icon
Free Delivery on Orders Over £40 - Next Day Delivery Available

The Essential Charcuterie Glossary

by Alex Mugan on June 20, 2024

Whether you're finding your way around a grazing board, exploring the cornucopia of a continental deli, or crafting your own cured meats, you'll be need to know your nduja from your soppressata, your hog casings from your synthetic collagen, and your nitrites from your sulphites.

For the eaters, the makers and the students of the meaty game, here is The Essential Charcuterie Glossary.

We’ll proceed alphabetically, but just to begin with, first things first:

Charcuterie

Both the place where charcuterie is made, and the collective term for all of the things produced in the shop. From the French ‘char’ (meat) and ‘cuit’ (cooked), which rings odd because most of the stuff we associate with charcuterie isn’t cooked at all. Charcuterie products are diverse, mostly (but not exclusively) pork, and tend to involve using up the humbler cuts less suited to roasting and frying. There’s also a large emphasis on flavour intensification and preservation. In a nutshell, charcuterie makes the most of diverse parts of an animal, maximising yield and flavour, and making it last longer.

Does Britain make charcuterie? Yes, and for longer than you’d think.

Air-Drying

Preserving meat and concentrating flavour by allowing it to dry slowly in the air. Once dried, the meat will have a greatly extended shelf life. It will need to be cured before it can be dried.

Backslopping

Unfortunate term for using part of a previous salami batch to start the next one. The good bacteria present in the previously fermented batch will enable the fermentation of the next batch to begin. Exactly like a sourdough starter, but disgustingly named. Not something many commercial producers will be doing, as it’s not reliably safe at scale.

Bacon

Very British charcuterie, and a bit of a spectrum of a product, with everything from quickly cured and barely dried cooking bacon, through to two or three month aged pancetta-style bacon. Most commonly made with pork belly (streaky bacon) or loin (back bacon), but you will find examples from cheek (guanciale) and collar too.

Bacteria and Botulism

Bacteria, both good and bad, are central to the production of cured meats, especially salamis and other sausage types. To ferment, salami and sausage-type products need a ‘good bacteria’, usually administered as a starter culture to help along any naturally present within the meat. There are also bad bacteria, which need to be controlled with salt, acidity and drying. The most notable of these is Clostridium botulinum, which is problematic because it produces toxins in low oxygen environments, i.e. inside a sausage. It is controlled with acidity and curing salts, which are tightly controlled in commercial products to guarantee safety.

Beef

A great charcuterie meat, although few beef cuts go to charcuterie as we love to roast and fry them so much. A key ingredient in classic bresaola, and also ‘real’ pepperoni.

Biltong

A cured meat originating from Southern Africa. Usually beef or game, dried quicker, at a higher temperature and lower humidity than continental-style cured meats, e.g. salami.

Bresaola

Either from the Italian for ‘braised’ or ‘salt’, the latter seems more likely as that’s what is actually used. Although, braising cuts work well for its production. Tends to be lean, produced from hindquarter cuts of beef. Venison and, more unusually, sheep bresaola is also available. In Europe, you might see horse or donkey bresaola too, occasionally. Bresaolas have a deep, concentrated and uncomplicated flavour that is often a good place to start for new charcuterie eaters or people who don’t enjoy fat.

Brine

A salty liquid with aromatics, which is used to cure meat by submersion. In the brine, the salt content performs the curing action, and the meat will be preserved. Usually, things which are brined are subsequently cooked or pickled, e.g. gammon or roll-mops, rather than air-dried, as soaking something in water makes a counterproductive start to drying.

Casings

Used for containing or wrapping air-dried meats. These can be natural or synthetic. The natural ones you can eat, mould and all. Synthetic ones vary as to edibleness, so you should read the pack/label before tucking in. Natural cases are usually intestines, which are cleaned and either salted or dried. Different sized intestines make different products, e.g. sheep intestines for beer sticks, or larger pork intestines for saucissons. They don’t smell or anything, so don’t be squeamish. Some products, such as culatello, traditionally use bladders as casings, which do smell a bit. Cases protect the drying meat from contamination, provide a peelable layer if you want to remove the mould, and with salami, do the important job of not letting the meat fall all over the floor.

