Sunday, November 13, 2011

Musing on "Charcuterie"

Galantine de canard aux pistaches
(by the author)

  At its literal core, the word “Charcuterie” seems to be more concerned with the work of the hamburger jerk and rotiseur (roast cook) than it does with what we now understand to be the work of the traditional French charcutier

Charcuterie: 1858, from Fr. charcuter (16c.), from obsolete char (Mod.Fr. chair) cuite "cooked flesh," from chair "meat" (from O.Fr. char, from L. carnem) + cuit, pp. of cuire "to cook." (Online Etymology Dictionary)

So the literal meaning of the word “charcuterie” is something on the order of of the realm or place of cooked meat.

If we take the literal meaning to represent what people actually did when they said they were doing “charcuterie” then we would expect them to be engaged in cooking meat. By the same measure, a shop where meat was cooked for sale might be called a “charcuterie.” But like so many words, the literal meaning of charcuterie ceded importance to new meanings applied by practitioners and their clients and hagiographers and others so that nowadays the word is understood to mean

[Charcuterie] a delicatessen specializing in dressed meats and meat dishes; also : the products sold in such a shop French, literally, pork-butcher's shop, from Middle French chaircuiterie, from chaircutier pork butcher, from chair cuite cooked meat; First Known Use: circa 1858

Those familiar with the contents of modern charcuterie shops know to expect to find mostly pork in the form of cured, fermented, air dried, cooked and smoked sausages, salami, pate’s, terrines, confit etc.  all mostly identifiable as “French” in style  but with a smattering of Italian and German style preparations. In other words, the French charcuterie (shop) like the word charcuterie is more or less synonymous with French, Italian and German prepared pork products.