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When It Comes To Charcuterie, Does Your Meat Make The Cut?

When It Comes To Charcuterie, Does Your Meat Make The Cut?

When it comes to charcuterie, do you know your terrines from your pâté? Your salumi from your sopressata? Your prosciutto from your pancetta? Charcuterie, meat that has been cured, cooked or smoked, has been around for centuries and restaurants of late have really stepped up their offerings. Have you?

To have a quality charcuterie program, you can't just throw some meat on a plate and put it on your menu. It takes thought and preparation. Curing meat properly can take weeks or months and you have to follow exacting methods to ensure you don't make people ill as meat can develop toxins like botulism spores if not handled properly. "The reason we don't cure in-house is we're not super experienced in curing, yet," said chef Francis Derby of New York's Cannibal, which recently opened an outpost in Los Angeles. "I'd avoid curing if you don't know what you're doing or haven't taken the right classes. You can get people really sick or kill someone. It's why we source from people who've done it for years."

Cannibal offers both cured and fresh meats and a mix between traditional and fun new items like a matcha green tea and liver mousse with pickled cherries and a take on cochinita pibil with pig head tossed with achiote paste and sour orange. But the restaurant also has plenty of pâté, salumi and sausages, which change with the seasons.

Chicago's Tête Charcuterie also has a variety of charcuterie items, which they prepare in-house. Because of that, they use high-quality ingredients, which is key to offering their customers the best possible meats. "Use good product," said Tête co-owner Kurt Guzowski. "Don't use commodity meat. If you're going to spend time and the money on meat that you're taking months to have it hang, you don't want it to be ruined."

Tête's offerings usually include four terrines, various cured sausages like spicy coppa, lomo or a special cured wagyu tenderloin. They get creative by including items like merguez lamb sausage made with berbere spices; cured truffle sausage; lamb tongue terrine; and cured andouille sausage. "We use different ingredients to get that seasonality."

A good charcuterie board will have more than just meat on the plate and that includes accompaniments like bread, cheese, whole grain mustard and pickles. But you can also get creative and think outside of the box.

"You can do the pickles and the mustards, but my brain doesn't work that way," Derby said. "I approach each pate or sausage as its own set with its own flavor combination." For example, they recently made a corn bread and root beer-flavored sausage with a spice blend including sassafras, star anise and sarsaparilla and served it with smoked cauliflower puree and caramelized cauliflower because, "Cauliflower and corn bread are good friends and corn bread goes well with root beer," Derby said.

Speaking of pairings: What should you serve with your charcuterie?

"Charcuterie goes with everything," Guzowski said. But more specifically, Tête often uses wine in their charcuterie, so wine is a natural pairing. But you can also pair beer as hops play nicely with the saltiness of salumi.

No matter what you offer on your charcuterie board, just be sure to have a mix of fresh and cured meats, various accompaniments and a good selection of beer and wine. And remember to enjoy putting it together. "It makes things more special when you have fun with it," Guzowski said. Cheers to that!