The word charcuterie likely evokes images of pork, cured and cut in various ways, laid out on a platter, and adorned with pickles. But that’s like thinking of breakfast and picturing only a bowl of Cheerios with some blueberries floating among the Os. Charcuterie can be sausage, but it can also be much more, including paté, terrine (like paté shaped into a loaf) and ballotine (a poultry thigh stuffed with other meats, cheeses and vegetables).
“Over the past two or three years, things have changed,” says Gilles Vérot, dressed in chef whites with his name embroidered in blue on the chest of his jacket, as he sits in Café Boulud at Toronto’s Four Seasons Hotel. “People are looking at us like they did pastry chefs a few years ago,” he says of charcuterie’s evolution. “A few years ago, as a profession, we weren’t ready. But now, I am ready. It’s our time, and we’re becoming more ambitious.”
Vérot is a master charcutier, taking after both his father and grandfather. With his wife, Catherine, he runs two small charcuterie shops, both bearing his name, in Paris’ 6th and 15th arrondissements. Like his shops, which are modest but undeniably famous (the celebrated Georges V Hotel fills its charcuterie menu with his products), Vérot is quiet yet humble, and his friendship with chef Daniel Boulud is changing tastes around the world. Vérot has developed the charcuterie programs in several of Boulud’s restaurants, giving gourmands an appetite for simple but modern takes on meat.
Charcuterie’s growing popularity across the world, Vérot believes, is due in part to an appreciation for quality ingredients and for the heritage of cooking, which can take on many forms, too. At YEW seafood + bar, in the Four Seasons Hotel in Vancouver, seafood charcuterie is on the menu. The dish includes smoked salmon and cured albacore tuna paired with various cheeses and cured meats. “La charcuterie représente un art de vivre,” he says. Charcuterie is a symbol of the good life, but also of comfort. “It makes us think of our roots,” he explains.
Another factor that is contributing to the rise of charcuterie? Women. The Toronto Four Seasons Hotel’s d|bar| hosts a popular charcuterie night every Monday, in which house-made terrines and patés are paired with wine. Vérot attended the weekly event during a visit to the city in early spring and was impressed to see that 75 per cent of the guests were female. “Charcuterie is based on tradition, but it wants to be modern. It can be very elegant,” Vérot says, and it’s these traits, he believes, that women pick up on and enjoy.
The keys to success, like with any delicious meal, are quality ingredients. “The star is really the pig,” says Vérot. A grass-fed pig raised happily on a farm will result in rich, savoury meat that doesn’t require seasoning beyond the salt used in the curing process.
To create charcuterie at home, Vérot says, “It’s easy, like a cake.” That’s easy for a master charcutier to say. But he insists it can be kept very casual, and all that’s truly required is a terrine or paté en croûte (terrine enclosed in a pastry crust) and a salad. It’s what he does when he has friends to his house for dinner. “Technique is boring to me,” he says. “Too much technique kills flavour.”
Sam Gundy, co-owner of Olliffe, a small chain of Toronto-based boutique butcher shops, says he doesn’t make complex charcuterie: “To do it right, and safely, you have to be very good at it.” But knowing which meats to select can alleviate some of the pressure.
The best-seller at his shop is the rich and complex Ramelli’s truffle sausage, which is made just outside of Toronto. “They bring in black and white truffles from Italy,” Gundy says.
Dolce Lucano Salumeria is another vendor to seek out. “They’re the best in Toronto, if not Canada,” Gundy says. He specifically gives a nod to their wild boar cacciatore. “It’s really unusual, but they’re doing it right.”
He also highly recommends anything from Perth Pork Products, “the leader in breeding heritage pigs.” All of the pigs’ feed is grown on the farm, so the meat is GMO and antibiotic-free.
Don’t shy away from meat with fat and marbling. “You want fat because it creates rich and savoury flavours,” Gundy explains.