Charcuterie made easy

Miranda Ballard talks about her new book on how to enjoy, serve and cook with cured meats and also presents two favourite recipes

What do I look for/ask for when I’m shopping?

I took a course with the Guild of Fine Foods in London, and there I learned a good test for texture. If you shut your eye and lightly press on your eyelid, that’s the texture under your finger that you’re looking for with cured meat. It needs to be soft and have some give. If you’re buying a whole stick or joint of cured meat, it’s likely you’re spending a good bit of money, so don’t be timid.

Ask the person at the counter if you can have a latex glove or a bit of clingfilm/plastic wrap and if you can prod the outside; they should let you. If it’s softer than your eyeball and really ‘gives’ it might be tainted or have been stored at too warm a temperature – not good. If it’s really solid under your finger, it might be old or overaged and it will be very chewy and hard – not good either. If you’re buying it ready-sliced, the producer should have picked up on any problems before slicing and wrapping it so it’s a safe-bet.

As I have said, good cured meat doesn’t come cheaply – because of the cost of manufacture, care and skilled labour that goes into making it. That means you shouldn’t be embarrassed to ask questions, nor to ask to taste a small piece if they’re slicing it fresh for you. It won’t cost the shop much at all to give you ...

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