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The patron Saint of charcuterie

November 16th, 2008 | 1 Comment »

Today is National Fast Food Day but….ewww yuk….I recoiled in near horror when faced with this one. What kind of research would I have to do for this? I never eat fast food, never at all unless it’s a Mavericks pulled pork sandwich done Carolina style, slathered with a little chipotle horseradish and some sweet banana peppers. Now that’s a sandwich. If you reside in the Twin Cities and haven’t been to Mavericks, get yourself over there and enjoy. They also have some of the best french fries ever. Ever. But being that it is pork, it ties in with what I happened to discover about this day over in the tiny gastronomically inclined country of France.

Paging through the current issue of Saveur magazine, I came across a tiny little article in it about a French celebration honoring Saint Anthony, the patron saint of Charcuterie. Subsequent research failed to result in any extensive information about this at all, save for a few bits here and there about how Saint Anthony often was pictured with a pig, but doing a search for St. Anthony only brings up information about the patron saint of the lost, or in another context, the patron saint of skin disease.

Not what I was looking for, actually.

In France each year, on the third Sunday of November (that would be today), it isn’t uncommon for up to a thousand worshippers to gather at the 368-year old Saint-Eustache church located directly across from the where the legendary Les Halles market once stood. The event, the annual Messe du Souvenir des Charcutiers, or Charcuterie Mass of Remembrance is in it’s 200th year and is a solemn affair honoring the nations makers of sausages, hams and pates. The priests sing gregorian chants and incense is thick in the church as scripture readings that promise a heavenly feast of succulent meats and sensuous wines are intoned. A delegation from the Fraternity of the Knights of Saint Anthony is present and there is usually a large contingent of charcutiers in toques and chef whites, some bearing the gold medal of the prestigious Meilleurs Ouvriers de France award, which is given to the most gifted of the nations culinary arts and other trades. The term ‘charcuterie’ is derived from the French ‘chair cuitiers’ or ‘flesh cookers’ and France’s National Charcutier Association dates back to 1513 when those who specialized in cooked, cured and preserved pork products formed their own group away from the butcher’s guild. During the service, the names of those in the association who have passed on are read aloud, and the ceremony concludes with a heart-felt singing of ‘Chant des Adieux’, the French version of ‘Auld Lang Syne’. A reception afterwards features dry cured hams, and headcheeses. In a pamphlet published by the church’s pastor, one is reminded of the purpose of the event, in that it isn’t purely alimentary but “…about providing what responds to our desire for conviviality, for sharing, for good taste, for beauty. Food is not just about taking care of an organic need of the human body”

I’m all for that.

I profess an abiding love for charcuterie although I don’t indulge as often as I would like simple because it’s not the most healthiest item to eat. I am loud in my love for bacon though, the thicker and smokier the better. I love a good hard dry-cured salami like soppresata, but really when it comes down to it, any salami to me is fabulous. I love it best on good dark bread with a smear of grainy mustard; a rare sandwich indulgence for me. But then again, prosciutto in pasta or wrapped around fresh nectarines or melon, ham and bean soup, ham in mac and cheese….it’s all good; salty, briny and fabulous preserved goodness. Now when I indulge I can lift a silent toast to St. Anthony, the patron saint.


Let’s have some in celebration!!

One response to “The patron Saint of charcuterie”

  1. kerewin says:

    There is an awesome book called Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn.

    The bacon recipe is really easy and delicious. I gave bacon for Christmas presents last year.