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May 29, 2010 01:06 PM

The Current Fascination with Charcuterie [split from Ontario]

(Note: This thread was split from the Ontario board at: -- The Chowhound Team)

I have found Nota Bene good, not great. The boudin noir dish, in my opinion, is just overkill. Charcuterie ok (and homemade), but, honestly, what is with the current fascination with charcuterie? Again, good, just not great. I had very good service here, however, when I have been.

Nota Bene
180 Queen Street West, Toronto, ON M5V 2A1, CA

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  1. It appears top me that the current fascination with charcuterie mainly has to do with recycling and serving bits that would have gone in the compost otherwise. In general, it appears that in the last few years many restaurants are offering items that your mother would never serve at home when you lived there. Can you imagine if my mother had said "we are having braised pigs cheeks for dinner today, kids". I would have run out ther door faster than you can say Big Mac.

    12 Replies
    1. re: foodyDudey

      This is why North Americans can't have nice things. These items shouldn't be "gourmet" or, worst of all, expensive, but plenty of North Americans refuse to eat things that are "gross" or "weird." Some people didn't have the opportunity to waste (or "compost") whatever parts of the animal couldn't be turned into steaks or chicken breasts.

      Many cultures -- the French, the Italians and the Spanish, for instance -- have diets where charcuterie and "bits that would have gone in the compost otherwise" are consumed on an almost daily basis. They also have much better food philosophies. And more respect for what they eat. And how it is produced. And how it is grown, etc.

      My mom won't serve meat that isn't burned to a crisp. She won't eat meats that are strange (horse) or come from young animals (veal). She won't eat anything outside her comfort range (sushi). A large portion of the North American population is like my mom, and because of this, things that should be cheap and plentiful (horse, pâté, proper charcuterie) is expensive, rare (at least in terms of quality products), and a niche market for gourmets.

      I don't want to be punished for my diet because someone and their mom refuse to eat something.

      1. re: tjr

        My first experience of charcuterie was at NB and it was great from what I remember. Since then, I've had charcuterie at the Black Hoof multiple times as well as Harbord Room, Swirl etc. I've also tried the horse sammy at the Black Hoof and will pretty much be open to anything.

        You make a good point that North Americans in general are very safe regarding what they consume and there's nothing wrong with that, but it does make some of the items you mention to be more expensive than it should.

        If I remember correctly, the charcuterie at NB was in the $20 range and that to me was pretty steep, it was good, but definitely not cheap.

        With that said, I had dinner at Globe Earth the other night, and they offer a starter called Pig Bits for $5 and it came with 2 fairly large slabs of headcheese and pork rinds etc. and I thought that was a steal!!!

        Harbord Room
        89 Harbord St, Toronto, ON M5S1G4, CA

        The Black Hoof
        928 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON M6J, CA

        1. re: ragged25

          Pig Bits @ Earth is indeed an awesome deal!! And the headcheese was quite good the last two times I had it. :)

        2. re: tjr

          i'll agree that it really shouldn't be gourmet, but i'm willing to accept a certain level of expense. these items can be quite labour intensive and certainly require a great level of skill if you don't want a batch to go off or outright taste bad since the final product isn't ready until months later. admittedly that's why i have a hard time being on the grant/hoof bandwagon because he openly admits to serving his experiments gone badly.

          these foods exist in every culture one way or another.... at base level in NA as a hotdog. if you never told anyone what actually went into it they would likely just gobble it up happily. growing up with pig's blood (called beef jello at age 6), tripe, liver, etc i don't seek out offal because i'm fascinated with it, but because i know it has more interesting flavours and textures to compliment all the other foods i love.

          tjr, you must be loving it in france. so jealous!

          1. re: pinstripeprincess

            Don't say that about hot dogs! With all the fanatics around, you've confused hot dogs (pure beef muscle meat) with... well, something else :-)

            While I certainly agree that there is some expertise involved (and in many cases, generations of family members producing an artisan product), it wouldn't be difficult (I imagine) to have cheap charcuterie products readily available in a country with the food resources of Canada. That is, it wouldn't be difficult if there were a market. And if that market wasn't a niche market willing to pay exorbitant sums of money for something that, by all means, is cheap, peasant food. Sure, there's a difference between the hand-crafted products and the 3 euro pack of duck rillettes at the hypermarché. However, even those rillettes taste pretty good, and it's a product you can't get in Toronto despite it being something that isn't costly to produce and requires very little talent and time (unlike making complex Iberico de Bellota dried hams, which, of course, are also delicious).

