Charcuterie is a menu mainstay across the country, and now innovative chefs are taking cured meats beyond the basics. From hand-cut Calabrian soppressata and spicy n’duja to blood mortadella, lardo and head cheese, the board is evolving and patrons are responding enthusiastically. Menu penetration from 2013-2014 is up for both charcuterie and salumi, 12.6% and 27.8% respectively.¹
In French, a person who prepares charcuterie is called a charcutier, generally translated as “pork butcher.” Charcuterie, from the French chair “flesh” and cuit “cooked,” refers to prepared meat products, such as bacon, ham, sausage, crépinettes, rillettes, terrines, galantines, pâtés and confit, primarily from pork.
Around the world, charcuterie began as a means to preserve meat before refrigeration. The art of charcuterie developed as an expression of butchers using local ingredients, flavors, traditions, environments and tastes to create cured and cooked meats unique to their shop and culture. The resurgence of the charcuterie board on menus is following that same evolution – but like everything else these days, at an accelerated pace.
Along with the relatively recent interest in whole animal butchering, the need to create menu items out of every part of the animal is a necessity for economic sustainability. Transforming bones, heads, tails, skin, fat, trimmings and offal into delicious charcuterie is becoming a more common craft.
In the past, menus featured a variety of salumi, coppa, dry cured hams and a selection of interesting cheeses. Now, chef’s boards are becoming a showcase for the charcutier’s craft, from flights and tastings of house-made or premium regional hams to variations of salumi and coppa, rillettes, pâtés, head cheese and lardo. The benefits reach beyond the guest experience. The new charcuterie boards let operators offer items that are ready to serve now, to experiment with regional and specialty variations of meats and to balance the selections on the board for profit.
Cooks are also as thoughtful about the accompaniments as they are about the cured meats themselves. Using their skills in pickling and fermenting fruits and vegetables, they balance flavorful, fatty and unctuous pork with the sour, acidic and bright flavors of pickles, mostardos and jams. The accouterments are also an expression of style, locale and season, making them a perfect pairing.
Offering a charcuterie board that showcases the pork butchering talent and craft in the kitchen’s own unique style is a social and sharable way for customers to begin their meal. It also encourages a dialogue, allowing staff to recommend check- and profit-building drinks to pair with it – seems like a great evolution to us. See how restaurants around the country are menuing charcuterie beyond the basics today.
¹Datassential MenuTrends Report, pulled August 12, 2015
At this Houston, TX neighborhood Italian restaurant, Chef Ryan Pera modernizes his salumi boards by adding innovative accouterments to his traditional offerings. To complement his rich head terrine, he pairs it with a bright, acidic micro salad of red plums briefly macerated in lemon juice, parsley, Mexican marigold and chives.
As its name implies, this Chicago, IL spot devotes the majority of the menu to the art of charcuterie. Chefs Thomas Rice and Kurt Guzowski are bringing back authentic cured meats, terrines and pâtés that have fallen off boards over time, like their Tourte Charcuterie – pork blood pâté, boudin blanc with wild mushrooms, corned pig tongue and black truffle, and the Braunschweiger Tartine made with smoked pork liver pâté and pickled mustard seeds.
Chef John Tesar’s concept in Dallas, TX has a menu selection dedicated to “slices.” This chef’s selection menu serves an ever-changing array of charcuterie items, as well as unique ham and bacon tastings.
Holeman and Finch
Known as the “Charcuterie Plate of Georgia,” Chef Linton Hopkins’ board features lonzino, lomo, lardo, head cheese and guanciale in addition to ham and liver pâté offerings. The accouterments, including house-made bread, chow chow, Southern pickles, bacon-caramel popcorn and pimento cheese, add the Southern flair.
Chef Craig Deihl’s artisan meat board is the main attraction at this Charleston, SC hotspot, The Motherboard features old favorites and new creative takes on classics – like coppa rubbed with Korean red pepper powder, pigs in a blanket, and lonza cotta lined up next to head cheese, lardo and rosy Crespone salami.
Chef/owner Steve McHugh showcases his handmade edible art center stage at his San Antonio, TX restaurant. Upon entry, guests are greeted by a glass charcuterie room filled with snout-to-tail fermenting delicacies, including apple jalapeño pork rillettes, whipped pork butter, country-style pork pâté, mortadella, chorizo, longanisa and 12-month aged Red Wattle ham – all which make their way to the table on the Chef’s selection board.