Charcutier

The person who works in the charcuterie (shop/factory), making the charcuterie products. Usually in the UK, this job is rolled into the butcher’s job. In France or Italy, it’s traditionally been a separate roll.

Chorizo

Another spectrum of products, united by the usual inclusion of paprika, normally smoked. Hailing from the Iberian peninsula, it ranges from what are more or less cooking sausages flavoured with paprika, through to slicing chorizos intended for the grazing board or similar. Differences will include the coarseness of grind, smoking, the presence or absence of a starter culture and the degree of drying which has taken place.

Confit

A cooking process where meat (or tomatoes, garlic and vegetables actually) are gently simmered under oil. The oil varies. It could be the animal’s own fat, as in a duck confit, pork fat, olive or vegetable oil. The result is an unctuous, yielding product, where the slow poaching in fat cooks without tightening up the fibres of the meat, and where the moisture drawn out through a period of salting beforehand is replaced by fat. Confit preserves too, as keeping the product submerged in oil will greatly extend its shelf life.

Coppa

An increasingly popular dried meat taken from pork shoulder, where the eye of the meat (the collar, or coppa in Italian) is cured and dried as a whole piece. The fat in coppa is intramuscular, i.e. it’s on the inside, like a ribeye steak, and the shoulder does a lot of work, so the resulting product is both flavoursome and well-balanced. It has a stronger, more savoury flavour than something like lomo, and looks great on a charcuterie board.

Cotechino

An unusual sausage product, made from a mixture of pork meat, fat and skin. It’s all minced, spiced and piped into a sausage case, before poaching. The result has the quality of a confit, because the fat is poaching the meat within the case. It’s a traditional staple in Italy, where it’s served at New Year with lentils for good fortune.

Culatello

A ham of Italian origin, hailing from the Emilia Romagna, where a foggier climate complicates the curing of whole leg hams such as Prosciutto di Parma. Made from a couple of pork leg muscles, it’s wrapped tightly inside a bladder and aged for one to three years. Given its success in damper climes, it is increasingly popular with British charcutiers too.

Culture

Salamis and some chorizos are fermented. Naturally occurring bacteria in the meat will create acidity and flavour, but these require the assistance of a starter culture to get going. These cultures predictably reduce the pH of the meat (increasing acidity) to create conditions in which ‘bad’ bacteria cannot thrive. Starter culture is added to salami mixes at the outset. It’s available to buy from specialist retailers.

Cure 1 and Cure 2

See nitrites and nitrates also. Cure 1 and Cure 2 (you’ll see labels like Instacure and Prague Power too) are curing salts. Each is mostly sodium chloride, with a small amount of sodium nitrite (Cure 1) and sodium nitrite with sodium nitrate (Cure 2) added to help cure the meat safely. Their role is in inhibiting bacterial growth.

Curing

A core part of the charcuterie process. We sometimes see charcuterie and cured meats used interchangeably, and that’s not really accurate, even if everyone would know what you meant. Curing is the preservation of meat using salt. It’s a core part in pickling and cold smoking, as well as air-drying. Salt breaks down protein chains, tenderising meat, while also inhibiting bacterial growth to aid preservation. Cured meat could be subsequently pickled, air-dried, cold-smoked or cooked. Charcuterie, in the sense of using up all the parts of an animal, also includes things like pork pies, terrines and sausages, none of which are cured. There are a number of different curing techniques, which are used for different products, including equilibrium curing, immersion curing, salt box curing and brining. 

Curing Cabinet

A special chamber for producing fermented, air-dried meats, where the temperature and humidity can be controlled to produce the desired result. Specially engineered curing cabinets, like big fridges with the capacity to warm and cool, humidify and dehumidify, can be bought (often from Italy), or you can make a rudimentary version much more cheaply with an old fridge and some ingenuity.

