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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What is a Charcuterie?

If you're like me you may have wondered what exactly is a "charcuterie" and how do you pronounce it?

Charcuterie is a French word pronounced in English as "shar-koo-tuh-ree."

While similar to a butcher shop, there are distinctions between the two. Ask the right questions and take a peek at Wikipedia and you'll learn that for centuries charcuterie meant pork that had been cured or preserved into products such as salami, ham, bacon, terrines and pâtés. Now, it can be any kind of meat including beef, poultry, fish and, oddly, even vegetables*!
heritage-pork-fatted-calf-san-francisco
Fatted Calf • Hayes Valley, San Francisco

When I recently visited a local charcuterie the first thing I noticed was that the meat looked different than the meat I'm used to seeing in grocery stores. It may sound strange but it was prettier. The colors seemed deeper and more vibrant. To further showcase the meat, it was displayed on shiny, white platters and surprisingly, there wasn't blood or liquids pooling beneath the cuts of meat.

hertiage-beef-fatted-calf-hayes-valley
Fatted Calf • Hayes Valley, San Francisco

I suspected it was the dry aging process that made the difference. While factory farmed, grocery store, beef cattle are slaughtered, processed and shipped quickly, often with blood and water still seeping from the meat, better cuts of charcuterie meat are slowly dry aged. Dry aging allows the moisture to evaporate at low temperatures which leaves behind a more tender, premium meat with a more intense flavor. To learn more about Dry Aged Beef CLICK HERE.

fatted-calf-charcuterie-heritage-pork-beef

Fatted Calf (Napa & San Francisco)

So imagine my surprise when I walked into the Fatted Calf Charcuterie in San Francisco and found myself intrigued by the meats in their display cases. I went home, got online and learned more about them. From their website:

"The Fatted Calf is an artisanal charcuterie producing a wide range of hand crafted products using high quality, natural ingredients. We use the best available products; organic and hormone free meats, superior seasonings and salts, organic herbs and produce.

We produce a variety of charcuterie; pâtés, salami, prosciutti, confits and a large selection of fresh sausage. Our cured meats are made and aged using traditional methods. All of our fresh products are made to order in small batches to guarantee quality."

fatted-calf-humane-meats-sf
Fatted Calf • Hayes Valley, San Francisco

This is a list of the Heritage and humanely raised meat sources from The Fatted Calf website:

Cattail Creek (Lamb), Junction City, OR
Devil's Gulch Ranch (Rabbit, Pig, Sheep & Quail), Marin, CA
Full Belly Farm (Produce), Guinda, CA
Heritage Food USA (Includes all meats) Nationwide
Hudson Ranch (Pigs & Poultry), Napa, CA
Marin Sun Farms (Beef, Lamb, Goat, Chickens, Pork and Eggs), Marin, CA
Mariquita Farm Watsonville, CA
Prather Ranch (Beef), Macdoel, CA
Riverdog Farm Guinda, CA
Star Route Farm Marin, CA
Wine Forest Wild Foods (Wild/Foraged Produce), Napa, CA

fresh-duck-fat-fatted-calf
Fatted Calf • Hayes Valley, San Francisco

The Fatted Calf also offers one of the hottest ingredient to hit the culinary scene in years: Rendered Duck Fat. You can purchase it packaged in jars or plastic tubs at gourmet food stores or online. But, given the option, purchasing it freshly rendered from organic and humane certified farms would be my first choice.

The Fatted Calf got me to thinking... What about people who live in the South Bay around San Jose? A quick search online and I discovered el Salchichero in Santa Cruz.

el-salchichero-humane-charcuterie-santa-cruz

el Salchichero (Santa Cruz Storefront and the Santa Cruz, Scott's Valley and Live Oak Farmers' Markets)

Hubby and I were spending a day in Santa Cruz so we dropped by el Salchichero to get an in-person look at their retail shop. We found it in a small shopping complex called the Swift Street Courtyard. It seems like a fun place to spend an afternoon perusing the other shops and having lunch at the nearby bakery.

tofu-master-of-disguise-t-shirt
We were warmly greeted and the guy behind the counter was really friendly and happy to chat with us even as I explained I am a vegetarian doing a blog post about meat. . . While wearing my "Tofu Master of Disguises" t-shirt hubby had recently given me. LOL

charcuterie-curing-room-el-salchichero
el Salchichero, Santa Cruz

Just to the right as you enter the front door is a viewing window to the curing chamber where you can see long strands of curing link sausages like Kielbasa, Smoked Beer Sausage, Sweet Italian, Breakfast Links and more.

