This may be unfair, but I’ve come to the conclusion that you can tell a lot about a country by their sausage. For lunches, while traveling, my husband and I have developed a habit of securing some local wine, bread, cheese and sausage that we can nibble at our leisure. Since we’ve munched our way through various country’s sausage, dare I say it, our palates are more refined – the quality of the sausage has a lot to do with our impression of a place.
Maybe its because I’ve had charcuterie on my mind a lot lately. I think my confidence is growing as I successfully tried my hand at a few cheeses, survived canning and liqueur making, now I consider sausage making is my next frontier. I’ve made fresh sausage before, but I’m thinking of plunging into the stuffed casing variety, and curing it if I can figure out how to do that in our apartment – not sure yet if there’s any unforeseen side affects to consider.
Before I ventured into the actual production, I thought I’d first study my subject of charcuterie to determine my options. If you have the entire world of sausage making in front of you, don’t mess up. Like the American barbecue, sausage and its ilk gravitate around pork, although today you can easily find about any number of options.
Charcuterie is the preparation of meat products such as bacon, ham, terrines, galantines, pâtés, and sausage, and falls in the domain of the garde manger chef. Sausage making, and the start of the whole charcuterie process was thought to be invented in Iraq around 3000 BC (thank you, Iraq), and in Europe, around the Middle Ages, they preserved meats before refrigeration – precursor to charcuterie. Today, the charcuterie owes its appeal to the flavors acquired as a result of those preservation processes.
The Romans may have first controlled the trade of charcuterie as they had laws regulating the proper production of pork joints, but it took the French to raised the skill to an art. In 15th century France local guilds regulated food production in each city. The guilds that produced charcuterie were those of the charcutiers. The members of this guild produced a traditional range of cooked or salted and dried meats, which varied by region. The only “raw” meat the charcutiers could sell was unrendered lard.
Some General Facts about Sausage
In general there are four types of sausages:
Fresh – any sausage made from uncooked meat – a few famous examples include the spicy Mexican chorizo and North African merguez. These delicious combinations must be cooked prior to consumption.
Emulsified or German Style – Wurst and frankfuters are good examples along with the Italian mortadella. These sausages have a fine, homogenous texture, and are tender with a generally mild flavor. When they are heated past a certain temperature, the heat coagulates the meat proteins and turns the mixture into a solid, cohesive mass that can be retained with the casing removed. Heated below that temperature only results in mixture becoming unstable and leaking fat,put another way, a gloopy mess.
The innards of the sausage – forcemeats
Forcemeat is a mixture of ground, lean meat emulsified with fat. The emulsification can be accomplished by grinding, sieving, or pureeing the ingredients. The emulsification may either be smooth or coarse in texture, depending on the desired consistency. Forcemeats are used in many types of charcuterie. Proteins commonly used in forcemeats include pork, fish (pike, trout, or salmon), seafood, game (venison, boar, or rabbit), poultry, game birds, and veal. Pork fat is favored for the fat portion of forcemeat as it has a somewhat neutral flavor.
Smoked – Kielbasa, andouille, and even some bologna have done their time over hot coals
Cured – Spanish chorizo and most types of salami are salted and air dried. Cured sausages are created by salting chopped or ground meat to remove moisture, while allowing beneficial bacteria to break down mild flavored proteins into highly flavorful molecules. The process produces lactic acid, which not only affects the flavor of the sausage, but also lowers the pH, preventing the growth of harmful bacteria. These effects are magnified during the drying process, as the salt and acidity concentrate as moisture is extracted.
Just a little salty language
Salt serves four main purposes in the charcuterie kitchen:
- osmosis: water moving from between the inside and outside of the cells’ membranes, allows salted water back into the cell which helps destroy harmful pathogens
- dehydration: the salt pulls excess water from the protein, which aids in the shelf-life of the protein as there is less moisture for the bacteria to thrive in
- fermentation: the salt assists in halting the fermentation process in meat which would otherwise completely break it down
- denaturing proteins: the structure of the proteins is effectively shifted, similar to the effects of cooking
Before the discovery of nitrates and nitrites by German chemists, curing was done with unrefined salt and saltpeter. As saltpeter gives inconsistent results, the use of nitrates and nitrates have increased in popularity, which is why they seem to appear on the contents of every sausage I’ve seen .
