What the heck is “Charcuterie”?

And why should I care?

Charcuterie, a term that evokes images of rustic feasts and artisanal craftsmanship, is the age-old culinary art of preserving and preparing meat products. Derived from the French words “chair” (flesh) and “cuit” (cooked), charcuterie encompasses a diverse array of techniques for curing, smoking, and transforming meats into a symphony of flavors and textures. It’s a culinary tradition that has stood the test of time, evolving from practical preservation methods to a celebrated gastronomic pursuit.

charcuterie, cured meat, mangalitsa, pigs, proscuitto

Historically, charcuterie emerged as a necessity long before refrigeration became commonplace. In an era where food preservation was paramount, communities developed ingenious methods to extend the shelf life of their meats. Salt curing, smoking, and fermentation became essential techniques, not only ensuring food safety but also infusing meats with unique and savory characteristics. Over time, what began as a utilitarian practice transformed into a culinary art form, with regional specialties and family recipes contributing to the rich tapestry of charcuterie. Here in America, we’re familiar with the old smokehouse on every farm. In Italy, France, and Romania, Russia, and Germany, each culture has it’s tradition around preserving meat. 

For the modern homesteader, learning the art of charcuterie holds a myriad of benefits. At its core, charcuterie aligns seamlessly with the principles of self-sufficiency and sustainability. By mastering the techniques of curing and preserving meats, homesteaders can reduce waste, make the most of their livestock harvests, and create a diverse and flavorful pantry that extends beyond the typical freezer storage.

Moreover, charcuterie is a testament to the value of craftsmanship and tradition. Homesteaders who delve into the world of charcuterie discover a connection to the past, where resourcefulness and skill were essential for survival. Beyond its practical applications, charcuterie embodies an appreciation for the artistry of food preparation, allowing homesteaders to elevate their culinary pursuits while fostering a deep sense of pride in their self-sustaining lifestyle.

Why are pigs the primary animals chosen for this time-honored culinary tradition?

forage farming pigs, mangalitsa pigs, hogs, pastured, charcuterie

 As new folks embark on this flavorful adventure called “charcuterie,” people often ask: can other meats can be used? Why are pigs the primary choice?

Pigs have earned their place at the center stage of charcuterie for a combination of practical and gastronomic reasons. Their unique qualities make them an ideal candidate for various curing and preservation methods.

1. Fatty Goodness:

Pigs are naturally fattier animals, and in the world of charcuterie, fat equals flavor. The intricate marbling found in pork contributes to the succulence and richness of cured meats, creating a mouthwatering symphony of taste and texture.

2. Versatility in Cuts:

From the prized belly used for bacon to the versatile shoulder and hams, pigs offer a wide array of cuts suitable for different charcuterie techniques. This versatility allows one to explore various flavors and textures, from the delicate nuances of prosciutto to the robustness of sausages.

3. Affordability and Efficiency:

Pigs are known for their rapid growth and high feed conversion rates, making them a practical choice for small-scale farming and homesteading. Their efficiency in converting feed into meat makes raising pigs a cost-effective option, aligning with the sustainability goals of many homesteaders.

4. Traditional Significance:

Throughout history, pigs have held cultural and symbolic significance in many societies. Their association with feasting and celebration makes them a natural choice for a culinary tradition deeply rooted in communal gatherings and festive occasions.

Charcuterie is not just a culinary technique; it’s a journey into the heart of culinary tradition and craftsmanship. For the homesteader and home cook, it represents a fusion of history, practicality, and the joy of creating something extraordinary from the simplest of ingredients. As the aroma of cured meats wafts through the homestead kitchen, it carries with it the essence of a timeless tradition—a tradition that continues to thrive in the hands of those who embrace the art and craft of charcuterie.


Check out our video playlist about Mangalitsa pigs and our charcuterie journey: Homestead Butchering

Come and learn hands on! You’ll leave ready to convert your own (or someone else’s) pork into fabulous and tasty traditional cured meats when you come to the two day Charcuterie and Pork Preservation class in December!

hog harvest, mangalitsa pigs, homesteading, charcuterie

Read more about it:

McNamee, Gregory Lewis. “charcuterie”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 13 Dec. 2022, https://www.britannica.com/topic/charcuterie. Accessed 27 November 2023.

The History of the Charcuterie Board: State & Allen

What is a fun fact about charcuterie?

Charcuterie is derived from the French words for flesh (chair) and cooked (cuit). The practice of salting and smoking meats to preserve them dates back about 6,000 years to ancient Rome. Charcuterie is rooted in the belief that nothing from the animal should be wasted; not even the heart, lungs, kidneys, fat, or brain.Jul 26, 2019

History of Charcuterie Boards & Why You Should Pair w/ Wine

Homestead fat: What to do with all that!

