Customer Reviews: Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery
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VINE VOICEon June 14, 2006
I am on an unholy mission to convert a few Amazonians to the pleasures of do-it-yourself charcuterie. My travels in search of gustatory ecstacy have revealed many a depressing deficiency in American food, one of the most egregious of which is the state of this country's meats. Besides the much-publicized and lamented feed-lot economy that guarantees cheap and flavorless meat for all, we have forfeited the rich, varied, and highly-localized meat traditions of Europe. We have replaced flavor, texture, and local nuance with industrial products that satisfy the huge distributors but leave our tongues and bellies beggared. I am writing a series of reviews that laud a few recent books that do a great job in trying to rectify this impoverishment.

Perhaps the most thorough and comprehensive of the bunch is Jane Grigson's. Over almost 350 dense, detailed pages she covers the hows and whys of charcuterie. Everything from tools and methods to the meat itself is presented in lucid prose, with a fine eye to determining what, exactly, the reader needs to know to make good meat products at home. Sausages of every kind and description, pates, terrines, puddings, saltings, fresh pork preparations, sauces, gallantines... the scope of this book approaches the scope of knowledge a Franch charcutier might possess. Few details escaped Grigson's attention, for her purpose was no humbler than to revive charcuterie in Britain. If she accomplished nothing more than to inspire Fergus Henderson to become the greatest meat-man of his generation, she should rest in peace.

The book has many virtues, readability and enthusiasm not least among them. But its real gift is its comprehensiveness and its almost unique ability to guide the reader through unfamiliar territory. This is a real, fundamental, primary cookbook. Anything more basic would be a farming manual. Which brings me to the point I started to make at the beginning of this screed: our American meat situation is bad because we allow much too much mediation between live meat animals and what we put in our mouths. What Grigson proposes is a hands-on, direct, sensory, real involvement with the raw materials. This, as the great French and Italian food traditions demonstrate so unasailably, is fundamental to great food. When you give up the cheap pleasures of supermarket hamburger and try your hand at basic charcuterie, you will enter a world of memorable pleasures and perhaps rekindle that most basic human value: respect for the sources of what we eat.

You may find my review of Fergus Henderson's The Whole Beast useful in your education as a carnivore.

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`Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery' is the prominent 20th century English culinary writer, Jane Grigson's first book, first published in 1967. Like her last book, `English Food' and unlike many of her intermediate books, this is a very scholarly book that may not have much appeal to the average amateur cook. It is much closer to a technical book on how to make and cook with forcemeats and cured pork products than a source for the home cook. As I will discuss later, that doesn't mean it has no value for the amateur cook, especially those for whom cooking has become a hobby or avocation.

Grigson is one of the most prominent disciples of the great English culinary writer, Elizabeth David, who, through Grigson, Alan Davidson, Jill Norman, Claudia Roden and American, Richard Olney has influenced a large share of a generation of English language culinary writers and restaurateurs. David is a palpable presence throughout this book with references to her works and her London cookware shop sprinkled liberally throughout the text. In a sense, this book is an extension to David's own `French Provincial Cooking', as Grigson picks up on one of the most important specialities of French home and commercial cooking.

I sense an increased interest in `charcuterie' throughout the American culinary reading public. Of course, the Food Network has not yet come out with a show on `charcuterie' but I have seen on DVD an episode on sausage making done by Julia Child and at least two of Alton Brown's `Good Eats' shows have been dedicated to these subjects. The most convincing evidence is the publication of the recent book, `Charcuterie' by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Poleyn and certainly the easily satirized Emeril Lagasse exclamation that `pork fat rules'. Although it sounds like a gimmick, it is certain, confirmed by millennia of practice, that pork fat (lard) is by far the most useful animal fat, far more useful than beef s suet, chicken fat, or lamb fat. It has the finest consistency and by far the best taste, as evidenced by the high value placed on bacon fat as a flavoring throughout the European cuisines, most especially in the cuisine of the southern United States. As Grigson so neatly summarizes at the end of her book, pork fat is to ambient temperature meat preservation what sugar and acid is to fruit and vegetable preservation (pickling and preserves).

For those with no sense of what `charcuterie' is, let me identify the most common examples. These are ham, breakfast sausage, `Italian' sausage', meat loaf, pates, and scrapple. As this book includes recipes for things to do with `charcuterie' products, I recommend this as a source of recipes for things to do with ham. Outside of the thousands of uses for the famous dried hams such as Italian procuitto, German Westphalian Ham, Spanish Serrano ham, and Bayonne hams, I am often at a loss when looking for something to do with a small ham dish for one or two people. I will also recommend this book to all those who are fond of brining techniques. I can't say this with any authority, but I suspect the current wisdom about brining springs from Grigson's writings, as interpreted by writers such as Shirley Corriher.

Even if you have no intention whatsoever to invest in sausage making equipment or a grinder attachment to your Kitchen-aid, this is a great foodie read. And, that is not only for entertainment. The recipes for the dozens of sausages, pates, and other forcemeats can offer a wealth of ideas on making new stuffings for things like cabbage, peppers, and tomatoes.