The difference between the two:
Nitrates take a considerably longer to break down in cured foods than nitrites, and so are the preferred curing salts for lengthy curing and drying periods. Nitrites are often used in foods requiring a shorter curing time and are used for any item that will be fully cooked. At the end of the process, some portion of the nitrates will turn into nitrites. Nitrite has multiple purposes in the curing process:
- Nitrites gives a sharp, piquant flavor to the meat.
- Nitrites react with the meat to produce nitric oxide. Nitric oxide prevents iron from breaking down the fat in the meat, thereby halting rancidity. The binding with the iron also creates the characteristic reddish color found, and now expected, in most cured meats
- Nitrite inhibits the growth of botulism-causing organisms that would ordinarily thrive in the oxygen-deprived environment in the sausage casing.
Botulism was so prevalent that German scientists originally called botulism poisoning Wurstvergiftung or “sausage poisoning”.
Getting to the Nitty Gritty
Here is but a small sampling of the sausage and charcuterie options that exist. I touched on a few countries that we have personal experience in; to hit them all would require a post of encyclopedia proportions.
Some popular offerings of a charcutier (sausage maker):
Boudin (French for pudding) also doubles as the word for meat sausage, and, generically, any sausage-shaped mixture. Boudin blanc is a white sausage made of of veal, chicken, or pork, while boudin noir or black sausage, is pork blood sausage.
Fromage de Tête – if you think this is cheese of the dairy sort, you’re in for a big surprise. This is head cheese; a terrine of meat from the head of an animal, probably a calf or pig. Originally it was made entirely from the meaty parts of the head, but now can include meat from the feet, tongue, and heart. It is usually eaten cold or at room temperature as a luncheon meat.
Galantine is a preparation of poultry that is skinned and de-boned. The skin is laid flat, with the pounded breast laid on top. A forcemeat is then placed on top of the pounded breast. The galantine is then rolled with the ends of the breast meeting, and wrapped in cheesecloth and poached in poultry stock. Unlike a pâté, the meat is not ground, and consequently not spreadable. Galantines are mainly served as a first course. Just to get you thinking:
- Galantine de Dinde Truffe is a turkey galantine with truffles and Cognac.
- Galantine de Veau aux Pistaches is white veal, pistachios and truffles.
- Galantine de Canard Demi-Lune is duck with olives and pistachios, filled with duck truffle mousse.
- Galantine de Poulet Demi-Lune is chicken with armagnac and black olives.
Roulade is similar to a galantine, but with two exceptions: the first difference being that the bird is rolled into a pinwheel shape. The second difference is that when the roulade is cooled it is chilled after it has been removed from the poaching liquid.
Pâté (French for paste) is much more elegant than the name suggests (even if it is French) is an elegant, well-seasoned ground meat, fish or vegetable preparations with a paste consistency. Pâtés are made in various spreadable textures and are served hot or cold as an hors d’oeuvre or a first course. They can be wrapped in fat or pastry.
- Pâté de Canard au Poivre Vert is finely ground duck with green peppercorns and kirsch
- Pâté de Chevreuil is coarse-textured venison, Burgundy wine and juniper berries
- Pâté de Lapin et Veau au Vin Blanc is coarse rabbit and veal with white wine
- Pâté Faisan au Cognac is coarse pheasant with Cognac
Mousse is a light, airy mixture usually containing eggs and cream, that can be sweet or savory. While savory mousses can have pudding-like consistencies similar to chocolate mousse, a larger quantity of meat, fish or vegetable creates a solid-form mousse. It is still much lighter and spongier than a pâté, and therefore more spreadable for hors d’oevres. Consider the possibilities:
- Mousse de Foie de Canard Truffe is duck liver mousse with Port and truffles
- Mousse de Foie de Poulet aux Noisettes is chicken liver mousse, hazelnut liqueur and hazelnuts
- Mousse de Foie de Poulet au Poivre Vert is chicken livers, green peppercorns and Madeira
- Mousse de Saumon Fumé is smoked salmon mousse
Rillettes is a highly spiced spread of meat or poultry first cooked in seasoned fat and then minced or pounded into a paste, and served as an appetizer. Classic French rillettes are made with pork or goose; but the spread can also be made with duck, fish or rabbit. After the rillettes are made, they are commonly placed in a ramekin and sealed with a thin layer of fat.
