Fat, smoke, spice & salt
You may or may not have noticed the trend towards offering house-made charcuterie plates in every single restaurant in Toronto. It's been happening over the past five years, but the tipping point has come.
Charcuterie involves curing and preserving techniques such as salting, smoking, brining and cooking. These processes were previously used to keep meat, but we now use them to add flavour to our dishes.
Salt and meat do make a nice pairing, don’t they?
Emotionally, these haute cuisine deli plates have a nostalgic feel and represent an old-fashioned practice that connects us with our ancestors, much like churning your own butter might force some contemplation. Charcuterie was originally developed by the Romans and then popularized in 15th Century France.
Sue Reidl of the Globe and Mail, credits the movement to British chef Fergus Henderson who subscribes to the philosophy: "If you're going to kill the animal it seems only polite to use the whole thing."
Charcutier Grant Van Gameren, co-owner of The Black Hoof’s meaty Toronto menus has also waved his carnivorous wand at Amuse Bouche, Lucien, and Canoe. Other charcuterie plates can also be found at The Drake Hotel, The Harbord Room, Bymark, Cava, Table 17, Pic Nic, Conviction, Czehoski and Cowbell.
The charcuterie trend marks a notable shift in public opinion about fat consumption, compared to five or more years ago: suddenly foie gras, lardo, and thick rinds are on target. Flavour is again King.
Alas, there are regulatory concerns in Toronto as there are always regulatory concerns. Some worry about amateur handling of raw meat.
Hell, I’ll take the risk any day. The charcuterie makes a hearty and charming presentation for entertaining guests.
Assemble meats and cheeses along a wooden plank. If you feel fancy, you could make labels for all the different varieties. Use a nice mixture of dense and tender meats, strong and mild cheeses.
Prosciutto, salami, bresaola, sopressata, chorizo, duck bresaola and sausage are good bets for the meats. For the cheeses, choose from local goat cheese, local blue cheese and aged cow’s or sheep’s milk cheese: hard and soft, pungent and sweet. It’s all about variety.
If you want to really the presentation extra special, serve with a variety of baguettes, bread sticks, and artisan breads. You could add some Ace Bakery Olive Bread or a cranberry loaf with pumpkin seeds.
Serve with condiments like lavender honey, balsamic créma, a quality olive oil, quince paste, toasted almonds, cornichons and an assortment of olives. Get the red wine rolling and you have an elegant and sophisticated entertaining presentation.
And no cooking!