Emulsification

When fat and non-fat are combined, as in mayonnaise, but in this case with meat. Sometimes deliberate, as in a mortadella, where the meat and fat are combined into a stable mixture. In salami production, emulsification can be negative, if soft fat (see fat and back fat) coats the meat and inhibits even drying of the product.

Fat

A critical part of charcuterie, and less straightforward than you’d think. Fat carries flavour, so it’s enormously important to making charcuterie taste good. Fat can also preserve, as in confit. Type of fat is really important. Flare fat, from around the belly and ribs is soft, and will smear and emulsify in a salami, while back fat is firm and remains in place, allowing the salami to dry more evenly. Different fats have different melting points, which is also important to consider. Air-dried ham melts in the mouth because pork fat starts to melt at a lower temperature than human body temperature. This isn’t true for all fats, so that’s a consideration when making and using salami from different meats.

Fermentation

The process of acidifying meat for preservation and flavour. Many foods can be fermented, meat is no different, and with salami-type products, it’s a great way to preserve them and make them safe to eat. Salami is fermented inside a curing chamber, with the temperature set somewhere over 20 degrees celsius, and the humidity over 85%. This is to encourage the starter culture to become active, while the humidity prevents the salami from drying out at the higher temperature.

Filletto

A lesser known cured meat made by salting and spicing, then air-drying pork fillet. Lean and tasty, it’s best sliced and shaved by hand as a snack or salad topper.

Grazing Board or Charcuterie Board

Presentation of cured meats on a board for a buffet or sharing meal. Often accompanied by cheeses, condiments, pickles, olives, bread and crackers. Social media-friendly charcuterie boards tend to be a bit less charcuterie and a bit more accompaniment, with an emphasis on the visually striking.

Guanciale

A type of air-dried bacon, and the original (and authentic) key ingredient in carbonara. It’s made from the cheek and jowl of pork, so it’s in relatively short supply and thus hard to find. Deep and richly flavoured, with a high proportion of fat.

Hogget

An unusual meat. Sheep in between its first and second year, so between lamb and mutton. Makes amazing bresaola, filletto and salami.

Humidity

The amount of moisture in the air, and the most important factor in air-dried meat, with a range of 60-80% humidity required. If humidity is too low, the meat will dry too quickly and the inside won’t be able to dry because the outside will have hardened. If humidity is too high, the air is too moist and the meat doesn’t dry at all, leading to spoilage. It’s the main barrier, historically, to producing air-dried meats in Northern Europe, where the air is typically too damp. With technology it’s now possible to manipulate the humidity range year-round, enabling more consistent production in more parts of the world.

Hygrometer

A device for measuring humidity, i.e. the amount of water in the air. Necessary for working out whether the conditions for air-drying and fermentation are correct. If you’re making your own curing cabinet, you’ll definitely need one, and it’s a good idea to have one around if you’re doing any kind of air-drying at home.

Jamón Ibérico and Jamón Serrano

Delicious product produced on the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal). Rigorously controlled, in terms of origin, ingredients and production, the main difference between the two is the breed of pig, which for Iberico must be Black Iberian - the Pata Negra, or a cross-breed of Black Iberian and Duroc. Carved on stands with a slender knife, taking years to produce, it’s seriously iconic charcuterie.

Jerky

The original cured meat of the Americas, whose name originates from the Quechua for ‘dried, salted meat’, because that’s what it is. Jerky is dried at a higher temperature than continental air-dried meats, leading to a really stable, concentrated product that is naturally chewier than its European counterparts. Usually, it’s made from beef, and connoisseurs will tell you there’s a world of difference between the reformed, processed supermarket versions and stripped back, er, strips, of whole muscle cured meat. No dissent here.

Lardo

100% cured pork back fat, delicious sliced into slivers, especially when allowed to melt into something warm like toast. Slabs of back fat are cured in salt, then allowed to mature inside a marble box, where the darkness is key to the fat staying clean and white. Amazing on its own or as an ingredient.

