French cuisine is considered by many to be the best in the world, and at the very least, the world owes French culture a debt of gratitude regarding its many excellent and noteworthy methods of food preparation, its excellent wines, and its many fine cheeses. Food and drink in France are national obsessions, which means, if something is routinely considered worth eating by the French, you can be certain it’s worth eating by the rest of us.
Such is the case with the cured meats, or charcuterie, regularly consumed throughout France. If you’re a world traveller or future expat looking to move to or visit France- sometimes referred to as L’hexagone by French people because it is shaped like a hexagon, here are eight cured meats you’re sure to fall in love with; some of which are made in France and some of which are made in neighboring European countries.
1. Jambon de Bayonne
The most famous of all French hams, jambon de bayonne is air-dried and salted and traditionally made near the Pyrenees. Only eight distinct breeds of pig are used in jambon de bayonne production, and the regulations concerning diet, care, transport, slaughter, fat content, and the like are all very specific.
Each ham is cured a minimum of seven months, with the majority being aged closer to nine months or even 10. The ham has just a hint of sweetness and almost no salt in flavor, and while it’s possible to get it in other places around the world, booking a flight to France online at a site like Flights.com is the only way you can be guaranteed to taste it at its best.
Arguably the most famous of Italy’s cured meats, prosciutto is made from the back leg of a pig or boar. The leg is cured whole in a process that can take anywhere from nine months to two years. In France, as in Italy, it’s served as part of an antipasto, in sandwiches, atop pizzas, and as the star player in simple pasta dishes.
A traditional, Old World-style cured meat, this Italian ham is so similar in taste to prosciutto that you can swap the two in and out for one another in recipes without most people ever noticing. Made from the pig’s shoulder or neck — as opposed to the back leg — and cured whole, coppa is also called capicolla or capocollo.
Cut from the pig’s hindquarters in much the same way as prosciutto, speck is cured with a different batch of spices than it’s more famous counterpart, which actually gives it a more robust flavor. Bay leaves, nutmeg, juniper berries, garlic, and the like are all used in the cure, and once it’s finished, the speck is cold smoked, which increases its flavor even more. Speck is fantastic in pasta or on bread.
5. Saucisson Sec
This thick, French sausage is dry-cured, and while it’s typically made of pork, it can also be made from pork and a mixture of other meats. Similar to North America’s summer sausage or Italy’s dry-cured salamis, the recipe typically calls for a mix of lean meat, back fat, salt, spices such as peppers and garlic, sugar, fermenting bacteria, fruits, nuts, nitrites, and even wine or cheese.
Unlike the vast majority of cured meats consumed in France, bresaola is made from beef instead of pork. Made from salted and air-dried top round, bresaola is cured for a few months to produce a soft and tender charcuterie that tastes best just slightly cooler than room temperature. Slice it thin and drizzle it with lemon juice and olive oil, or pair it with an aged, hard cheese and baguette.
A popular Spanish cured meat, lomo is made from dry-cured pork tenderloin, and the result is pillowy soft and rich in flavor. Lomo can be had in a number of distinctive flavors, which result, not from the curing process, but rather from the breed of pig used. Lower in fat than many charcuterie options, eat it with your favorite Spanish cheese.
So, hop a flight to France, and be prepared to enjoy a bevy of excellent cured meats from all over Europe.
This was a guest post by Jeska, a North American traveller who is dedicated to seeking and exploring her very own continent to find all the hidden treasures it has to offer.