By: Emily Simpson and Jesse Wilson | Contributors
It’s all about the process. This is a statement used when describing literature, music, love, and most importantly, food. While enjoying a good meal the process is often overlooked, or not completely understood. This is usually the case for our favorite cured fare, charcuterie.
What’s in a name?
The word charcuterie translates to “cooked meat.” Seems like a straightforward approach to preparing meat, however, the process is just as challenging as the French pronunciation.
Charcuterie is the end result of meat preservation by means of curing using salt. This process is completely controlled and can sometimes take months depending on the cut of meat.
The appreciation for specialty-cured meats is ever growing, but meat preservation has been around for centuries. The Egyptians used salt to conserve, the Celts had a taste for cured ham, and Rome matched Greece with a love for fine meats, but this culinary art was given real momentum in the 1500s by the French. The charcutiers would sell their sausage, terrine, and rillettes in their specialty shops. Now, this time intensive cuisine is more accessible, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to see that chefs here in town are passionate about cured meats.
The Chefs Who Cure and Curate
Chef Howard at 13 Gypsies is single handedly the pioneer of the charcuterie scene in Jacksonville. Chefs have been curating charcuterie plates for years, but Howard has taken it up a notch. He has every right to boast on the happenings of 13 gypsies because everything is made in house, including the cured snacks. That’s where the process comes in to play. Howard explained “In todays world we really have lost sight of what charcuterie is all about. Charcuterie began as a means to preserve meat against spoilage, and in the process it becomes divine. Cured meats, terrines, pates, and confits were all methods of prolonging the life of meat for later consumption. Today charcuterie is done for flavor. The tradition has really changed over time.”
Howard definitely embodies the process because he bypasses technology, and sticks with tradition. He teaches that nowadays, charcuterie can be considered more science, than art. He tells of the modern methods: pH strips to test fermentation of salami, hygrometers to regulate the moisture of the curing chamber, and a controller to make sure the temperature is ideal. Howard prefers to cure and use only his senses to test the readiness of the meat. His effort results in nosh that would blow your mind. He recently perfected a pho bologna and a long dry cured white chorizo. He recognizes the potential in the charcuterie scene here in Jacksonville, and he is clearly putting in the time and energy to get it there.
Chef Scott Schwartz is the mastermind of 29 South in Fernandina. Schwartz is considered one of Jacksonville’s pioneers in the region’s farm to fork movements and his philosophy about cooking is to “baby” everything. “When it comes to food, everything you smell, touch, or do has to be handled carefully because one act of carelessness can destroy the final product,” said Schwartz. He adds that he always keeps in mind that he is cooking for others and not his ego. “If I start with a perfect product, take care of it, and present it in a way that glorifies it, the least people can expect is something great.” Schwartz is a fan of the process because it shows the passion of the chef. The final goal is to have a piece of meat that has the perfect flavor, texture, and smell. He explains that a chef must really recognize the flavors that they are imparting into the meat.
Schwartz is also the man behind what will be the newest restaurant downtown, The Bullbriar. Here, he will have a country ham program that will utilize chosen pigs from a local farm to ensure they have the correct cuts of meat. Schwartz is also a fan of the growing charcuterie scene in Jacksonville; He is excited to see these items take form on menus.
Charcuterie is now more accessible in North East Florida. There are multiple restaurants such as Restaurant Orsay, Blacksheep, and Bistro Aix who make in house pates and terrines. These restaurants also curate specific charcuterie boards that highlight the meats with cheeses to pair with apples and honey. These boards are often aesthetically pleasing to match the flavor that is highlighted.
The charcuterie scene in Jacksonville is ever growing and is fueled by people with a taste for refined flavors. The process and science of charcuterie is artful. In the culinary realm of cured meats, Jacksonville only has room to grow, and that’s exciting news for the folks who are passionate about a good salami or chorizo. North Florida has multiple restaurants where you can devour a crafted charcuterie and cheese plate, so do yourself a favor and check out one of these spots. Your mouth will thank you for it.