Charcuterie (pronounced "shar-KYOO-ter-ee") is the art of making sausages and other cured, smoked and preserved meats. In addition to sausages, classic charcuterie items include pâtés, terrines, galantines, ballotines, confit and crèpinettes.
Charcuterie is one of the principal categories of garde manger, which encompasses various classical techniques for preserving foods that date from an era before refrigeration.
Originally, the word charcuterie was used to refer only to products made from pork. But today, the word charcuterie is used to describe any product prepared using these traditional methods, even ones made from poultry, fish, seafood or other meats.
One of the characteristics of charcuterie recipes is its use of forcemeat. But familiar smoked or cured meats such as ham and bacon are technically within the purview of charcuterie.
Principles of Charcuterie
Food spoilage is caused by bacteria, and charcuterie is all about preserving food. Thus, charcuterie is essentially a collection of techniques that in one way or another seek to limit the growth of the bacteria that cause food spoilage.
In most cases, this involves depriving the bacteria of moisture, and in some cases, oxygen. If the bacteria can't survive, they can't make the food go bad.
Salt, the world's oldest preservative, is therefore one of the main tools in charcuterie.
Salt draws moisture out of foods, which makes it more difficult for bacteria to thrive, and it also draws water out of the bacteria themselves, which kills them.
Confit is another charcuterie technique that involves preserving meats in their own fat. The layer of fat seals off the oxygen from the food, and without oxygen, bacteria can't survive.
Also see: Food Spoilage: Why Does Food Go Bad?