Within the last two weeks two new charcuteries have opened in New York. Salumeria Rosi opened on Amsterdam Avenue at West 73rd Street in Manhattan, and Murray's Cheese has added Murray's Real Salami with a bountiful shop at Grand Central Market.
Oh happy day.
Charcuterie is a word that's from the French term cuiseur de chair, meaning "cooker of meat." Today this 16th century French culinary art of preserving meat continues, with the word now also used to identify places where we can buy prosciutto, paté, jambon de Bayonne, Jamon Iberico, culatello, Serrano ham, pancetta, linguica, soppressata, kielbasa and other cured meats, duck, and other foods (I'm a bit sloppy and use the term also for shops that sell smoked and cured fish). New York still has a ways to go to match the charcuteries in France and Italy, but as we hold on to shops that have been here for decades, like Schaller & Weber on the Upper East Side, and welcome the new kids on the block, like Murray's, we're starting to catch up.
It's not surprising that we lag Europe. After all, Europe is where many of these sausage and cured meats come from in the first place and the rich food cultures of Italy, France and Spain still encourage and nurture their small artisanal producers. For us in the U.S., unless these meats were in our family's diet by stint of our heritage, or we were exposed to them through travel, we just didn't know how fabulous cured pork could be. Growing up eating Hormel's bologna just doesn't count.
But in New York our modern global table means our palates are not limited to what our grandmothers' ate. Access to top quality charcuterie means we can now add these foods to our home cooking by making antipasti platters, accenting salads, using them in soups or long-simmered one pot dishes like the Brazilian feijoada, or making them the main event at our meals.
The other reason that we've lagged Europe is that our government, in the form of the USDA, has long prohibited many of these meats from being imported. I'm sure they thought they were somehow protecting us from ourselves, although it's suspicious that we were allowed to eat that Hormel stuff but kept away from the cured and brined foods that Europeans had been safely (and blissfully) eating for centuries. Let's be generous and just say the government was misguided.
I once knew someone who would pay his Spanish nanny to take an extra visit home every year knowing that in exchange for buying her plane ticket, she would promise to sneak back a then-forbidden whole Serrano ham in her luggage. This was before the USDA started using those cute little beagles to sniff the baggage carousels in international airline terminals. Today that would be one lucky dog, which is what, at the time, my friend considered himself to be -- once he had that ham safely unpacked on West 70th Street.
Thankfully we no longer need to smuggle meat through immigration in order to experience superb sausages, cured meats, salami, and other glorifications of what is mostly pork and pork fat. Today the U.S. is host to more small and excellent producers. Companies like Fra' Mani in California and La Quercia in Iowa make outstanding products in the European style. Our own local Flying Pigs Farm, from New York's Battenskill River Valley, sells its spicy kielbasa and luscious liverwurst at the Union Square and Grand Army Plaza Greenmarkets. And while many New Yorkers still mourn the loss of Kurowycky Meat in the East Village, we still have Eagle Provisions in Brooklyn, Astoria Meat Products in Queens, and Schaller & Weber on the Upper East Side that maintain a devotion to German and Eastern European traditions.
For those who want an international charcuterie all in one place, there are choices. In Brooklyn, the splendid Blue Apron Foods in Park Slope has a superb selection from well-known producers plus others that are rare and exceptional. Their guanciale, an uncured pork bacon, is always creamy and flawless, and if you're curious about something unfamiliar, the lovely people who work at Blue Apron will give you a taste.
Dean & Deluca's SoHo store remains the king of New York charcuterie with products from across the U.S. and Europe, some of which cannot be found anywhere else in the city. Their prices also often match their "Tiffany" position so shop there with this in mind.
Also in SoHo, Despaña is all about the foods of Spain and you must fly to Iberia to find a better selection of Serrano hams (plus all other types of Spanish foods). German specialties are not only at Schaller & Weber but also at Koglin Hams in Grand Central Market, although I really don't like their practice of pre-slicing their products instead of cutting to order. And for Italian charcuterie, we have Buon Italia, DiPalo, Alleva Dairy, Teitel Bros. on Arthur Avenue, and Salumeria Biellese in Chelsea.
Several of our bigger grocers have extremely respectable charcuterie departments including Citarella and Fairway, which was the first to bring us Fra' Mani and La Quercia. Even Whole Foods competes handsomely both in terms of selection and even price (I'm finding more and more often that Whole Foods is a better value than their "whole paycheck" reputation suggests).
Here are New York's best charcuteries. Details about each shop's address, phone number and web sites are all included in our shopping database at The City Cook.
- Bedford Cheese
- Blue Apron Foods
- Eagle Provisions
- Stinky Brklyn
- Calabria Pork
- Teitel Bros.
- Alleva Dairy
- Dean & Deluca
- DiPalo's Dairy
- East Village Meat
- Koglin Hams
- Murray's Real Salami
- Russ & Daughters
- Salumeria Biellese
- Schaller & Weber
In the days ahead if you get overload with talking and tasting turkey, take a break and have some salami. Buy a good one that's fragrant with garlic and have just a few slices along with a piece of soft but crusty Pugliese bread, some chips of Parmigiano-Reggiano, a little drizzle of olive oil, a few juicy cherry tomatoes and a generous glass of red wine. To my way of thinking, it's just another way to say "thanksgiving."