el-salchichero-santa-cruz-butcher-ribeye
el Salchichero Dry Aged Ribeye, Bone In

The el Salchichero website says:

"It will continue to be our passion to provide both food and education regarding local sustainably raised animals. We specialize in meat products created from a chef’s perspective."

pork-sirloin-el-salchichero-charcuterie
Pork Sirloin at el Salchichero

"Count on us for hand-cut meats artfully extracted from whole carcasses, house-made pate, fresh and smoked sausages, and assorted smoked and cured meats. Our meats are never frozen and we never use fillers or binders."

el-salchichero-charcuterie-butcher-santa-cruz
el Salchichero • Santa Cruz, California

"el Salchichero uses pasture-raised animals from N-A Ranch, Devil's Gulch RanchGleason RanchClaravale Farm, and Ratay Ranch. These ranches believe in sustainable agriculture and treating their animals with the utmost respect."

santa-cruz-beef-cattle-pastureland
Where Grass Fed Beef in Santa Cruz Comes From

When I asked the guy behind the counter, Sausage Wrangler Chris LaVeque (that's his title on his business card), where they source their beef from, he shared with us that the cattle on the N-A Ranch are raised about a mile away from the shop. He told my hubby where to drive to view one of the pastures their Black Angus cows often graze in. We found it but there were no cows that day.

Also it turns out that Chris LaVeque seriously underplays his credentials. Not only is he the owner of the charcuterie, according to Santa Cruz Foodie.com, "his background includes a degree from San Francisco’s California Culinary Academy, an apprenticeship with Severino’s Community Butcher, an internship at renowned Los Gatos restaurant Manresa, and positions at local restaurants Cellar Door and Gabriella Cafe."

charcuterie-whole-rabbits-humane-raised
el Salchichero • Santa Cruz, California

Price
It's undeniable that the meat I'm showing you in this post can cost two to three times as much as the meat you would find at your local chain grocery store. But if you currently buy meat the higher cost doesn't mean you can't afford it.

The key, both budget and health wise, is to simply eat less meat. The USDA recommends no more than 2-3 ounces of cooked, lean meat per meal. Eating less meat and more whole grains, beans and vegetables is a simple solution to afford organic, humane certified and sustainable meats.

For instance if you cook at home and the cost is two to three times higher than the meat you buy now, you can eat smaller portions of meat with each meal. Or if you eat out a lot, only eat meat with one meal per day and you'll still spend about the same amount each day.

Why does it cost so much more?
Because, the way the animals are raised and the meat is processed are highly labor intensive. Giving the animals plenty of space to live on, pasturelands to graze upon, the luxury of time to grow so that inferior genetics and synthetic growth hormones aren't needed and basically keeping them healthy enough to not need to use continuous antibiotics all contribute to the higher cost of  organic, humane certified and sustainably produced meats.

Where to Find a Local Charcuterie
My best suggestion is to search the name of the city you live in with the word charcuterie on Google, Yahoo, Bing or a similar search engine. You'll find local shops, if there are any listed, and you may even find locations like Famers' Markets which have become a great source of handcrafted and artisan produced meats.

Knowing I'm Vegetarian, You're Surprised I Wrote this Post
I kind of am too! But, while I choose not to consume meat it doesn't mean I'm unwilling to have a conversation about eating it.



And for my vegetarian and vegan readers this post has something for you too! I think my friend Elisa first told me about Gather. . .

And to explain the vegetable reference I made earlier in this post:
*Here in the San Francisco Bay Area even vegans and vegetarians can have charcuterie at Gather an ominivore's restaurant in the East Bay that serves beef terrine and Prather Ranch burgers but also has a Vegan Charcuterie offering. While culinary aficionados debate whether vegetables can even be charcuterie, Executive Chef and Co Owner Sean Baker simply wanted to create a charcuterie experience for Gather's vegan and vegetarian diners to enjoy.

Vegan Charcuterie at Gather
($16.00 selection currently on the menu March 2011)
  • grilled Hen of the Woods, spring onion soubise, baby onion marmalata, wild oregano, onion seed
  • baby fennel, smoked olives, kumquats, avocado, pepper vinaigrette
  • salt roasted beets, kombu-braised pistachios, cashew goat cheese, saba, Olio Nuovo
  • spring vegetables, Meyer lemon, sea palm"
I'll be trying it out for sure in the near future and of course will report back here on The Flirty Blog :)

9 comments:

  1. Great post!
    Now you're ready to take on the Charcutepalooza!
    http://www.mrswheelbarrow.com/charcutepalooza/the-ruhls-2/
    Enjoy.
    -Russell

    ReplyDelete
  2. LOL Russell that is probably over my head but perhaps others will join.

