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Food Porn: Meet the meat board

The charcuterie board at Root: beef tendon and face bacon, anyone?

The charcuterie board at Root: beef tendon and face bacon, anyone?

I suppose it was some time in the middle of the last decade, or somewhere thereabouts, that charcuterie boards started popping up on American restaurant menus.  They're nothing new to the world, of course -- the art and science of curing various meats is about as old as human meat consumption itself -- but it's certainly nothing I remember having in restaurants growing up in New Orleans. Or  such a thing that even existed.  If it had, I know that the ten-year-old me would have been at that board like a moth to a flame.  A salty, meaty, delicious flame.

The idea of a humble meat board is brilliant in its simplicity.  Take a few cured meats, add some crackers or rustic bread, a bit of mustard, and a variety of pickles (the acidity helps counter-balance the salt), and, as the French say, voila!  You have the perfect start to a meal, a hearty snack, or a beautiful picnic array.  It's also fun for the cooks who enjoy geeking out on the delicate practice of the curing process.  There are cured meats and then there's charcuterie.  Which is to say that there's a world of difference between Oscar Mayer baloney and lovingly handmade mortadella.

Once they've gotten a hold a few basic cures, a lot of chefs like to try their hand at others, with the aim to one day either perfect the essentials, or take their curing in bold, adventurous new directions.  While one cook might spend years honing his recipe for classics like prosciutto, bresaola, speck, cappicola, or saucisson sec, another might take the process and put a novel, personal spin on it.  Take Philip Lopez at Root, for instance.  While his meat board changes regularly, it always includes adventurous cuts and cures like face bacon and beef tendon, as well as some house pickles, lavash crackers, and blueberry mustard artfully squeezed from a paint tube.  It's a must every time I have a meal there.  Well, that and the foie gras cotton candy.  If anyone has a penchant for the whimsical, it's Chef Lopez.

On the other side of things is Chef Isaac Toups, of Toups' Meatery, whose mighty meat board has a definitive Cajun influence.  Like Lopez, Toups includes the essential mustards, pickles, and delicately sliced cured meats, but to these he also adds boudin balls, candied pork belly rillons, meatballs, fried jalapeños stuffed with cheese, deviled eggs topped with caviar, and more.

The Cajun-inflected charcuterie board at Toups' Meatery.

The Cajun-inflected charcuterie board at Toups' Meatery.

Both plates are fantastic, each in its unique way.  When you think about it, the charcuterie board, perhaps more than any other menu item, is a wonderful example of a chef's personality, his history, passions and creativity, as well as a very clear example of his technique, execution, and artful plating.  Also, it's usually pretty tasty.  And that's the most important part, isn't it?

And you?  What's your favorite meat on the meat board?


Native New Orleans food writer Scott Gold, author of The Shameless Carnivore, has written for Gourmet, The New Orleans Advocate, Gambit, ThrillistEdible Brooklyn, Tasting Table, The Faster Times, and other publications. His Food Porn Friday column for NolaVie offers a weekly mouth-watering photo essay designed to start culinary conversations in the Big Easy. Find him on Twitter @scottgold.