Have you ever ordered a charcuterie board and once it landed in front of you (even after the waiter tells you everything that is on it) you have no idea what is on it? Yeah me too. Guin—what? Ndja—huh? It’s soooo confusing! Luckily it’s not all as complicated as it sounds or looks.
There are Three Categories of Charcuterie
There are just a few key categories you need to know to be able to navigate a charcuterie board like a pro. If you haven’t yet read through Charcuterie Basics Part 1. You’ll learn all about what charcuterie is and how its made. Our first category of investigation? Whole muscle charcuterie.
- Whole Muscle
Let’s Talk about Whole Muscle Charcuterie
I know, I know, this does not sound great. I tried to think of another term, but honestly, this is the most precise way to describe this category. These are pieces of meat that are cured whole and then sliced. Generally speaking, the parts of the animal used for this type of charcuterie are the belly, the jowl, the loin, the shoulder or collar, and legs. The undisputed king of this whole muscle charcuterie? HAM!
A ham is basically the cured leg of a pig. There are versions of these all over the world. From France to the US and beyond, ham is beloved around the world.
Prosciutto: This is traditionally a cured pork leg, but can be from any animal. Prosciutto literally means ham in Italian, and it comes in two styles: cotto and crudo.
- Cotto: This version is brined with herbs and spices and then cooked. It is sliced thinly and light pink. It is moister than prosciutto crudo. If you grew up on American deli ham, this will seem familiar!
- Crudo: This version is dry-aged and never cooked. It is shaved paper thin, is dark red, and known for its meltingly unctuous fat. Prosciutto di Parma is aged at least a year, some go as long as two years.
Speck: Also in the ham family, unlike prosciutto, the cure for speck includes salt, bay, and juniper. Once it is rubbed down with the cure, the ham is cold smoked and aged.
Jamon Serrano: Quite similar to prosciutto, this Spanish version is differentiated by the breed of pig used for all serrano hams, the Landrace breed of white pig. The method and cure are otherwise the same.
Jamon Iberico and Jamon Iberico de Bellota: The method and cure for Jamon Iberico and Jamon Iberico de Bellota are same as that for Jamon Serrano. The critical difference is that these two use Iberico pigs and not the white pig that is used for Serrano ham. Jamon Iberico is made from pastured pigs while Jamon Iberico de Bellota, arguably the most luxurious of all the cured meats, uses pastured pigs whose feed is supplemented with acorns.
Jambon de Bayonne: The same as prosciutto, except FRENCH. Seriously, it’s the same. There may be microclimate differences between the two, but here in the US, they are (for all intents and purposes) the same.
Country Ham: This is probably the United State’s most significant contribution to the modern charcuterie board. It is salt-cured and smoked before being hung to dry for months. Serve country ham shaved thin or thick cut.
- England: York ham
- China: Jinhua ham and Yunnan ham
- Germany: Westphalian ham and Black Forest ham
Other Whole Muscle Charcuterie:
American Style Bacon: Dry cured pork belly with salt and sugar. It is smoked with any type of wood, but the most common are hickory, applewood or mesquite. The belly is almost always sold sliced but is also sold as a whole belly called a “side.” It nearly always hot smoked. You may also find versions flavored with maple, black pepper, or garlic. Bacon is always cooked before serving.
Pancetta: This is an Italian style salt-cured pork belly. Also, dry cured with salt, it may be smoked but traditionally is not. The cure for pancetta includes salt, sugar, juniper, pepper, bay, and nutmeg. Once the meat is finished curing it is rolled, tied and hung to cure even further for at least two weeks. Once done, the meat is sliced or diced and used to season all sorts of dishes like spaghetti alla carbonara or to season sauteed vegetables. You won’t usually find this on your charcuterie board, but you might!
Bresaola: Almost always made from beef. The most common cut for bresaola is the eye of round, but you might also find it made with round roast or ribeye. Traditionally it is dry cured and air-dried for up-to three months. The cure will often include spices like juniper, cinnamon or nutmeg. The smoke and spiced cure give it big flavor and a darker color.
Coppa/Cappocollo: The porky sister to bresaola, coppa is flavored with wine, garlic, herbs, and spices. After salting it is stuffed into a casing and hung to cure for up to six months. The name for this Italian cut means head and neck. Not surprisingly, this is precisely where you find the muscle for this product. It runs from the base of the skull down through the shoulder.
Guanciale: Another Italian cured pork product, this time from the cheek. Salt cured and air dried for three weeks, it has a much stronger flavor than prosciutto. You might find it flavored with black pepper, garlic, red pepper, thyme or fennel.
Lardo: Yes, it is what you think it is. Salt cured pork fat. I promise you, it is delicious. Often flavored with rosemary, cinnamon, juniper, nutmeg, or sage you can spread this like butter on a piece of bread, cook with it, or just drape it over any bruschetta, flatbread or pizza.
While this isn’t a comprehensive list of every single whole muscle charcuterie in the world it should give you enough confidence to tackle that section of your charcuterie board! Next up we will dig in the wonderful world of sausages.
References: Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing and Charcuteria: The Soul of Spain