Book review – Charcuteria: The Soul of Spain

Charcuteria: The Soul of Spain

This new book about the Spanish art of charcuterie is not your garden-variety cookbook.

France, Italy and Spain share the time-honored tradition of curing meats—and the approach used is basically the same across Europe. Charcuterie essentially entails a mix of meat, salt and tincture of time, says author and working chef Jeffrey Weiss, but he points out it is more complicated than that.

Weiss was awarded a prestigious scholarship to visit regional kitchens across Spain, acquiring an encyclopedic knowledge of the craft of charcuterie and its traditions, and he shares that in Charcuteria: The Soul of Spain (Agate Publishing, 2014).

This ambitious new 450-page cookbook is certainly not for the vegan (or for the faint-hearted.) It delves deeply into the history of butchery and Spanish charcuterie; offers more than 100 recipes for meats, sauces and sides, mostly related to pork; and explains techniques that might be over-the-top for most home cooks. It’s filled with anecdotes, interviews with butchers, whimsical cartoons and stunning photographs of morcilla, jamon, terrines and white pigs.

At its core, however, the cookbook conveys a true appreciation for the multiple generations of artisans who have honed the techniques of brining, salting, fermenting and drying over centuries, working in small production farms scattered across Spain where they try to make economical use out of every part of a pig.

This isn’t a book that can be digested in one setting. Rather it is one that you’ll want to snack on. You may pick up a recipe or two at first. As you read more, you’ll come to share Weiss’ rich appreciation for these specialty foods and the culture and craft that produces them.

Disclosure: Although hardly an expert, I was given a copy of this book by the publisher and asked to review it. I’m glad I had the chance but it probably will be most appreciated by professional cooks, restaurateurs, and culinary students and historians. But I know I’ll go back and read more before my next trip to Spain.

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