie.
Hannah Miller, an Auckland-based butcher, provides cured meats to restaurants across the city. Her business, A Lady Butcher, uses all local ingredients and free-range pork – as do L’Authentique and La Pancetta – to create charcuterie.
Miller has plenty of tips for those looking to branch out into the world of charcuterie. There are three types of charcuterie, she says – cured, fermented and fresh. “[Fresh] are meant to be eaten in a relatively short amount of time,” she explains – the likes of pâtés and terrines.
“Then you have salamis and fermented products – any of your saucissons or summer sausages, basically anything that has been minced and put into a casing and dried is a fermented product. Those have had lactobacillus introduced into the process.”
While bacteria tends to get a bad rap, it’s lactobacillus that ensures the safety of the products – it lowers the pH of the meat to ensure no bad bacteria can grow, while also flavouring the charcuterie. It’s slightly different to the penicillin mould that can be found on the outside of the meats.
“It’s a culture that you introduce like you would with cheese,” Miller explains.
Lastly there are cured meats, which are whole, salted muscles that are cured over time, such as jamon iberico, coppa and prosciutto di Parma (Parma ham). During the curing process, the water in the meat is replaced with salt.
“Most of the names have to do with terroir. It’s like Champagne – it can’t be called Champagne if it’s not from the Champagne region. It’s the exact same with charcuterie.
“It doesn’t make it different, necessarily. If you took that same recipe and did it here, you could do the same thing. It just has to do with where it’s from and that specific recipe. You have Parma ham because it comes from Parma.
“If you’re looking to compare or contrast [with France], they’re going to always be very clean in their flavours: very mild, very delicate. You’re also going to be able to taste the terroir and the breeds of pigs that they’re using.”
If you’re new to charcuterie and want to give it a go, try the deli section of the supermarket or a specialty food store.
“If you can, get your hands on a pâté, or start off with some prosciutto or a coppa,” Miller says.
Buying the meat freshly sliced will not only be tastier, she says, but it will also make it easier to try smaller amounts.
“You can try more things. Just get 50 grams, that way you’re not spending too much. A little bit goes a long way – it gets sliced very, very thin.”
Without breaking the bank, you should be able to try a nice cross-section of charcuterie, she says.
“If you like those things, maybe get something new next time. Go from there.”
Duck liver parfait by L’Authentique Saucisson sec
Jamón ibérico Chicken and sage pâté by L’Authentique Jamón serrano Coppa by La Pancetta