Back in 2009, in my freelance-writer days, I pitched a charcuterie story to editors. My angle was that in-house butchery and housemade meats were on the rise on restaurant menus, and it was a Southern trend that was bound to take off.
Chef Craig Deihl was my inspiration for that pitch. Although no editor assigned me the story, that’s not the point of this anecdote. The point is that today, in fine eateries, especially in the South, housemade charcuterie seems almost standard, and Deihl was doing it long before it became so.
He is a master, and it only takes a walk into his cooler filled with curing meats, all in different stages of the curing process, to see evidence of that. Cypress in Charleston, South Carolina, where he is executive chef, even has a separate test kitchen away from the cook line, where all of this work takes place.
Already a two-time James Beard Award-nominated chef, the awards keep coming for Deihl. He recently was named a winner in the charcuterie category of the 2014 Good Food Awards for the fourth consecutive year. Chosen this year for his culatello — the rear large muscle mass (top round, bottom round and eye-of-round) in a leg of pork, which is then cured with salt in a pig’s bladder for 16 months — Chef Deihl previously won for hiscypressata (2011, 2012) and his picante salami (2013).
Last week, I had the opportunity to make an informal visit to the test kitchen. Certified Angus Beef was in the house, and their chefs were learning curing and charcuterie skills. Then cookbook author and beloved Charlestonian Matt Lee stopped by to increase his knowledge as well. The entire time that Deihl was talking technical ratio of salt to meat and more, his hands were moving fast, deftly trimming steaks, breaking down hams, only pausing for a moment to discuss new and varied ways to portion meat.
It was a master class. Taste the results each evening at Cypress and through his artisan meat share. Whether you’ve been eating charcuterie for years or trying it for the first time, this is the some of the best.