Preserving meat through salting, smoking, and cooking are techniques that date back to the origins of human beings. The need to preserve food in order to keep it safe for consumption is what led humans to cook in the first place. Early humans most likely left their raw food over a fire to keep away bugs and other animals, and discovered that it was smoked, hot, more tender and flavorful.
The Romans were the first civilization to regulate the raising, killing and cooking of pork and turn pork butchery into a trade, but charcuterie was made popular in France during the Middle Ages. The word “charcuterie” is derived from the French words for flesh (chair) and cooked (cuit). In 15th century France, guilds regulated the trade and production of cured meats and cooked, salted, and dried fruits.
There were strict codes regulating the proper production of pork products, and the only raw meat allowed to be sold by charcutiers (pork butchers) was un-rendered lard. French charcutiers prepared pates, rillettes, sausages, bacon, trotters and head cheese, and developed preservation methods to make sure the meat would have a longer shelf-life
During this time, the French developed a variety of meatloaves, sausages and cured items that were commonly traded and sold. Charcutiers were skilled in developing ways to season and cook meat while making sure it was still moist and attractive to passersby. As the French began experimenting with different kinds of meat and fowl, charcuterie began to spread to other regions in Europe, which resulted in the “Frankfurter,” salami, and bologna being produced in Germany and Italy.
In the United States, we sometimes fail to recognize products that were inspired by charcuterie-style techniques. Cured and smoked hams and sausages, meatloaf, and other tasty treats all stemmed from the French charcuterie tradition. Today, charcuterie is a delicatessen-style cured meat that is most often served with cheese, bread, and pickled vegetables.