Like many traditional foods that are making a comeback, charcuterie is a culinary art developed from necessity; it is the way meats were preserved long before the days of refrigeration. And just like pickles, fermented vegetables, home drafted beer, broth and kombucha, charcuterie has been revived and brought front and center by the traditional food movement. And in our humble opinion front and center is exactly where it deserves to be.
One might argue that we no longer need this ancient preservation method. We have our fridges, our freezers, our ships and planes; we want for nothing and we have access to everything all the time. But there are serious consequences to this mindset, that of cutting across seasons and seas in the pursuit of all. It is also easy to forget that ‘food waste’ is a modern invention.
How long can it continue? Will we be forced to return to a more local, seasonal diet that draws on many past methods of preservation? Maybe?!
It is important to acknowledge that we have long-standing food traditions that make the most out of ingredients in order to survive and even thrive during tough times. There’s a sort of alchemy in turning what’s perceived as ‘nothing’ into ‘something’. From aging pork bellies to fermenting cheese, pickles and sausages, techniques have been honed to feed us through difficult periods, like long winters, famines, droughts, wars and recessions.
The significance of these old traditions is as important as ever as we observe our natural resources diminish and our climate rapidly change. It is essential that we look to the past to inspire innovation and technology for a more sustainable future.
As our population expands and the environment weakens, these practices could be of vital importance in the modern-day world.
In the charcuterie
If you have ever walked through the doors of the charcuterie, it feels as if you’ve entered an enchanted world of meaty wonders. Meats of all shapes and sizes, colours and flavours… tangy, funky, explosive and heavenly. Charcuterie transforms meat into something special.
At its most basic level charcuterie is the technique of seasoning, curing, processing and preserving meat, a charcuterier’s bounty ranges from confit, sausages, pates, terrines, and hams.Limited only by the imagination… the charcuterier can make any part of the animal a taste sensation.
But charcuterie goes well beyond the charcuterier… the landscape, the seasons, the breed, the diet and the weather itself shape the end result, creating its unique terroir.
In the Meatshed
On the shelves of the meat shed, you’ll find buckets brimming with salt and stacked containers crammed with whole spices. Tubs of garlic, onions, and freshly picked herbs.
Meat makes up the core of the charcuterie, but our farm and pantry provides us with a palette of flavours with which to work.
Walk into the Meatshed kitchen and you’ll likely smell spices toasting, bones roasting, and broths simmering, see fresh sausage being hand-cranked out into coils, cured meat being hung on hooks for aging, a veritable vat of pate de tete being shredded and seasoned with freshly chopped parsley, then packed into jars… all by hand.
Peer into our curing room where guanciale, bresaola and pancetta hang quietly, patiently, enrobed in a delicate snowy bloom of mould.
The entirety of every animal serves a purpose and is created into something amazing.
The issue of all natural
Preservatives are used as additives in meat products, such as sausages, charcuterie and canned meat, in marinated fish, and even dairy products. They usually take the form of nitrites and nitrates—substances that are added to foods, especially mass-produced foods, to speed up curing, protect them from microbial contamination, and to improve their appearance (pink colouring) and texture.
Today, the use of additives seems unavoidable and taken for granted, but it is overlooked that charcuterie has been produced for centuries using only natural preservatives, such as salt, pepper, chili pepper, spices and smoke.
Since the post-war period, the practice of using nitrites has become so widespread that even many artisan producers consider them to be essential, there are still (though increasingly fewer) producers that make preservative-free charcuterie, sold not only in their own shops, but throughout Italy, with no shelf life problems.
The widespread use of preservatives in charcuterie is just one of the many symptoms of the industrialization of food production.
While there are natural alternatives to synthetic cure mixes, such as celery salt, the amount of nitrate present can vary dramatically, resulting in sheer guesswork.
The decision as to whether or not to use nitrates or nitrites is a difficult one, particularly if you want to create traditional authentic salami. Current legislation in Australian requires the use of nitrates or nitrites in the production of fermented sausages and salami, which aren’t heat treated.
So why did we decide NOT to use synthetic cures? Put simply, they are incompatible to our approach, which is to use the most natural ingredients and the most traditional methods to showcase the natural flavours of the meat.
We do not believe you need them as long as you follow best practice, add the right percentage of salt, and keep the curing products in the right conditions. With the advantage of modern scientific knowledge, we can apply precisely the correct ratio of salt and monitor pH levels (low acidity being a crucial factor in the development of botulism), as well as air-drying in the best conditions so that humidity and temperature are perfect.
While the decision to cure without nitrates and nitrites means we aren’t able to produce and sell traditional fermented salami, we can produce ready to eat whole muscle cures, cooked and smoked products and we will continually be developing our product range.