Charcuterie is the French method of cooking, curing and dry-aging meats, which are traditionally thinly sliced and served at the beginning of a meal. Simple enough, right? Wrong.
Sausage, bacon, terrines and the like require specific salt percentages, pH balances, surface-to-mass ratios and heat levels in order for them to be tasty and edible. “I’m not sure there is anything in culinary arts that when made the right way requires more time, patience and craftsmanship,” says Jason Story, the co-owner of Three Little Pigs on Georgia Avenue.
Even the word “charcuterie” itself needs more explaining. Meat that has been salted and air-dried but not heated is more precisely defined as salumi, an Italian word that translates to “salted meat.” Luckily, D.C. is home to an increasing number of artisans who are keeping track of all this. In fact, of the following six restaurants (all of which have a robust collection of cured meats), five have opened within the past nine months.
5111 Georgia Ave. NW; 202-726-0102, threelittlepigsdc.com.
With its two-year anniversary in March, Three Little Pigs is one of the older shops in town focused on cured meats. It’s also one of the most expansive. Story estimates there are roughly 75 products in preparation, with 25 available, at any given time. For a charcuterie neophyte, Story recommends ordering a familiar item like kielbasa sausage and three adventurous items, like sobrassada (a spreadable Spanish sausage), head cheese and lardo (cured back fat aged one year). “It should feel safe enough and exhilarating enough, like learning how to ride a bike,” Story says. Three Little Pigs also offers regular classes in charcuterie and salumi methods.
1401 T St. NW; 202-827-4752, lupoverdedc.com. (U Street)
Lupo Verde serves rustic southern Italian meals, which “99 percent of the time start with a charcuterie board,” says co-owner Antonio Matarazzo. The recently opened restaurant features roughly 15 meats imported from Italy as well as house-made prosciuttos. To complement your wood-fired pizzas and pastas, chef Domenico Apollaro recommends the finocchiona (a salami seasoned with toasted fennel seeds and aged for 30-45 days) and soppressata (a salami seasoned with paprika). Lupo Verde also has a counter in the back where 70 percent of the menu can be purchased to-go, including the meats and more than 50 cheeses. (We’ll be on the lookout for an invitation to your dinner party.)
709 D St. NW; 202-524-5322, thepartisandc.com. (Archives)
The latest in the Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s expansion, The Partisan is a just-opened offshoot of the new Red Apron butcher shop in Penn Quarter. Headed by chef Nate Anda and executive chef Ed Witt, The Partisan has an encyclopedic inventory of 30 to 40 rotating cured meats (in addition to a full menu). Anda describes the menu as “sushi style,” encouraging diners to pick and choose pieces that interest them. Many of the offerings are inventive takes on traditional recipes, like the pig ear terrine with layers of pig ears, tongues, soy sauce and basil. Anda is also preparing meats to accompany specific cocktails. (Think a Negroni-inspired salami made with Campari, rosemary and orange.)
1843 Seventh St. NW; 202-316-9396, drinkmoresherry.com. (Shaw)
Derek Brown’s Mockingbird Hill made a name for itself last June as the first bar in D.C. dedicated to sherry. True to Spanish tradition, the fortified wine is served with ham. Chef Julien Shapiro curates a brief menu of meats that features a hand-carved serrano ham produced according to legal guidelines set by the European Union to guarantee quality. “Spanish hams keep the aitch bone in so the morphology of the muscles stays intact, since these hams are usually aged longer than French or Parma hams,” Shapiro says. He also serves an American variation produced in Surry, Va., and others, like a lomo (pork tenderloin) or duck prosciutto.
301 Water St. SE, Suite 109; 202-484-0660, osteriamorini.com/washington-dc. (Navy Yard)
The menu at this waterfront newcomer from chef Michael White reads like a culinary road map to Italy’s Emilia Romagna region. (If you think of the country as a boot, it’s in the north where the straps would be.) “Emilia Romagna is the bread basket of Italy,” executive chef Matt Adler says. “It’s where prosciutto di Parma is from, it’s home to the city of Bologna where mortadella is from.” Osteria Morini complements its selection of imported cured meats with house-made pates, sausages and terrines, including a duck foie gras made with pistachios and dried cherries. Also available at the osteria: egg-rich pastas, spit-roasted meats and Mediterranean seafood. “The sheer variety of our menu means you can go in so many directions” after your charcuterie board, Adler says.
8226 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring; 301-585-5800, urbanbutcher.com. (Silver Spring)
Inside chef Raynold Mendizabal’s Silver Spring temple to all things meat, you’ll find a 144-square-foot glass curing room filled with hanging prosciuttos, coppa and sausages. The controlled environment in the room allows him to do all the butchering and curing in-house. “Charcuterie is strong in Mediterranean climates because the climate allows for the growth of the right bacteria,” Mendizabal says. Asked what he might recommend for a cured-meat novice, Mendizabal responds, “Try everything.” Well, almost everything: Because he is dedicated to making everything in-house, some of the meats call for longer aging periods and won’t be ready until later this year or next.