            I think the North American philosophy of eating is changing though; the "boom" in charcuterie shows that at least a functional segment of the population is interested in the products. It's also a way to use these "compost bits" to make food that is appealing, delicious, and, dare I say, much better than hot dogs.

            I am loving it here; part of the reason I posted that comment. Alas, I'm returning to Toronto in September and have been trying to silently check up on how things have evolved since I left. I already have some return trips planned next year, and have been furiously sending things home with visitors and by mail to assure that I won't break down into tears upon debarking at Pearson.

            1. re: tjr

              you know i meant "hotdogs" ;) which have a wider audience than charcuterie and are made with worse things than "compost bits." not natural snappy casings and good quality meat.

              agreed that the market demands will really be the only tour de force to assist with our eating preferences. i do think however, that the precursor to that is demystifying food more and more. i do wish that markets like healthy butcher would actually put out the organ meats and off cuts in the display cases to show how much cheaper they are (though in the case of oxtail, often not) and encourage people to try them out. but alas all the organic meat is nearly as sterile looking as a the typical supermarket.

              bonne chance! i've definitely had luggage that was 80% food and drink after returning from a tasty city... thank god i was hoarding from only three weeks of exploring.

              1. re: tjr

                North America is North America, I've accepted it for what it is. Things will not change, people like steak and chicken breasts. The niche fascination w/ charcuterie will pass and then a new fad will be jumped upon. There will always be a niche pocket, but they will remain niche.

                Charcuterie isn't as hard as you lot imagined, it just requires time and patience. Obviously most home cooks lack both those resources.

                I don't check the board as often as I used to due to work reasons, but I look forward to reading your insights upon your return.

                1. re: aser

                  i think we also lack a place to hang, cold smoke, etc. looking beyond rillettes.

                  not exactly little things for a home cook living in the city, especially in a condo.

                    1. re: pinstripeprincess

                      Obviously you're not going to be making 15 different types of sausages, but if you have access to a mini fridge you can hang a few things quite easily. Guanciale is something that can easily be done in a few weeks, and doesn't take much space.

                      Most restaurants don't exactly have a custom drying room as you would imagine. Yes, it's illegal if the health inspector came to see, but that has more to do w/ the draconian laws here than anything. Even Black Hoof didn't have a curing room until later down the road, when they could afford to rent one.

                      The Black Hoof
                      928 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON M6J, CA

                      1. re: aser

                        custom drying room, no, that's not what i'm talking about. i'm talking about living in a 500sqft condo with a locker in the basement that's more like 80F than the inside of a fridge - urban living.

                        i could try to commandeer a fridge in my parents' house but their attitudes are more like the NA ones you speak of but with an asian slant. i think fuzzy meat would get tossed without much hesitation.

            2. re: foodyDudey

              Its about craft. It takes a lot of time and talent to turn these nasty bits into something palatable. When I go out to eat I want something delicious that I probably wouldn't do myself. Pig cheeks? Yes please. But we digress.

            3. I'm with you. I don't really understand the obsession with charcuterie. To me, it seems like just another extension of the bacon/pork fascination, a phenomenon that I also don't understand.

              2 Replies
                1. re: Dimbulb

                  What's wrong with beets in a salad? A roasted beet salad with chevre and walnuts or other ingredients can taste pretty good. Here is a recipe for one:


              1. I'm glad this got split. It deserved its very own thread.

                I think the C.F.W.C (Current Fascination with Charcuterie) is simply a tasty offshoot of our other favourite food 'trends' or 'movements' (depending on what you believe) Those being the slow food and local/seasonal.

                The art of cooking could rightly be summed up by saying "You take the tough, nasty, smelly bits of organic matter, apply a couple thousand years of culinary wisdom, passed down by generations of nonas, nanas. babas, pa pas, and numerous other iterations. Et voila! Something delicious is born. Charcuterie one of the delicious results of one of these culinary traditions.

                T.C.F.W.C. is great. And I will defend charcuterie until I die (probably by heart failure)

                1. I don't get it. But I have been snacking on it since age 2 or so, so maybe that's why. I also especially hate the way people pronounce it (SHAR-COO-TER-RY)-although I've been in the guilty camp since I didn't want to sound like a snob in correcting it. Its French. Just make some effort in pronouncing it properly and maybe I'll "get" with the trend.


                  7 Replies
                  1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

                    x2...i also hate hearing/reading the word "frites" (FREETS), other than with steak frites, where it's ok.

                    my dad used to make cretons all the time growing up. seeing similar stuff on trendy menus makes me laugh. but hey, at least it tastes good, so the trend isn't all bad.

