Charcuterie | The History
Charcuterie is derived from the term 'chair cuit', which translates to mean 'cooked meat'. Charcuterie is considered by some to be the art and science of making cooked meat preparations with special emphasis on pork. This ancient art, whose origins date back some 6,000 years, became popular during the Roman Empire when cuisine started to become sophisticated. It really hit its stride in France during the Middle Ages.
At that time, the French experienced a tremendous variety of meatloaves, sausages and cured items that were being prepared and sold in 'prepared-meat shops' also known as 'charcuteries'. These shops were owned and operated by individuals who were referred to as 'charcutiers'. Charcutiers were skilled individuals who not only had to possess the talent to season and cook moist and delicious foods, but also present those foods so they would be extremely attractive to customers who passed by or entered their shop. Charcutiers enjoyed great popularity and their customers were always interested to see the new creations being prepared.
During the late 1400s and into the 1500s, the French government had to maintain a strict separation between fisheries, slaughterhouses, butchers and charcuteries. Food related illnesses and diseases were becoming an epidemic. The government regulations kept the slaughtering of animals and fish, away from meat markets and ultimately kept the processing of raw meat from the charcutiers. Consequently, the charcutiers were at the mercy of the suppliers for product. As supply and demand go, so go the prices. Charcutiers were outraged at the situation they had been placed in by these government regulations. Their ability to slaughter and process their own animals, control their supply and costs and create different food items had been eliminated.
The conflicts between these two work groups and the government's attempt to keep the peace brought a tremendous amount of attention to the work and products of charcutiers. An attempt to quiet the charcutiers resulted in the government allowing them to sell salted herring and a few other fish during Lent, when meat products were forbidden. Eventually, in the 1600s, government regulations eased and charcutiers were allowed to slaughter their own animals for processing.
Charcutiers began to experiment with different kinds of meat and fowl. This obviously resulted in new and different food items for customers to purchase. It also created great competition among the charcutiers, causing each to boost their culinary abilities in order to present the best possible products to their customers.
Over time, the products and processes made popular by the charcutiers of France spread to neighboring regions. Frankfurt, Germany became noted for the 'Frankfurter'. 'Genoa Salami' and 'Bologna' were produced in Genoa and Bologna, Italy respectively.
Travelers to America took the techniques they had learned and applied them to the natural resources they discovered. Pennsylvania became renowned for sausage preparation. Wonderfully cured and smoked hams were developed in Virginia and throughout the land everybody had their own variation of the classic meat loaf.
The original European regional specialties and the newer American creations have stood the test of time. 400-500 years later, they are available in any local or regional supermarket. This tremendous assortment of cooked, cured and stuffed meats, fish and poultry make up the field of Culinary Arts referred to as 'Charcuterie'.
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