WHAT I’M LEARN­ING...

Thomas Heaton delves into the an­cient art of char­cu­terie.

Cuisine - - ED'S LETTER -

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

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