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Atlanta’s Charcuterie Scene- Inside the Trend

The Resaltwood menusurrection of Charcuterie

By Alexander Gagnon

Charcuterie is a French term used to describe the painstaking process of curing meats and it has recently become the spotlight on local menus all across Georgia. Many of the state’s local chefs are facing this challenge head on, using their skills and ingenuity to create new flavors with the use of charcuterie.

The most common presentation of charcuterie is the charcuterie board. These expertly crafted house-cured meat appetizers are often plated on large wooden boards that showcase a wide variety of different meats, pickles and preserves. This trend is rapidly reviving a culinary movement that originated thousands of years ago. In Atlanta and elsewhere across the state, chefs are embracing the fundamentals of cuisine and going back to the basics to bring an ancient tradition back to the table.

The Roman Empire was the first documented civilization to experiment with curing meats, and they are often considered the founders of charcuterie. Hundreds of years later, the French elevated charcuterie from an essential food medium into a revolutionary culinary art form. They popularized individually owned prepared-meat shops called charcuteries. Neighborhood charcuteries quickly became a part of everyday life for the middle-class citizen. One by one, charcuteries were opening all across France, each one striving to produce something deliciously innovative in their field.

The French passion for charcuterie was fueled by an extremely competitive market that lead to the creation of a wide array of new meat products, such as various types of sausages, pâtés, terrines, rillettes and countless other cured products. Soon these charcuterie practices spread throughout Europe and were interpreted by other cultures, giving us modern-day favorites such as the iconic Italian Genoa Salami and the bold-flavored German Currywurst.

Understanding the history of charcuterie is important to properly appreciate what is taking place in our own backyard. I wanted to find out more about the rapidly expanding popularity of the charcuterie scene, so I sought out the help of two local chefs who are both well known for their production and use of charcuterie.

Olivier Gaupin is the ExChef Olivier Gaupinecutive Chef of Saltwood, the highly anticipated restaurant that opened this spring in the Loews Hotel Atlanta. Chef Olivier is originally from Orleans, France, and he earned his culinary degree from France’s esteemed CFA Charles Peguy School. He is also one of four chefs in Georgia who can claim the title of Maitre Cuisinier de France, one of the highest honors a chef can achieve. These Master Chefs, which include many of the world’s top toques, vow to preserve, advance and perpetuate the tradition of great French cuisine.

Chef Gauipin’s first experiences with charcuterie began as a child in France where he would help his mother craft delicious pâtés and terrines in their family’s kitchen.

“Charcuterie is a part of everyday life in France,” says Gaupin, “It has been part of the culture for hundreds of years. Every local market has a section dedicated to charcuterie, and it is eaten on a daily basis. Handcrafted charcuterie and cheeses – there is nothing better than that. ”

At Saltwood in Midtown Atlanta, Gaupin crafted the menu around the concept of small, shareable plates that highlight local Georgia meats and produce using classic European techniques. Saltwood’s menu is described as charcuterie-driven and will feature both housemade charcuterie and products from other local chefs.

“Charcuterie is such a creative element, everyone does something different. We will be making items such as pâtés, foie gras, terrines and sausages all in house, but we will also use other local products from places such as The Spotted Trotter and Benton’s,” he says. “I really respect the hard work of other local chefs, and that is why I will showcase their charcuterie on our menu as well.”

The restaurant contains a stunning white marble charcuterie bar that is fully equipped with a beautiful manual prosciutto slicer. This one-of-a-kind bar will create an informative and visually intriguing experience for the guest. Saltwood’s versatile floor plan will offer many different dining experiences depending on the guests needs, from a quick lunch with friends to a large party in their private event space.

Located just a few minutes south of Midtown is the historic Old Fourth Ward district. This culture-rich area will be home to one of Atlanta’s most anticipated new restaurants, an establishment that is years in the making, Staplehouse. I had the pleasure to sit down with Staplehouse’s Executive Chef Ryan Smith to speak about the intriguing process of new restaurant menu development. Ryan Smith is well known in Atlanta’s culinary scene for his work as Executive Chef of Empire State South and his knowledge of all things charcuterie.

Ryan Smith  Chef Smith first experienced charcuterie more than 10 years ago while residing in Ithaca, N.Y., where he attended The Culinary Institute of America. He would fire up the Kitchen-Aid and craft different terrines and pâtés in his apartment, experimenting with new ideas and techniques. “There was a lot to learn,” he recalls. “School only taught the basics of charcuterie. I had to learn by trial and error.” Over the years, Smith’s passion and dedication to creating new cuisine has not changed, although today, diners are much more open to trying new foods than even a decade ago.

“Atlanta’s culinary scene is providing us with the right clientele to test the limits of charcuterie,” Smith says. “Staplehouse will provide the perfect venue to present these new ideas in a neighborhood setting.”

Staplehouse’s menu will take a refined approach to the use of charcuterie, not merely displaying different meats on their own but incorporating them in creative new ways. Smith’s experiences as Pastry Chef of Empire State South has inspired him to craft English-style meat pies using local and housemade charcuterie to create a modern twist on the traditional dish. Other menu items include the highly anticipated double-skinned crispy buffalo wings and many other elegant twists on modern favorites.

“Working with charcuterie is a difficult and time-consuming process, but that is why it is so rewarding,” he says. “Slicing into a country ham that has been aged for two years and finally being able to taste the complex flavor you created makes it all worth it.”

With restaurants such as Saltwood and Staplehouse opening their doors all around the city, it is no wonder Atlanta’s culinary scene is continuing to thrive. These two establishments are revolutionizing charcuterie by taking a step back to embrace an ancient tradition that has become the newest trend in farm-to-table dining. Atlanta’s charcuterie scene is still a relatively new concept and I look forward to seeing what Atlanta best chefs have in store for the resurrection of charcuterie.

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