Artful and intensely creative, charcuterie can at first appear a bit intimidating; but once the basic algorithm is understood, there’s no limit to its applications.
“Charcuterie is a cured meat version of the cheese plate – easy and impressive,” said Evan Inada, charcuterie/partnerships director, Columbus Craft Meats, Hormel Foodservice, Austin, Minn. “When you look at the French origination, cooked and dry-aged salame is the star.”
Volpi Foods, St. Louis, offered a brief primer on the origins of charcuterie, which is derived from the French word for preserved meal. Similar to charcuterie is salume, an Italian term referring to a broad category of Italian artisan preserved meats. Salumi are artisan craft meats made of pork. Salami is a cured meat product made of ground pork that’s minced, packed in a casing and cured over time.
Authentic, experiential and convenient
The charcuterie experience begins with salame. It then builds with accompaniments of cheese, olives and crackers, bolstered by a healthy dose of creativity that’s only limited to the imagination of the builder. Variations on the charcuterie board continue to grow with breakfast and brunch options that contain ham and salmon and accompaniments of everything bagels. Wow-factor items further up the ante with inclusions of pâté, terrines and mousse, nuts, pickled items and/or chocolate served with red/white wines, beer or whiskey cocktails.
Pâté from Gilbert & Bernard Pâté and Specialty Foods, Brooklyn Cured, New York, was named as a finalist for a national charcuterie award. Its Wild Mushroom Pâté, a signature recipe in the brand’s new line of pâté, was created by Scott Bridi, charcuterie maker, and Hannah Bae, his wife. Inspired by food and travel, Brooklyn Cured offers pre-sliced and bulk charcuterie, salami, sausages, hot dogs, deli and pâté.
Exploration and education into charcuterie often begins in the specialty shops before moving into retail. This begins with consumers experimenting with Italian varieties before sampling offerings from France and Spain and exploring local and regional providers in their area, said Eric Richard, industry relations coordinator, IDDBA, Madison, Wis.
Regardless of a preference for salami or salumi, curious consumers are hungry for new flavors and convenient formats for snacking and ingredient-style items. Volpi’s pre-chopped Pancetta is a go-to item for home cooks looking to upgrade weeknight family meals. Its recent launch of Pepperoni & Chorizo Crumbles introduces a trending flavor like Spanish-style Chorizo paired with fan-favorite pepperoni.
“The convenience in product format plays a big role in impulsivity,” said Deanna Depke, marketing manager, Volpi Foods. “Shoppers are constantly looking for things to spruce up their existing recipes.”
Volpi is seeing interest in Jamon Serrano, Prosciutto’s Spanish cousin, as well as Bresaola, a beef version that has a similar tender texture, driven by early adopters in the Southeast as well as West Coast regions who are pushing the demand for new flavors.
Guided by 100 years of Italian artistry, Columbus Craft Meats is at work on a campaign to demonstrate the perfect charcuterie bite, complete with accoutrements. The company’s portfolio features trays and grab-and-go, pre-sliced charcuterie that employs San Francisco’s signature fog to assist with the aging process of its Italian Dry Salame.
Made from 100% premium whole cuts of pork and California red wine, consumers can choose from a sampler and tasting board with six different salames in different shapes, sizes and thicknesses. These include Hot Sopressata, Sopressata, Prosciutto, a Charcuterie Sampler and a Charcuterie Trio of Italian Dry Salame, Pepper Salame and Calabrese Salame. Its packaging also includes educational tips such as how to buy the right cheeses and beer and wine for the pairings.
Veroni USA, Logan, N.J., was born as a small provincial salami shop in 1925 in the heart of Emilia-Romagna in northeast Italy by five brothers. The business is guided by a mission of good food, respect for tradition, passion for quality and attention to new food and nutrition trends.
In 2016, Veroni was the first Italian company to import 100% made-in-Italy salami to the United States. Now in its fourth generation, Veroni’s lineup features Salame Milano, Salame di Parma, Salame Calabrese and Truffle Salame. Its Enjoy AperiTime trays feature compartments for sharing, while a 2-oz protein Snack line offers combinations of mild or spicy Italian salame with provolone cheese, dried apricots or cranberries and breadsticks, perfect for break time or “merenda.”