Lard.

Fat.

“Fat makes you fat.”

“If I eat fat it might kill me, my heart and all. That’s what my doctor said.”

In no other culture in history has fat been vilified. Until our “modern”, “advanced” culture.  Throughout history, people understood that you needed a certain amount of good animal fat for health. Health is wealth, so fat was a measure of wealth. 

Not that obesity is a good thing, but neither is  being scrawny.  

Good quality, nutrient dense fat eaten to satisfaction in the scope of a whole foods diet is essential and necessary for your health.  

What does fat do for you?

  • Lubricate your colon for good waste elimination.
  • Encourage good gallbladder function, which also supports the liver, lymphatic system, and immune system.
  • Keep blood vessels soft and supple.
  • Provide fat soluble vitamins.
  • Feed your brain and nervous system.
  • Calm your mood, easing anxiety.
  • Encourage feelings of satisfaction and contentment.
  • Satiate and nourish your system so you experience fewer cravings and are satisfied with less food overall.
  • Condition the skin for good skin health

What is “good fat?”

That’s a great question! Good fat is fat that is not highly processed and is from a nutrient dense source. Animal fats should be sourced from animals raised outside on grass, preferably with organic practices (not necessarily certified by the USDA, though). Animal fats are preferable for high heat uses like baking and frying because they don’t break down and oxidize with the heat. There are some plant oils that tolerate high heat (like avocado and peanut oils). But animal fats are highly accessible, local sources of heat tolerant cooking fats. Local is important as what is available around you is necessary for your health in your climate. If you can grow and process it, then the quality and benefit of that food will be imparted to you and your body can use the building blocks for health more efficiently.  Lard (pork fat), tallow (rendered beef fat), and schmaltz (rendered chicken fat) all have different properties but will yield quality products.

Tallow comes from a beef. A good, grass fed beef will yield nice yellow fat. It’s very hard, even at room temperature. It typically has a mild beefy/grass flavor, as opposed to a corn flavor from a grain fed cow.  It’s fabulous for cooking and frying. You can also use it for soap, skin lotion, and candles.

Lard comes from a pig. The leaf lard is the inner fat from around the organs. It’s a drier, “cleaner” tasting fat. It needs to be rendered before using. Leaf lard is prized for baking and cooking. Your biscuits and pie crust will never be the same after you make them with lard.  Back fat is from the fat cap on the pig’s back. It can be salted in large pieces for lardo, or rendered and used for cooking, baking, and frying.  It’s not as light and “clean” tasting as leaf lard, but works just fine. Lard is also useful for soap and skin lotion. In classes we’ve come up with a lot of other ideas, like hair cream and as gasket lubricant. There are so many possibilities!

Schmaltz (Chicken fat, rendered) is our favorite butter substitute in baking. It has very little to no flavor and has a texture closest to butter. With it’s mild flavor and heat tolerance it’s also great to cook and fry with.

Butter is technically also an animal fat.  Butter from grass fed cows has a beautiful yellow color and is full of fat soluble vitamins, including vitamins A and D.  Can you overeat butter like this? We haven’t found the limit so far.  The creamy sweet/salty taste of grass-fed butter adds a taste of satisfaction and contentment to any dish.

We often encounter this question when it comes the Mangalitsa pig, because the powers that think they be have so hoodwinked people for so long with the low-fat diet lie:

WHAT DO YOU DO WITH ALL THAT “GOODNESS”?

It’s a legitimate question, because the Mangalitsa pig can be 30-40% fat. They were bred to be fat. Back in the day, all pigs were fat. Lard was a major source of fat calories because pigs had a superpower of converting vegetable and assorted protein sources into fat and luscious red meat, and so they were easy to raise and relatively affordable for anyone. That superpower has been bred out of  most pig breeds, but not the Mangalitsa.  

In this video you can check out four ways we put all that fat to good use on the Baker’s Green Acres homestead:

 

“Great! But how do I get this lard and how do I render it??”

It used to be you could ask your mom or grandma these things, but that’s not always possible any more, is it? 

We’ve gotcha covered. 

Anyone Can Farm and eat like kings, and lard is a part of a healthy homestead once you know how to use it!


How to make cured fat

Fat.

It’s gotten a bad rap in the last several decades.

At one point in  our human history, being fat was beautiful (still is in some cultures). Eating fat was prized. Fat was equated with wealth.

And, that’s probably closer to the truth than the “low fat is healthy” myth being perpetuated on humanity right now.

