Morgan Maki knows his meat. But Bi-Rite's butcher and charcutier is versed in more than mere technique; Maki is a meat historian, and the depths of his knowledge and passion read through in the finished product.
At last night's session at 18 Reasons, Maki kicked off the first of a series of monthly history lessons, this one focused on charcuterie. The evening started off with a sausage-making demo. Now, I've made sausage, and it's taken hours. Maki managed to produce enough sausage to feed a room full of 25 people in about 10 minutes. The man is made of magic.
After grinding, stuffing, and putting the sausage on to cook, Maki launched into a sweeping yet thorough overview of the roots and evolution of cured meats. While recognizing that cultures around the world have their own meat histories, Maki focused on the familiar European traditions, beginning with Latin roots and culminating in the much-esteemed products of Italy, France, and Spain.
Today, we regard such delicacies as jamòn iberico, pâté de campagne, and mortadella as dear and precious foods, holy grails of artisanship, but as with most preserved foods, their roots are humble indeed. Salting and curing meat is perhaps the oldest form of food preservation, employed long before refrigeration became possible. Salt was the agent that ultimately gave us salt cod, prosciutto, and salame. In fact, the words "salame," "salumi," and "sausage" (salsiccia in Italian) all stem from the same root: sal-, from salarium, Latin for salt.
As trade grew between populations, so did ideas and influences, and charcuterie traditions began to spread. By the same token, certain established centers of production began to rise in esteem as they refined their craft. Hence, we have prized products like prosciutto from Parma or San Daniele, salame from Genoa, and so on.
Maki managed to pack a lot more information into two hours than I could ever hope to regurgitate here. As he closed his college credit-worthy dissertation, he brought it down to the human level. Charcuerie is about more than curing meat; it's about preserving tradition, about caring for the land and the animals used, and about the relationships between the people who make and consume it. The culture of preservation and the preservation of culture are intertwined.