Charcuterie isn’t for the caveman-style, steak-loving meat eater. It’s for the meat lover who appreciates artistry, challenge and innovation.
A chef preparing charcuterie may use a variety of processes and techniques. They may create a sausage or an emulsified sausage (the meat inside the casing is broken down to a very fine texture instead of simply being ground); perhaps they’ll salt the meat intended for a sausage and ferment it, allowing bacteria to break down sugars and create flavour; or they may employ the process of “forcemeat” to puree ground meat with fat, perhaps then making a pate or terrine.
Charcuterie is a great way for chefs to use often thrown away pieces of meat, like tongues, ears and hearts. This is especially important for chefs who try to use the whole animal, out of respect for the beast.
Charcuterie is about detail, and it takes time and imagination to create the little slices of meat heaven presented on wooden boards. So who’s doing it best in Toronto?
I hate to encourage the idea that some of the best talents in our city come from outside Canada, but it is terribly exciting that Daniel Boulud has brought his master charcutier, Gilles Verot, to the table at Cafe Boulud and dbar, both located inside the Four Seasons Hotel. The $26 charcuterie board may at times include such amazing delights as Pate de Campagne (“country style pork pate”) or Niagara Pingue Proscuitto, but the selections do change daily.
Toronto has a lot of homegrown talent to be proud of, as well. At Richmond Station, Carl Heinrich and his partner, head butcher Ryan Donovan, are known for their dedication to using the whole animal. Their mortadella utilizes otherwise discarded wild boar fat, and the salami is a safe haven for delicious beef trimmings.
At Bar Isabel, Grant van Gameron keeps his chef de cuisine, Brandon Olsen, busy with curing meats. Their current offerings include beef carpaccio, pancetta steccata (the meat is folded over and clamped down), water buffalo slinzega (air-dried meat), beef bresaola, pork lonza, and pork coppiette.
The processes can be somewhat mysterious, as can the menus – most restaurants that offer charcuterie change their board so often that they don’t bother to post their specific items online. You’ll just have to show up to see. Visiting Bestellen would be a great idea for a charcuterie beginner. Their large pantry is enclosed by glass windows so that you can see all of their hung, salted meats and charcuterie in progress.
Other notable restaurants that offer charcuterie: Marben, Cava and The Harbord Room. Enjoy your chicken liver mousses, duck hearts and wild boar sausages all you like, but don’t blame me when you get the meat sweats.