Saucisses are small, fresh sausages, and include:
- saucisse aux Fruits de Mer is a fully-cooked sausage stuffed with scallops, shrimp and pacific red snapper, flavored with vermouth
- saucisse de canard is duck sausage with green peppercorns
- saucisse de Toulouse (mild country-style pork sausage)
- saucisse merguez d’agneau or bouef is spicy North African-style lamb (or beef) sausage
Saucissons are large air-dried sausages, such as salami, eaten sliced as a cold cut. When eaten fresh and warm, it is called saucisson chaud (hot sausage). Variations include
- saucisson à l’ail (garlic sausage)
- saucisson d’Arles (salami-style sausage of pork, beef and seasonings from Arles)
- saucisson de campagne (country-style sausage)
- saucisson de Morteau, plump smoked pork sausage that takes its name from the town of Morteau in the Jura (it is distinctive because a wooden peg is tied in the sausage casing on one end and it is traditionally the sausage eaten at Christmas, hence it it also called Jésus de Morteau)
Terrine is an earthenware dish named after the French word terre, meaning “earth.” It denotes that the dish has been baked in an dish. Traditionally, pâté baked in pastry were made in long, loaf-shaped earthenware terrines. Today, metal forms with releasable sides are often used for ease in removing the pate.
What’s the difference between a pâté and terrine?
Pâté and terrines are often cooked in a pastry crust or a earthenware container. Both the earthenware container and the dish itself are called a terrine. Pâté and terrine are very similar: but the pâté are a finer-textured forcemeat, while terrines are made of a coarser forcemeat which are either chopped or ground.
Salumi (salume is the singular form) are Italian cured meat products, mainly made from pork.
Salame is a specific type of salume. Examples include:
Bresaola is an air dried beef and reminds you of its pork cousin, proscuitto. I had an addicting treat of it when it was drizzled with lemon olive oil and shavings of Parmesan cheese.
Capocollo, or coppa is cured shoulder butt that is raw, and prepared with salt, herbs, and spices.
Ciausolo is essentially a paté that has been put into a casing rather than terracotta terrines. It is from the Marche region of Italy, that was once home to some Gallic tribes, hence the close association to the French styles.
Finocchiona is a variation of salami that supposedly owes its creation to a thief who stole a fresh salami and hid it in a stand of wild fennel. When he returned for it, he discovered it had absorbed the aromas of its hiding place and had become fit for the Gods. There are two kinds of finocchiona.
- finocchiona – made of finely ground pork and fat, laced with fennel, and aged and fairly firm.
- sbriciolona– a word that means crumbly, and while the mixture is the same as finocchiona, it’s much fresher — so fresh that it simply crumbles unless sliced about a ½” thick.
Guanciale is an unsmoked bacon prepared with pig’s jowl or cheeks. Its name is derived from guancia (Italian for cheek), and is similar to the jowl bacon of the United States. Pork cheek is rubbed with salt, ground black pepper or red pepper and cured for three weeks. Its flavor is stronger than other pork products, such as pancetta, and its texture is more delicate. It is a delicacy of Umbria and Lazio.
Lardo or lard is thick fat with some thin streaks of red meat, cured with herbs, pepper, and salt. The best-known Italian lard is from a town called Colonnata. Lardo can be used as a flavoring ingredient in other dishes (in the form of lardoons, or thinly sliced and wrapped around the other cut of meat). Rendered lard used for cooking is called strutto.
Mortadella looks an awful lot like the baloney that some of us Americans had for lunch sandwiches. Rid yourself of any comparisons, because real mortadella is nothing like that stuff. Its not the pride of Bologna for nothing, its been around for 500 years, and maybe even since Roman times.
‘Nduja is basically spreadable salami. Its made with a lot of red pepper that may soon turn your cheeks as red as the salami but what a treat when spread over bread or added to sauces. In Calabria, its place of origin, it is heated in a little terracotta pot over a candle flame and the bread is dipped in as desired.
Pancetta, also known as rigatino (little lined one) and carnesecca (dried meat) is from the same cut used to make bacon. However, no smoke or sugar is involved, just garlic, salt and spices. Rarely eaten on its own, it’s almost always used as an ingredient in other dishes as a supporting actor, and perhaps in a commanding role, for example pasta alla carbonara. It can substitute for guanciale. Pancetta sold rolled and tied is called pancetta arrotolata.
