There’s a quote that has been attributed to Kelis—the singer-turned-chef most famous for her song “Milkshake”—that goes something like this: My last supper would be a charcuterie smorgasbord, with every kind of meat and sauces to dip them in.
Kelis isn’t alone in her love affair with charcuterie—the What’s Hot Culinary Forecast ranks charcuterie boards as the number two heating up restaurant industry trend for 2017, which seems to be on point so far.
Google “charcuterie board” plus the name of your city like I did for Minneapolis and you’ll find results from Eater and Vogue to Foursquare and Yelp alongside a variety local publications all telling you where to go to find the best board.
While these artfully assembled meat and cheese boards have just recently burst onto the culinary scene in a trending way, they’ve been around for a while now—something like 6,000 years to be exact.
Roman Roots For Charcuterie Boards
“As most food trends tend to do today, charcuterie hails back to an ancient, more artisanal time,” explains Cargill Salt’s In Perspective. As Alexandra Malmed notes in Vogue, the central practices involved in composing a board (like curing, salting, smoking, and preserving) “are among the most antiquated of all preparation techniques.”
While plates and selections of cured meat stretch all the way back to ancient Greece and Egypt, what we think of as charcuterie meats today are courtesy of the Romans. According to Living the Charcuterie Lifestyle, it’s the ancient Romans who were the first civilization to regulate the raising, killing, and cooking of pork, turning what was once simply butchering into a legitimate trade.
Prosciutto, for example, an Italian meat that’s often featured on charcuterie boards, dates all the way back to Cato the Censor when he wrote a technical explanation for crafting prosciutto in De Agricoltura, explains Italy’s Academia Barilla.
Adding A French Flair To Charcuterie Boards
While the Romans may have started the processes that create the delicate meats on a charcuterie board, it’s the French who turned charcuterie boards into an art form and gave them the name we know them by.
As the Vogue article notes, charcuterie is the combination of two French words: chair and cuite which mean “flesh” and “cooked” respectively. During the Middle Ages, charcuterie was first used to “identify shops that sold pork products as well as offal (organ meats),” explains a post by Denver’s The Nickel.
It’s thanks to the guilds of French charcutiers, or pork butchers, and their innovations on charcuterie by region that dish became what it is today. Each charcutier changed and improved their take on charcuterie by focusing on local ingredients that naturally varied by region. The practice eventually spread across the country and the rest of Europe, picking up dried fruit, baguettes, and cheese additions along the way.
Restaurant Industry Trend: Sensibly Sustainable
It might seem somewhat random that after all these years, it’s now that these fancy boards have busted onto the scene. But when you take into account one of the main driving forces behind the origins of charcuterie with the increasing movement towards greater sustainability in the culinary world, it all makes sense.
The history of charcuterie is really anchored in “taking a less desirable cut of meat and transforming it into a satisfying meal,” leaving nothing to waste, explains Erik Miller in Sierra Magazine. Pair that with a snippet from a Food Business News piece that notes that sustainability is at the top of mind for customers in 2017, it’s no surprise that a dish comprised of preserved meats designed to significantly reduce waste has taken 2017 by storm.