Entertainment

An insides look at the art of charcuterie

FIRST, a pronunciation lesson. Waiters and restaurateurs - let's leave their customers out of it - have as much trouble pronouncing ''charcuterie'' as Richie's commentary team has with Pakistani cricketers' names.

You say ''shah-coo-tree'', with equal emphasis on the syllables, not ''shah-coot-er-ee''.

It seems no decent bistro can stand up its menu without charcuterie.
It seems no decent bistro can stand up its menu without charcuterie. Photo: Eddie Jim

Now, the growing popularity of these pork and other prepared meat products.

Hell of the North chef Sean Marshall worked in France and fell in love with Gallic tucker. It is, he says, ''very pleasurable'' to make charcuterie. He believes it may be becoming more popular in Melbourne restaurants because ''people like to have something nostalgic on the plate''.

It has arrived hand-in-hand with the popularity of earthy national cooking styles such as Greece's.

Michael Bannerman, who runs PM24's kitchen for celebrated veteran chef Philippe Mouchel, says charcuterie is ''very popular'' with diners. He agrees that its recent growth perhaps owes something to a yearning for more basic dishes. Charcuterie encourages sharing, and is hugely popular at catered events, he says. Even timid eaters try terrine.

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Charcuterie is almost exclusively pork food. In France, the verb ''charcuter'' means to cut up meat. But by the 16th century it had acquired the special meaning of butchering and selling pork meat. (In French slang, the verb also denotes what your surgeon does to you on the slab.)

In France, charcutiers own and run shops selling pork products. They make their own hams, salamis and snags, and also prepare cold vegetable-only entrees such as leek in vinaigrette sauce.

Now in Melbourne, it seems, no decent bistro can stand up its menu without rillettes, terrines and ham.

PM24 - it's in the CBD - offers a selection but also includes wild rabbit rillettes among its ''little bites''. Rillettes are traditionally made from pork shreds, fat and seasoning, but recent versions have been concocted using rabbit and duck meat.

The Meat Market at South Wharf has ''slate'' charcuterie, which has nothing to do with either the texture or taste of what it tables, and Hell of the North offers a pork terrine with onion ''confiture'' and chicken-liver parfait.

I first heard the word ''charcuterie'' - and ate what it meant - many decades ago on my first visit to France. It was an era when the Gauls had as high a regard for cholesterol as they did for les Anglais across La Manche. (They are more careful eaters these days.)

Charcuterie was a common entree. You'd help yourself to loads of it. On a thick fruitwood platter silhouetted to resemble a bloated porker, there'd be a thick slice of ''country'' terrine, another of chicken-liver mousse, several slices of Bayonne ham, and many more of andouille and saucisson.

My favourite charcuterie speciality is something you can't get in Australia: the great ''shit snag'', as I call it. It's andouillette - made from the bowels of pigs. The entrails are scrupulously cleaned then chopped, run into fat casings - empty intestines - and simmered in stock. They're usually grilled and when you slit open a great andouillette, little curls of pig guts tumble out. A faint whiff of the pigpen rises, and you're in gastro-heaven.