Prosciutto is cured raw ham, and there are a few categories, dolce (sweet), and salato (salty), casalingo (homemade), or Toscano (Tuscan). The former is more refined and more expensive. The most common varieties of prosciutto dolce are Parma and San Daniele, both have deep red meat and pure white fat. The first are round and stubby, while the second are pressed into their characteristic “Stradivarian” shape (by women as men lack the necessary touch). Note that in Italy, the word prosciutto by itself refers to raw ham, if you want the cooked stuff, ask for prosciutto cotto.
Salami is a large (3-4″ in diameter) sausage made with ground pork and cubes of fat that are seasoned with garlic, salt, and spices, and stuffed into a pig’s intestine. It’s smaller cousin is salamino, with a similar filling (the fat may be ground somewhat finer) but only an inch thick. The town of Felino, in Emilia Romagna, is famed for its salamino.
Salamino piccante, spicy salamino, is made with enough red pepper to give it that familiar orange cast; in the US it’s known as pepperoni. Salsiccia is a link sausage made with pork fat, spices, and herbs, and are consumed in one of three different ways.
- Raw when fresh, in a sandwich (they must be very fresh and the eater a fan of raw pork (and very brave) to eat them this way ).
- Cooked when fresh — either as is on the grill, or with the casing removed, as an ingredient in other dishes (for example, try slipping a couple of skinned sausages into the cavity the next time you roast a whole chicken).
- Thinly sliced, once they’ve aged for a couple of months. In this case they’re much like salami.
Soppressata is a Tuscan sausage made primarily from leftover pork cuttings stuffed into the skin of the animal and cooked. In appearance it somewhat resembles a porchetta, the roast pork done whole over a spit.
Sausages consist of ground meat mixed with fat, herbs, spices, seasonings, and preservatives. The meat is stuffed into a casing and twisted at intervals to make links. Pork is the most common ingredient used, but sausages also contain beef, lamb, veal, turkey, chicken, or game, and some also have fillers like oatmeal and rice.
Here’s a sampling, just know there are over 1,186 more sausages (wurst) where these came from; 2,000 plus in all. The various ingredients in types of wurst distinguish one from the other, and fall into one of two catagories: fresh or slicing/spreading sausage (think liverwurst).
- Bauerwurst – a chunky sausage that’s often grilled or cooked with sauerkraut
- Bierschinken – a large slicing sausage made with ham and pistachios
- Bierwurst – a slicing sausage with juniper and cardamom
- Blutwurst – blood sausage, made with pork, beef, blood and fat, eaten sliced cold or fried
- Bockwurst – smoked sausage made from veal and seasoned with fresh herbs, resembles a large hot dog and can be boiled, best with bock beer
- Bratwurst – a pale, smoked sausage made of veal and pork, ginger, garlic, nutmeg, one of the sausages that requires full cooking
- Braunschweiger – a spreadable, smoked sausage made from liver, eggs, milk Cervelat: a slicing sausage made of pork, beef, mustard and garlic
- Frankfurter – the original, a smoked sausage made of lean pork, salted bacon
- Knockwurst – short, plump smoked sausage made of lean pork, beef, spices and garlic, often served with sauerkraut
- Landjager – hunter’s sausage, made of smoked beef, needs no refrigeration, comes in flat sticks
- Pinkelwurst – made with beef and/or pork, onions, oat and bacon
- Wiernerwurst – akin to the American frankfurter, made of beef, pork, coriander and garlic
- Weisswurst – a pale, mild white sausage made of veal, beef, pork, cream and eggs, often served with rye bread, sweet mustard
I realize I have not gotten far in my identification of sausages, but holy cow, or pig as the case may be, I could only touch the surface. You would not believe the restraint I showed by only listing these options. Charcuterie and sausage making is truly a labor of love, and a work of art. One that deserves to be studied in its natural environment whenever possible, and I am game for the challenge.
My pack is ready to hold those bottles of wine and all the accompaniments I need for that perfect meal involving some of the worlds most best foods. However, if the travels are not right, I’m prepared to make my own culinary picnic here at home. I still have time to make some saucuisson to nibble on while watching the Tour de France.