Mangalitsa pigs produce a lot of fat, and they have been bred to produce premium quality lard.  That’s the genetics. How that expresses depends on how you raise them.  Good quality, good keeping fat is produced when the animals are:

  • raised outdoors where they get sunshine and some forage
  • fed small grains and forages-NOT corn and soy. If the grains make oil, they’ll make oily fat that goes rancid quickly.
  • finished on a dry ration, which helps to dry the fat.  Naturally, hogs would be harvested in the fall when the flies died and the forage dried up. That’s when the fat is best for harvesting.
  • finished on acorns, walnuts, or other high tannin feeds. The tannins help preserve the fat from rancidity.

In pigs, all fat is lard. It doesn’t get differentiated based on if it’s raw or rendered out.  We store our pigs’ lard in two forms: rendered (heat treated to separate the fat, water, and protein) and cured.

Here’s the video instruction for making lard. The essence is to heat and hold the fat at 225 degrees (give or take a few) in a surround-heat environment (crock pot, oven, double boiler, etc.), starting with pieces that have as much surface area as possible to get a good render (either chips or ground through the large die of a grinder). The water will bubble up, looking like the fat is boiling when you gently stir it.  It’s done when few, or no, bubble rise, the fat is clear, and the protein pieces have sunk to the bottom. Pour off the fat through a cheesecloth in a stainless steel strainer and put into containers.

The other really cool way we store the fat is as “lardo.” Lardo is simply large pieces of the fat from the back stored in salt.  It’s really that simple. And it’s the simplest cured product to make.  Here’s how:

  1. Place thick back fat (preferably with the skin on) into a non-reactive container or bag.
  2. Completely encase it in salt. 
  3. Allow to sit for at least one month, but longer if the piece is bigger. Store in a dark place (light causes oxidation).
  4. To use, remove from the salt. Dust off any excess salt.  You can hang it in your kitchen to use. As you use, remove any yellowed fat from the outer edges. Slice and eat plain, dice and use as cooking fat, etc.   It can be refridgerated, or not, in between uses.

It’s that simple. You can put spices on the fat before putting it in the salt. Favorites are paprika, black pepper, rosemary, juniper, garlic. Your imagination is the limiting factor. Here’s a video on how we do it. 

For more information, consider joining us for an on farm class. We also host a weekly LIVE Q&A show on youtube every Wednesday at 8 pm EST. Come join us with your question and get answers in real time: The Anyone Can Farm Experience YouTube channel

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Our Charcuterie Hang Out

Last weekend’s Charcuterie and Pork Preservation class was AMAZING. As always. One reason is that we got to hang with a lot of interesting people.

Every class is unique and a little different because the special sauce of the class is YOU, the people that come to it. Every on-farm class is more than a class. It’s an experience. We made a lot of extraordinary pork products, as you’ll see in this week’s video. We ate a lot of incredible pork products (Joe’s as good on the grill as he is with the video camera). And we enjoyed an abundance of inspiring conversation about a wide range of topics.

The second reason is that we got to hang a lot of premium pork in the new hanging room. This week’s video will give you a snippet of what that’s all about:

Does it all seem a little daunting? It is. If you remember the three key ingredients you’ll be fine:

Heat (60 degrees)

Humidity (ideally 60%)

Light (none)

And that’s why it’s great to come and experience it before you DIY. We’ve got 4 opportunities coming up this year for you to see, learn, and experience a farm process, plus hang out with us and others who share your passion:

Make sure you like and subscribe to the Youtube channel so you get all the cool videos we’ve got planned for the summer, too!

Why the Manga is SOME PIG

“Some pig.”

“Wonderful.”

“Radiant.”

We love our Mangalitsa pigs. Much as Charlotte loved Wilbur, but for different reasons. 

We’ve raised a lot of different breeds over the years. We got pigs about 2 years after we got married, and we’ve been married for 26 years, so that’s a lot of pigs over a lot of years. 

We’ve raised them in barns, in stalls, on free-for-all fields, and on cultivated pastures. 

Why is the Mangalitsa some pig, wonderful, and radiant?  Let me, the homestead wife, tell you why.