    I did find a blog post once by someone who is a member of Charcutepalooza and thought it was really cool that she was taking on the challenges.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Fantastic post, so informative! Many vegetarians would stay away from meat topics or criticize meat eaters. Kudos to you. BTW, I'm not a vegetarian; more a meat-avoider :)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thank you for the comments Holly and Marty. As you can tell, I found the topic rather fascinating and didn't realize there was so much I could learn about the meat produced and sold at charcuteries.

    I hear you with calling yourself a "meat-avoider" Marty. For the most part I don't usually call myself a vegetarian but instead adopted the name "accidental omnivore" as I accidentally eat meat products( like broth, anchovies in a pasta sauce and just recently a tiny bit of pancetta in a salad in a very dimly lit restaurant) from time to time.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Great post, Stacie! In regards to your and Marty's comments, I love the idea of people move away from the identity of food and into practice. I have a good friend who doesn't eat meat, use animal products, or eat dairy (she likes it but it doesn't like her). She chafes at being called vegan though, because she considers it her personal choice and not a ideology. I don't think a person has to "take sides" to be more conscious of their eating habits.

    I also like your point about smaller portions. The good news about eating smaller portions when sourcing meats that are from diversely fed animals and are therefore more nutritionally dense is that it is almost automatic. I believe that your body can tell that big slab of corn fed beef has no nutrients so it craves more, and you can eat much smaller portions of grass fed beef, buffalo, pastured poultry or wild meats and you'll feel really satisfied. I personally can't imagine eating a 14 oz chunk of most of the food I eat.(I had to look that size up at a chain steakhouse website, and that's average!)

    Keep up the great food posts and thanks for being so thoughtful and open minded. I think that for most things, incremental changes in habit and belief are more productive than absolutes.

    Neil

    ReplyDelete
  6. Neil,

    Thank you for the very thoughtful comments.

    "I don't think a person has to "take sides" to be more conscious of their eating habits."

    Exactly!

    Your comments make me want to do a post on food portions. It's astounding how small a recommended portion of meat is. Two to three ounces is less than 1/4 pound (4 oz) of meat, yet so many restaurants tout their 1/2 lb or full lb burgers and steaks that people will now eat in one sitting. Our perception of food quantity has become so skewed by restaurant portions that it's shocking when you really analyze the quantity of food we're being served.

    I now bring my own to go containers with me when I dine out partly to be eco-friendly but also because in the past year I've basically taught myself to eat less at each meal. It's now almost a given that I will split any meal I'm served and take half home to eat the next day.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Neil,

    Thank you for the very thoughtful comments.

    "I don't think a person has to "take sides" to be more conscious of their eating habits."

    Exactly!

    Your comments make me want to do a post on food portions. It's astounding how small a recommended portion of meat is. Two to three ounces is less than 1/4 pound (4 oz) of meat, yet so many restaurants tout their 1/2 lb or full lb burgers and steaks that people will now eat in one sitting. Our perception of food quantity has become so skewed by restaurant portions that it's shocking when you really analyze the quantity of food we're being served.

    I now bring my own to go containers with me when I dine out partly to be eco-friendly but also because in the past year I've basically taught myself to eat less at each meal. It's now almost a given that I will split any meal I'm served and take half home to eat the next day.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Great post, Stacie! In regards to your and Marty's comments, I love the idea of people move away from the identity of food and into practice. I have a good friend who doesn't eat meat, use animal products, or eat dairy (she likes it but it doesn't like her). She chafes at being called vegan though, because she considers it her personal choice and not a ideology. I don't think a person has to "take sides" to be more conscious of their eating habits.

    I also like your point about smaller portions. The good news about eating smaller portions when sourcing meats that are from diversely fed animals and are therefore more nutritionally dense is that it is almost automatic. I believe that your body can tell that big slab of corn fed beef has no nutrients so it craves more, and you can eat much smaller portions of grass fed beef, buffalo, pastured poultry or wild meats and you'll feel really satisfied. I personally can't imagine eating a 14 oz chunk of most of the food I eat.(I had to look that size up at a chain steakhouse website, and that's average!)

    Keep up the great food posts and thanks for being so thoughtful and open minded. I think that for most things, incremental changes in habit and belief are more productive than absolutes.

    Neil

    ReplyDelete



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