                    1. re: grandgourmand

                      Yes GG, agreed, it *is* tasty stuff. Mmmmmm... cretons! I grew up on that stuff-my grandmother used to spread it on toast. Love your reference on FREETS-I shudder when I hear it too.

                    2. re: Splendid Wine Snob

                      SWS I don't quite get your point. It is a French word so isn't it okay to use French pronunciation when you say it? I was quite chuffed to discover there was a word in the world to encompass all those sausagey, dried, cure-y things. I have a feeling there is probably one in Italian, too, but I don't know it, and probably German as well. Charcuterie is the one I lit upon first so I use it. I don't even know what to call them as a collective in English -- is there nomenclature I am missing?

                      1. re: grayelf

                        Nope. No nomenclature. No need to say anything further, I think I've made my point well understood. And then there are those that say French cuisine is dead and that the only real cooking culture exists in big cities. When big city folk start hunting their own game and making charcooterie, maybe I'll be interested.

                        1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

                          Actually, you're not making your point understood, not by me. It is a French word, and I think when one uses a word from another language then one is SPEAKING that language, and should pronounce it properly if possible. But English speakers often have a problem with the French "R", so sharcooterEE is as close as they can get. And that's okay, it's a good effort.

                          But then perhaps you're saying we shouldn't use the word at all? I have to agree with grayelf, that it's both a more precise and a more encompassing name for the category than anything we have in English, and until we can come up with something better we may as well use it. If nothing else it encourages more people to get into making it, which is a thing we serious eaters can only applaud.

                          1. re: Will Owen

                            I am now officially adding to the obsession but I went online and found this site: which offers a spoken pronunciation from a UK speaker who differentiates between an English and French pronunciation of the word charcuterie. I think I may now get what SWS is saying: the English pronunciation is shar-koo-tare-ree, and the French is softer, with only three syllables, shar-coo-tree. I probably land up somewhere in between, being a Canadian Anglophone with nine years of learning French from Parisian-born/educated teachers :-).

                            Recently I have become interested in Chinese charcuterie and I'm particularly addicted to a locally made dry sausage that is chockful of hua jiao (Sichuan peppercorn) that makes your tongue go numb and gives you a nice buzz. Deffo not like any other Euro style cured meat I've tried, but delicious and worthy of a bit of obsession, IMO :-).

                            1. re: grayelf

                              Sweet. Leave it to a stranger in fellow foodland to diffuse my cranky cynicism :)

                    3. I think it is funny that people are considering it a trend...maybe certain aspects of it are, but people are eating charcuterie all of the time.

                      Hot dogs, Pepperoni, Baloney, Bratwurst, Sandwich meats, Hams, Kielbasa, jerky are all charcuterie.

                      I think Brian Polcyn said it best in his book (I am paraphrasing here). He was asking one of the chef instructors at Schoolcraft Culinary where Brian teaches Charcuterie why in a age of refrigeration are they still practicing charcuterie in which the chef replied. "Because it taste so good".

                      I know a lot of chefs are concerned about using every ounce of the meat on the beast, but what most people also fail to see is that these parts are not gross...some are the best tasting parts of a animal. Cheeks from pigs, cows, and even fish are some of the best eats you can get. Now I admit I am not a 100% fan of all charcuterie, I still have issues eating headcheese (Mainly it is the aspic that I hate).

                      Some of my favorite meats are some of the Italian and Spanish cured meats. Served room temp, with some cheese on the side, maybe with some good bread and a earthy olive oil. I am in heaven.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: JanPrimus

                        It may be a trend, but it's also a return. Back when I was a lad, just about every town had at least one butcher - a REAL butcher - who would make basic breakfast sausage and maybe smoke hams and bacon, or as in the case of our man Charley Haugh actually make a wide range of sausages, both fresh and cured. Twenty years after that, Louisville KY still had a rich resource of corner markets run by German butchers who all made sausage, mostly one or more kinds of bratwurst; driving down the street on a summer day with the windows rolled down, the smell of mace and pepper and smoke could make a guy dizzy.

                        We used to eat innards. We used to eat brains and tripe and kidneys, sweetbreads and mountain oysters. As for the chicken breast, that was the part nobody fought over, while we kids angled for a piece of the liver (or, in the case of a baked hen, the unborn eggs), and Mom always got the heart.

                        1. re: Will Owen

                          I will say the trend is not so much the return of Charcuterie...but the trend was the mega marketing of America. That is what I am hoping is now a dying trend.