Mould/Mold

Spelled ‘mold’ in the States, it’s the other microbial helper in the cured meat process. Mould helps to regulate drying, adds flavour and covers the surface of meat, crowding out bad moulds which might otherwise colonise the surface of a product. There are a couple of species of salami mould (penicillin types) which grow on cured meat, and they range in colour from snow white to bottle green, depending on whether they are in bloom or not. Other moulds occasionally seen in the charcuterie, blue and black ones, are best avoided. The white mould you want will turn yellow if it’s deoxygenated. You can definitely eat the white/green penicillin mould you’ll find on the outside of saucissons, particularly, but plenty of other cured meats too. It will taste a bit like truffly, mushroomy cardboard.

Mortadella

An emulsified sausage where pork meat and fat are very finely ground or pureed under cold conditions (so the fat doesn’t melt), and combined. They’re cased, poached, chilled and then sold in slices or chunks. Mortadella can be cut as a steak-like slab and then braised in wine, if you’re being fancy.

Muffaletta

Layered sandwiches invented by Italians working in the USA, popularised on Tiktok. Classically made on a special sort of fairly flat bread, itself called a muffaletta, these days you’ll find them on ciabatta, focaccia and pretty much everything else. The magic is in layers of meat, cheese and marinated vegetables, which meld together to form a deliciously savoury sandwich. Up there with the bacon butty as the king of charcuterie sarnies.

'Nduja

A soft, spreadable salami hailing from Calabria in Italy. Copied everywhere, but usually not well. A favourite on pizzas and also great in sauces. The spreadability comes from the salami’s high fat content, which will be anywhere from 50% to 75%. This high fat content stops the salami from drying out, hence it remains soft and spreadable. It’s a spicy one, with those unique Calabrian chillies giving heat, and the distinctive red colour. The word 'nduja shares its roots with andouillette, a French charcuterie of entirely different character, and andouille sausage, which is a requisite of gumbo in the USA.

Nitrites and nitrates

Not to be confused with sulphites, which will appear on cured meat packaging as an allergen present in wine, nitrites and nitrates are curing salts, ingredients which increasingly provoke debate. They’re included in cured meats to combat dangerous bacteria, which might otherwise occur inside the product, but their use is being reduced by producers, in line with changing UK and EU laws. It’s a mistake to think that these are innovations, created in a lab. They are traditional ingredients which have been around for centuries. Take potassium nitrate for example, also known as saltpetre, which was a key component in gunpowder from the middle ages. Concerns about their use should focus on quick cure products where the compounds don’t have time to degrade, such as cooking sausages or quick bacons. These products don’t require them.

Pastrami

Originating in Romania, then spreading through the middle east and over to the USA, this cured meat is brined, then somewhat dried before smoking and cooking. It’s made with a variety of meats, most popularly beef brisket, a version which has become iconic in sandwiches and bagels.

Pâte 

It’s charcuterie, but not cured meat. Cooked, seasoned mixtures of meat and often offal, which are poached, steamed, sous-vided or baked into sliceable, spreadable magic. Popular throughout Europe, with coarse pork, duck or chicken liver, and Brussels among the best known examples. From a certain point of view, the British pork pie is a pâte. A pâte en croûte, in fact.

pH

Making a salami without a pH probe is like driving a car without a seatbelt. You can definitely do it, and you could probably do it a good few times without it making a difference, but when you need it, you really need it. Salami makers use pH to measure the acidity of the fermented product, and hitting a required acidity level is key to ensuring the product is safe. Every batch of commercial salami is pH tested, and for home curers too, testing pH with a probe is an essential step.

Pork

Not only is pork the cornerstone of charcuterie production, it is the main reason charcuterie exists. We can go back in time, not so far, to a point where lots of families kept a pig, and produced a whole range of items once a year when the pig was slaughtered. It’s a practice that has been going on for centuries, and the products made from it are the root of all the charcuterie we enjoy today. Lomo, filletto, coppa, spala, speck, ham, bacon, guanciale, brawn, gelatine, rillettes, stock, scratchings, salami and sausage. It all starts with pork.