  1. I don’t have to help chase them.  The pigs are content to stay put as long as they have food and water. Shelter is even negotiable. A pile of straw makes them pleased as can be. They don’t show up in my garden (unlike the cows).
  2. They eat our leftovers. I don’t like throwing organic stuff in the trash can, and the pigs love to eat it! Not only that, but they exercise their superpower with our food leftovers as fuel.
  3. They turn anything we feed them into pork. This is a Mangalitsa’s superpower. They even eat quackgrass roots and turn those tough things into premium pork.
  4. Their pork isn’t just good. It’s GREAT! Really. I want dark meat for my family because that indicates lots of minerals stored in the meat, which equates to greater nutrient density. Simply put, the dark red, almost beef looking, meat from the Mangalitsa is healthier for my family. And, it tastes better. Eating is believing, but eating wonderful meat makes you radiant. Great taste. More nutrition per bite. As the caretaker of the kitchen for my family, that’s a win-win.
  5. And the fat. Fat is so many things for the homestead family. Through the fall, winter, and early spring fat is the storehouse of all the fat soluble vitamins for my family, plus it’s grounding and moisturizing in the cold and dry of the seasons. We use lard (for “free”) in place of butter (costs $$) in almost everything in the kitchen, from cookies to pie crust to fried chicken to roast veggies. We use it as rendered lard, which everyone is familiar with, and as lardo (gosh, you gotta learn this product! We’ll cover it at the Homestead Hog Harvest and Charcuterie classes.). The fat is the most awesome part of the pig (right behind the meat). 

But don’t take my word for it. Mark and the guys were working with the pigs while Joe was out and had this to say (check it out on YouTube):

So, we love this terrific, wonderful, radiant pig for lots of reasons. Come check it out at one of our farm events! Or better yet, join us for a class and experience the magnificence of the Mangalitsa for yourself.  

You can check out our whole video series of How to raise Pastured Mangalitsa Pigs” here (from the Baker’s Green Acres channel, so not as polished but still info rich)! 

mangalitsa some pig
mangalitsa some pig homestead hog
mangalitsa some pig homestead hog
mangalitsa some pig

Cured Meat FAQ

What’s better than a fatty, grass-fed beef steak, or a pasture raised pork chop?

Don’t think too hard.

Ready?

One that’s been salted and cured.

Better yet, one that’s been salted and dried over time (think “prosciutto” or “bresaola”, or even “jerky”)

The application of salt, and sometimes sugar, to meat serve both to preserve and enhance the flavors of meat.  When certain cuts are prepared and then hung and dried, the flavors shift and change to become unique and amazing. Plus, the meat becomes shelf stable and preserved for easy travel and use.

(photos from the Charcuterie and Pork Preservation class courtesy of Nomad Media)

proscuitto, charcuterie, mangalitsa, cured meat
cured meat, charcuterie, sausage, mangalitsa
cured meat, charcuterie, sausage, mangalitsa, farm education

What I’m talking about is curing meat, yes, and taking it to the next level. This is called “charcuterie.” You might be familiar with “charcuterie boards” on which people artfully lay out time preserved meats, cheeses, and other delicacies. This isn’t just high end stuff, though. It’s a critical process for the homesteader, nomad, prepper, or foodie to master. The ability to provide food security for yourself outside of needing a freezer is the ultimate end of self sufficiency, convenience, and value adding. And it’s pretty amazingly easy.

There are a few things to know, though. That’s why we share our knowledge and expertise with you in the Charcuterie and Pork Preservation class: knowledge is a tool, experience is the power. You won’t just learn, you’ll experience the art of making preserved pork as charcuterie.

Here are some FAQ’s about curing meat:

What are the temperature and humidity requirements?

             The ideal is 60 degrees and 60% humidity. The temperature can fluctuate up to 20 degrees and you can be ok. The humidity is more critical. Too much humidity and you’ll get green and black mold. This is  bad. Too low humidity and the meat can dry out on the outside and seal in the inner moisture, causing rot. This is also bad. You don’t need a complicated temperature and humidity controlled room. A secure area with a humidifier in the winter and dehumidifier in the summer is sufficient. A garage that doesn’t quite freeze or a cooler entryway closet can suffice.

I have some meat in my freezer. Can I grind it and make dry cured sausages?

             No. Once frozen the basic structure of the meat changes as the water in it expands and changes the cells.  It can be salted and refrozen, but not dry aged.

Will it be ok if I smoke it?

             Smoking won’t change frozen meat, so if that’s your goal, you still can’t dry age previously frozen meat.

             However, you can cold smoke salted/cured pieces and then hang them. That’s very traditional in many cultures, including our own American pioneer and homestead heritage.

Can I reuse a brine?

             No. Once a brine has been used, the salt to water ratio is altered. The next piece wouldn’t have the proper amount of salt available in the brine to cure it. Always use a brine only once.

There’s so much salt left over! What can I use it for?

             Tanning hides, salting areas where you don’t want vegetation, dry it out and use it in a “bug a salt” gun. We’re open to other ideas!