The only problem one may experience with the procedures in this book is with the scarcity of fat on our new pig. One can only gasp at the comparison between the average American pork chop and the richly fatted chop exhibited on an `Oliver's Twist' show by Jamie Oliver, harvested from an artisinally raised porker in rural England.

In many ways, this is actually a better book than the much more recent Ruhlman / Poleyn book, as it covers a much broader range of procedures and recipes and takes a more critical attitude towards the subject. It is immensely reassuring to find an informed writer say that the Italian sausage, mortadella is really a bit on the bland side. And here, I thought my taste had not refined enough to appreciate this famous Italian product. And yet, for the casual reader, Ruhlman is probably a better choice as all his sources and references are modern, while Grigson often refers to sources which are nothing more than a find memory.
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on December 30, 2010
This is not really a text on Charcuterie as the term has come to be used recently in America. It is a text about French Pig Cookery and here, Jane Grigson does an excellent job. To repeat, if you are looking for a text about making fresh sausages or salamis, look elsewhere (use "a pinch of Saltpeter" indeed)....

However if you are looking for a book to learn how to make Pates, Galantines, Rillettes, etc. or a text on how to use feet, head, tripe, etc. you have found a great text. Sausages made entirely of tripe, who'd of thunk it? 10 different ways to prepare the head....Great stuff.

This text will not work for you if you don't already know how to cook. Most of the recipes are a bit "loosey goosey" when it comes to precise measurements of ingredients and heat and cooking time...that said, most of these recipes will also work well within in wide parameters.

Summary: If you want to learn ways to cook a pig that you've never thought of...or seen outside of Europe...this is a great book. If you want some sort of "Charcuterie de jur" will not.
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on October 26, 2009
Next to getting to work with your French Uncle at the local charcuterie shop; Jane's book brings you an unabridged look at the craft with an unapologetic eye. Although the book was originally written in the late 60's (1967), and some of the discussion reflects this time period, don't be fooled, it is timeless; the recipes classic and the instruction still clearly relevant. Jane has made this an interesting read, and a doable set of recipes for most cooks. It is a must have for anyone who wants to move beyond just exploring Charcuterie.
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on July 4, 2013
I agree with another reviewer. This book isnt flashy, its not filled with eye popping glossy pictures, and its a little hard to navigate but these deficencies are more than overcome with the amazing amount of in depth knowledge.

If you are looking for a book that just list a bunch of recipes with a cute note about each then keep looking, there are millions of them sold here on Amazon. This is a "cooking" book not a recipe book labeled as a "cook book".

If you are a proffesional, hobbyist or experienced home/farm cook then this book is a must. This book is filled with useful information, and in the hands of a decent cook will allow them to transform any piece of pork into meal or a sensational cured pork product. The author quickly steps through all things and ingredients needed to deal with any cut of pork. The most frustrating part of the whole book is the hunt it inspires for quality cuts of pork.

I read another review that commented on the vagueness of the recipes. Any cook worth their salt knows that any recipe is just a general guide as you have to adjust ratios for regional differences in produce and seasonings anyways.
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on March 10, 2009
The most important jewel one can hold from a cuisine book is often the easiest to grasp. Jane Grigson provides temptations page after page. I was taken to another time, surrounded by French charcuterie and enamored by Jane's love of experience and her love of food. What more can one say about a foodie book. Cuddle up, or read it on a plane, it will take you to another place and time and give you some great courage to produce the unexpected. Even from yourself. I only wish it were a much longer book.
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on December 16, 2008
I have cooked from this book for 30 years and my original copy has fallen to pieces so I am thrilled to have a new copy. Highly recommended.
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on October 18, 2012
This is not the most glamorous cookbook you'll ever read.The pages aren't glossy, the layout is not the easiest to navigate. The size is small enough to slip into your handbag for shopping expeditions.....not your more popular A4 format. So what sells this book to me?...its no nonsense and thorough approach to traditional charcuterie. This not a book for the novice cook who just wants to dabble in French cookery. This is a book for real foodies/cooks/chefs who want the authentic pork product to cook real and ancient recipes from France. It is especially useful for people like me who live on the other side of the world (New Zealand in this case) who, without re-mortgaging the house, have no access to genuine French charcuterie.
Also be warned that this is not modern, beautiful, trendy food. This is the real thing. Go buy a Gordon Ramsay book if you want pretty restaurant recipes. This is also not a book for the health conscious. We're talking about meat, fat, salt and saltpetre. But I just love it. Creating your own hams at home with love and care; with pork sourced from the best farms, you can prepare the most spectacular food. This is definitely my kind of book. My only criticism is the lack of metric measurements.
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on June 28, 2008
I haven't tested the recipes for accuracy, but cool book. Very informative and a good look at long forgotten dishes. The section on crepenette alone is worth the price of the book.
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on April 12, 2009
The book is a great reference if you are looking into sausage making from an extremely old world/traditional perspective.

Probably my major gripe with this book is the repetition of recipes. The vast majority of the recipes are slight variations of one another. (This is because the book features sausage recipes from various regions of France-so the spice mixtures etc are only going to change so much).

Its a neat book but the complete lack of pictures makes this a bad book for a novice. Unless you simply want a book on sausage to read and not to use-I would not buy this book. For day to day use it is not practical.
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