Charcuterie For Dummies
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If you want to get connected to your food, there is no better way than to purchase directly from a farm. There are many options today for doing this, whether through a CSA (community-supported agriculture) program, online grocery delivery services like, or your local farmers market.

One of the many benefits to purchasing protein for your charcuterie directly from a farmer is that you can get all sorts of information on how the animals were raised, including the following:

  • You can find out where the animals were raised, whether the critters lived inside or outside, if they had space to move and root around or were confined, and so on.
  • You can learn about their diet. For example, did they get to forage for food or were they on a more controlled diet of different grains? You can also learn what kinds of grain they were raised on, whether or not they contained soy, corn, and so on, and whether the grain was GMO (genetically modified) or not.
  • You can determine whether or not the critters were on some sort of antibiotic or hormone regimen.
  • If the farm doesn’t have an on-site processing plant, you can likely connect to the plant to learn how they process the animals and care for meat every step of the way.
I am of the opinion that knowing who is raising your food is better than just blindly purchasing something in a grocery store, even if it is labeled “free range” or “organic.” In addition to knowing more about where and how the animals were raised, buying from a local farm keeps your dollars local, which helps the local farm employ neighbors, contributes toward local infrastructure, and so much more! Check out your local farmer’s market to connect with local farmers. Farmers markets often run year-round just like the winter market pictured here.

Carmel Winter Farmers Market Mark LaFay

Carmel Winter Farmers Market, Carmel, Indiana.

Another great benefit to supporting your local farmer is that it is better for the environment. You may have heard in the news about the issues in Brazil regarding the destruction of the rainforest. When you buy Brazilian beef, you are buying beef that is produced on rainforest wasteland, processed, and then boxed. The box is placed into a refrigerated diesel truck to be taken to a shipyard, where it is transferred to a refrigerated container on a diesel ocean freighter. The beef is then shipped several thousand miles up to an American port, where it is transferred from the boat to a holding area, where it is then transferred to a diesel truck to be shipped to a regional hub, where it is stored in refrigeration. The beef is then either further processed and re-packed, or just transferred to another diesel truck that then takes it to its destination. Once it arrives, it is then removed from its packaging, processed further, and put on the shelf.

Buying from your local farmer is much different. If your farmer does processing on site, the animal is walked to the processing plant, where it is dispatched, processed, packaged, and stored. The farmer loads up a refrigerated diesel truck and delivers to CSA, restaurants, and the farmers market where it is purchased. Seems much simpler, doesn’t it?

Meat the Butcher

A long time ago, before the proliferation of supermarkets, the butcher shop was more than just a department in a store. A butcher shop was a brick-and-mortar location where you went to get all things meat! Butcher shops were generational family businesses, and with them came nuances that reflected the flavor and passion of the family. In Indianapolis, the oldest butcher shop is a German-owned business called Claus’ German Sausage and Meats. If you’re ever in town, it’s worth a visit to sample the different authentic German recipes they still make and specialize in to this day!

In recent years there has been some renewal, a renaissance of sorts, within the field of craft butchery. A younger, energized generation of chefs, butchers, and culinary enthusiasts have started delving into whole animal butchery and opening a new (old) type of butcher shop, different from what you might find at the supermarket. These “artisanal” butcher shops and the creative people behind them have been instrumental in bridging the gap between the consumer and the small family farmer.

This new breed of butcher shop generally works closely with local farms to source heritage animal breeds, such as the one in the following figure. These are breeds from long ago, before animals were hybridized beyond recognition of their genealogical origins. Different breeds have different qualities that make them desirable, including fat concentration and body placement, marbling within the muscles, consistency of protein and fat, and protein color. Chefs and butchers are also working with farmers to encourage different sorts of additions to the animals’ diet, which also have a direct impact on the flavor of the meat. It’s amazing how many wonderful things the farmer can do to impart quality to the meat!

English black hog Mark LaFay

Large English black hog.

A good butcher will be able to help you make proper meat selections for whatever your project may be. However, it is helpful to understand a little bit about the anatomy of pigs and cows because regional nuance can cause some confusion. For example, much of the whole-muscle charcuterie that I discuss in later chapters is based on cuts that are pretty typical for Italian butchers, but not as typical for American butchers.

One of the biggest issues I ran into when I first started tinkering in charcuterie was getting a coppa cut. Coppa is a muscle group that runs from the top of the shoulder (Boston butt) and into the neck. This muscle group is typically called a collar. American barbecue aficionados know it as “the money muscle.” Familiarizing yourself with these nuances will be very helpful as you try to communicate the cuts you are looking for to your butcher. There’s nothing worse than special ordering a cut, only to receive the wrong one and be stuck with it!

About This Article

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About the book author:

Mark LaFay is a tenured entrepreneur. He started two successful businesses in the music industry, and he is the co-founder of Lectio and Roust. Mark is also the author of Chromebook for Dummies.

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