One of the many joys of France is the “charcuterie” – effectively a delicatessen which you’ll find in most towns and villages. “Charcuterie” is one of those words which does not really have an English equivalent – at its most precise it refers to “cold meats”, but of course most charcuterie shops will offer much much more; and restaurant menus will often include “une assiette de charcuterie”.

Traditionally it does tend to focus on pork products, with the French being particularly adept at producing something edible (depending on your tastes) from most parts of the pig. But you’ll also find other delicacies – patés, terrines, quiches and often prepared dishes which you can cook/reheat back in the kitchen.
Most charcuteries are also “artisan” business, often curing and preparing the meat and dishes themselves and/or sourcing quality products from local specialists. Hence each is different, offering a unique range of items, some of which will be totally new to you. For us, the visit to the Charcuterie is always a highlight of the morning – choosing what to have for the lunchtime picnic – and as a rule we always try at least one unfamiliar item.
Similarly trying the “assiette de charcuterie” on the restaurant menu is always something of adventure – the best will be a wondrous selection of salami, air-cured ham, raw vegetables with a jar of gherkins – but you can never be sure what to expect.
If you want to have a go at recreating some of the dishes at home, then have a look at Jane Grigson’s book Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery – it will either inspire you or prompt you to leave it to the experts.

Every town in France has at least one charcutier, whose windows are dressed with astonishing displays of good food; pates, terrines, galantines, jambon, saucissions sec and boudins. The charcutier will also sell olives, anchovies, condiments as well as various salads of his own creation, making a visit the perfect stop to assemble picnics and impromptu meals. But the real skill of the charcutier lies in his transformation of the pig into an array of delicacies; a trade which goes back at least as far as classical Rome, when Gaul was famed for its hams. First published in 1969 but unavailable for many years, Jane Grigson’s “Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery” is a guidebook and a recipe book. She describes every type of charcuterie available for purchase and how to make them yourself. She describes how to braise, roast, pot-roast and stew all the cuts of pork, how to make terrines, how to cure your own ham and make your own sausages.

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