Pure Charcuterie: The Craft and Poetry of Curing Meats at Home
By Meredith Leigh
New Society Publishers
There are many books on making bread and similar items at home. The topic of vegetable fermentation and preservation now fills countless volumes. Cheese, too, has experienced a renaissance, with dozens of titles dedicated to the home or small-scale cheesemaker.
But what about meat? Lots of tomes explore raising, butchering and preparing it, but what about preserving and perfecting it through traditional charcuterie techniques? Meredith Leigh’s book addresses the latter niche with marvelous inspiration and accessibility. Importantly, Leigh makes it clear that “Good charcuterie starts with good meat and fat,” which “come from an animal that had a good life, a good death, a good butcher and a good cook.”
Pure Charcuterie is written for the average person, even down to young adults who want to recapture skills that served the generations before them so well. The book opens by covering basics on sourcing, safety, equipment and supplies. I was delighted to see Leigh touch on the safety and value of sodium nitrate in traditionally cured meats, a subject that I think warrants more discussion among health-conscious consumers. Indeed, perhaps more than any other reason, meat has lagged behind among those who seek to recoup traditional skills because of greater fears (compared to grains and vegetables) about home preparation.
The book’s section on sources is solid, telling us that “The surest way to find [good] meat and fat is through a direct relationship with farming and farmers.” The supply section also is a reminder that the second biggest reason charcuterie making has tended not to return to the home is because it requires a fair bit of equipment. The good news is that, given the high cost of quality cured and prepared meats, this investment will pay for itself many times over.
Leigh covers different types of charcuterie, devoting each subsequent chapter to a major area—sausages, suspensions and larger cuts such as bacon and hams. She then moves on to more complex meat-curing techniques that use time, temperature and fermentation to render something both culinarily exquisite and safely edible, relying on collaboration between the human and microbiological worlds. These sections include information about how to create basic set-ups for fermenting and smoking meats—an added bonus in an already good book.
Kids would enjoy some of the techniques outlined in the book, such as creating penicillium from organic oranges allowed to mold at home. For real foods people, this may be the final frontier, as one moves from merely harvesting microorganisms to making sourdough and kombucha to embracing even the wilder side of the unseen world to prepare meals. Leigh makes such endeavors seem inviting again—a natural and good part of food preparation—even if modern people have for too long been sundered from such processes.
Leigh intends for readers to work through Pure Charcuterie sequentially. In this way, someone with no experience can slowly build up their skills to handle ever more complex meat-curing approaches. Each chapter includes a handful of recipes to help readers master the basics of each technique without overwhelming them with too many options. In a few places, I would have enjoyed seeing a few more recipes, especially the sausage section, but perhaps that just shows that I have a soft spot for sausages.
The recipes are well laid out and the accompanying images are lovely. Don’t read this book if you are hungry! If you are looking for a gift for someone who is interested in dabbling in home curing of meats, Leigh’s book will serve you well. It is easy to follow, enjoyable to read and lovely to look at. Two thumbs UP.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2018.