Charcuterie. What is it? Chair in French means meat and cuire means to cook / prepare (cuit = cooked / prepared). So this is about processed products, often from pigs. Hams, sausages, bacon, confit, pates, terrines and galantines are all part of the charcuterie family. Originally a way to take care of the meat before refrigerating and freezing became common.
I am very interested in Italian salami and Spanish hams, plus some other things too.
I think Italian salami is the best and below I am going give you a description of some of them. First some linguistics. Salame is singular, Salami is plural, so in other words: one salame, two and more salami. In Norwegian and English, salami is used for both the singular and plural forms.
It is with Italian salami as it is with pizza; wherever Italians emigrated they brought with them their traditions, but customized the products to wherever they settled down.
Salame di Felino comes from the Parma area. A dry salami that is easily recognized by its irregular shape with one end thicker than the other. Matured for three months under similar climatic conditions as the Parma ham matures.
Salame Finocchiona stands out because it contains fennel seeds (finocchio in Italian) which gives a characteristic taste. About 25 cm long and made of finely ground pork and lard. Then dried for three to four months. The sausage has a fairly pronounced spicy flavor and Italians love to serve it thickly sliced.
Salame Napoletano is a dairly thin sausage with a distinct red color and contains peppercorns. Being made of lean pork and as such is less oily than other salami sausages. It is somewhat characteristic in that it is folded. Dried/matured for at least six months and come in two differing varieties with respect to the spices used. The sausage can for instance very well substitute any pepperoni.
Soppressata di Calabria is a well matured salame, but not matured beyond it becoming dry. It has a juicy in texture although it may vary slightly with where it comes from. Made from lean and relatively coarsely ground head meat from pigs. The meat is mixed with fat from the back of the pig, pepper, other spices and wine. The Soppressata sausage may come from several different regions and each region has its own peculiarities. Some are beaten slightly flat so that the sausage gets an almost rectangular shape and with thread tied around while others are traditional in shape. Stored for up to 40 days. Normally cut into thin slices, but it’s up to you.
Salamini Italiani alla Cacciatora may also occur as Cacciatorini, a small salami sausage. Seasoned with pepper, garlic and other spices plus white wine. A small sausage. Thus very appropriate to bring when hunting. Cacciatora does indeed meanhunter. Coming in long coils, such as hot dogs often do. During manufacturing it is hung to dry over hot charcoal and then ripened for at least 30 days afterwards.
Nothing surpasses Spanish dry-cured ham. The best know is probably Jamón Serrano. Serrano comes from the word sierra and means mountain, so the Serrano ham is basically a mountain ham. It is mainstream and a term for a quality that belongs in the lower price ranges, in Spain at least. It is wonderful to walk into a grocery store in Spain or one of the many food markets and see people’s fascination for hams. The Jamóns hanging from the ceiling and the queues are long in front of the counter. Not so much vacuum packed, although it probably occurs there too. Prices from probably 10 Euros per kilo to well above 200 Euros. No murmuring; it’s quality.
There are two qualities of Spanish ham. The already mentioned Serrano and then there is Iberico.
The best known Spanish ham outside of Spain, and a very common every-day ham in Spain too. Made from plain white pig that can feed on a lot of different foods, but it should be approved.
The fresh hams are salted for 2 weeks. Then the salt is washed away and the ham is hung to dry for a minimum of six months. They are dried in a sort of shelter (secaderos) located on the ridge of a hillside so it will be airy. Hence the somewhat infamous name Jamón Serrano; mountain ham.
Light in color, and very clean, ie, the fat layer is on the outside.
Often called Reserva, Curado and Extra, without it being much more than marketing.
Now we’re talking. This is the ham from the black pig breed Pata Negra which literally means black paws. It does not have to be completely purebred, but there must be a minimum of 75% Pata Negra. That’s it. Known to be fed on acorns.
Most of this ham comes from the area in Southwestern Spain. Big difference from Jamón Serrano. Moreover, the ham marbled instead of the fat being on the outside. Very distinct dark color. Soft and tender in texture. This melts on the tongue.
This part of Spain is also known for their Sherry so it’s hardly a surprise that ham and sherry fit well together. We talk about dry sherry, the Finos.
The Jamón Iberico comes in a few varieties:
Jamón Ibérico Bellota is the ultimate. Made from free range Pata Negra pigs which have a cleanest possible acorn diet. The pigs wander around the vast oak forests and eat nuts, but it’s probably not just acorns. After all, they wander around on their own and pigs are and curious animals. But acorns are goodies. Hams are salted, washed and hung to mature for 36 months.
Jamón Ibérico de Recebo are usually free range in lattices. They eat a lot of acorns but have a diet that also contains grains.
Jamón Ibérico (de Cebo). These pigs are not free range and eat a diet of various grains. Hams are salted and hung to mature for 24 months.
If the ham is labelled Puro, then know that both parents are pure Pata Negra pigs.
A little bit about Pata Negra. Basically, it is assumed that it was the Phoenicians who approximately 3,000 years ago laid the foundation for Pata Negra by crossing common pig and wild boar. The Phoenicians lived in the area now known as Lebanon but traveled widely. Later they brought with them this new breed to Spain where it is doing quite fine in the southwest of Spain and southeast of Portugal.
Dry-cured lamb ribs
Being Norwegian and from the west coast I have to mention the dry-cured lamb ribs. For many Norwegians this is The Christmas dinner. The ribs are salted for a few days and hung to cure in open air, at least that’s what they used to. Not necessarily much drying, but that’s naturally a part of it to. The west coast has a rather humid climate and historically they used to hang outside. Today most are industrially manufactured and subsequently cured in huge temperature and humidity controlled storage rooms. But there are still some artisanal manufacturers. You just have to know about them.
Sometimes I make my own, but the climate in Oslo is a little too dry, but still, home made is well made.