Prosciutto, Crudo and Cotto

Prosciutto is ham from Italy. The most famous example is Prosciutto di Parma, or Parma ham. Crudo and cotto refer to the preparation method, cotto is cooked, crudo is not. The well known Parma ham is, of course, crudo. These crudo hams are made from whole legs, sometimes with the trotter, sometimes not, and sometimes with the bone removed for easy slicing. Once the bone has been removed, the hams are pressed to keep out the air which would otherwise cause the meat to deteriorate.

Rillettes

A hearty, wholesome sort of charcuterie, where cooked scraps of meat, usually stripped from a carcass which has been used for stock, or otherwise cooked, are seasoned and mixed with pork fat to form a sort of pâte. Excellent on bread, rillettes are produced from most meat, most notably pork and duck.

Saucisson

A French style cured sausage, usually in a natural case with mould evident. Also called saucisson sec, or dried sausage. Mostly pork, sometimes wild boar, these are dense, porky affairs with classic flavour profiles which are made to be enjoyed on the move, or sliced and served with pickles and a glass of something.

Salami

The best known of dried sausages, this cured meat is everywhere from sandwiches to pizzas, salads to grazing boards. The word salami is Italian, as are most of the famous recipes, with Milano, Genoa and Finocchiona among them. Usually made from pork, with a high ratio of meat to back fat, and the fat cut more coarsely so it’s visible in the cross section. It’s mostly encountered in ready-sliced form. 

Salt

The main ingredient, without which curing would not be possible. Humble salt has shouldered the burden of preserving our meat for millenia. And a humble version is all you need. Low sodium alternatives are no use, higher quality salts are not necessary. PDV salt is a name you might see. It means pure dried vacuum salt, and refers to the production conditions, which produce free flowing, consistently sized salt grains.

Salumi

Italian word which is an equivalent for charcuterie, in the sense of charcuterie products, rather than the shop in which they’re sold (see the next entry for that). Salumi is the collective name for all cured meats, so lomo and ham are salumi, and so is salami. Indeed, all salami is salumi, but not all salumi is salami.

Salumeria

Italian shop where the salumi is sold, alongside complementary products.

Smoking

Smoking and curing meat go hand in hand, but not all cured meat is smoked, even if most smoked meat is cured. This is because smoking meat is chiefly about flavour, rather than preservation directly, as the preservation technique in play during smoking is actually drying. For the meat to be safely dried, salt is applied in advance to cure the product. Smoke helps keep insects away during drying, while some of the chemicals in the smoke may have some preserving properties too.

Spalla

A pork shoulder ham made from part of the shoulder which remains once the coppa has been removed. Spalla is unsmoked, and a similar cut, when smoked, is called speck.

Temperature

Another key variable in the curing of meat, temperature is critical. When fermenting salamis, the temperature must be high enough to activate the starter culture. While during the drying and maturation phase, the temperature should be lower to encourage slow, even drying. When curing, freezing temperatures are avoided because they inhibit the curing process. If you’re curing your own meat, you’ll be needed to monitor and sometimes control the temperature.

Terrine

A loaf shaped mix of forcemeat, vegetables, raw and cooked meat, which is cooked within an oblong pot also known as a terrine. Simmered in a bain marie until cooked, then served in slices. Cornichons (little gherkins) are its best friends.

Venison

Excellent charcuterie meat from deer. It’s lean, flavoursome and abundant. Makes delicious bresaola and salamis too, though those tend to include pork fat as there is so little fat on venison carcasses.

Wine

An important ingredient across a wide range of charcuterie, and also an ideal partner for a plate of charcuterie too. In the production process, wine is used in salami for flavour and acidity, and in bresaola for flavour and preservation. Most charcuterie pairs well with most wines.

BACK TO TOP
Promo box

Someone purchased

Product name

info info
x