Olli Salumeria, Oceanside, Calif, produces artisanal slow-cured fine meats based on old family recipes handed down over four generations. When it comes to trends, Gil Perales, marketing director, Olli Salumeria, is seeing growing popularity in hard or smoked salami and a continuing interest in protein driven by diet trends, home cooking and healthier, single-serving grab-and-go options.
Applying simple ingredients and time, the company offers its flavorful, clean salami in bulk (5 lb.), antipasto trays and convenient snack sizes. The snack packs of Genoa Salami and Fontina, Sopressata and Cheddar, Calabrese Salami and Asiago or Prosciutto and Mozzarella feature an accompaniment of artisanal crackers wrapped in packaging that calls out 13g of protein.
“Higher-end flavor profiles are now focusing on liquor, ‘exotic’ combinations and warming ingredients,” Perales said. “We’re also seeing the trend of rich flavors paired with savory and the bitter/sour profiles found in pickled items instead of the richness you see with meat and nuts.”
Draw of fresh and convenient
One key to charcuterie adoption will be introducing the next generation of charcuterie lovers to products through smaller-sized packages that are wallet-conscious but still deliver in premium quality and taste, Depke predicted. With so many possible variables, it is important that delis offer a variety of sizes couched in a mindset that purchases could be made for a day or for a week.
With the abrupt end of sampling due to the pandemic, Volpi found innovative ways to get in front of new shoppers without physically sampling product with some creative alternatives through omnichannel strategies to drive adoption. Depke shared that some retailers are re-instating their sampling programs while others are capitalizing on a “hidden treasure” mindset.
“Fresh departments are a huge draw,” Richard said. “Instore should showcase these departments, especially because it can be difficult to promote fresh online to make the department a true destination. Supermarkets are the perfect place for education and charcuterie could become a key component of instore education.”
Richard also points out that retailers cannot overcommunicate about protein as it continues to be a strong selling point. He suggests retailers call this attribute out on labels and signage because people are seeking it out.
Ongoing trends of social snacking and home entertainment have also triggered a rise in demand for pre-cut, pre-sliced charcuterie and cheese snacks that are ready to snack or serve as soon as they are purchased at the grocery store, according to Rebecca Casey, senior vice president, strategy and marketing, TC Transcontinental Packaging, Chicago.
Because of these trends, TC Transcontinental Packaging is prioritizing sustainable solutions designed to benefit the consumer and the environment. With freshness being a major consideration, packaging must have sufficient barriers to protect the product from oxygen and moisture, making seal integrity another important factor.
Packaging with a hermetic seal can help ensure the product is preserved and protected to minimize food waste. Peel/reseal lidding or closures allow for easy opening and resealing for future use. Easy-open features such as zippers, front pocket zippers and peel/reseal also offer frustration-free, easy access while maintaining product integrity.
“In charcuterie, packaging can be manipulated to be functional,” Casey explained. “Using a semi-rigid tray that can then be used as a serving platter will cater to the consumer that’s looking for convenience and who is wanting to use a charcuterie platter as a social snack.”
Charcuterie + deli
With demand for charcuterie on the rise, the instore deli is well positioned to build upon its already stable foundation of transparency and trust. Perceived as a cheaper alternative to restaurants, the instore deli offers consumers a mix of price points and premium, high-value attributes with foods designed for easy assembly at home. Earmarked by endless variety, charcuterie is a vehicle that can provide retailers opportunities to capitalize on a growing number of trends that are driving consumers to purchase.
“Charcuterie is in an exciting place,” Inada said. “When you consider its growth over the last five years, you see how education has helped charcuterie grow so quickly. Users and retailers can help continue this trend by applying quality and transparency around the products and the people producing the products and by offering consumers tools to let their creativity flourish.”
Those ready to become a subject matter expert in the sale and handling of charcuterie production can check out IDDBA’s Charcuterie Professional Certification: Salumiere, (Certified Salumiere).
In the course, students learn the origins of charcuterie, how to build a charcuterie board with the right balance of meats and cheeses, textures and flavors, and how to use charcuterie as a growth engine for the total market. The next proctored exam will be held in conjunction with the IDDBA show in June. Registration opens mid-January 2022.