WHY DO WE MAKE VEGAN CHARCUTERIE?
It’s because we believe in removing animals from the food chain. Because we believe that food is so much more than one common base ingredient. Food is tradition, history, and technique. It’s flavors and textures, regional influences and personal touches. It’s the gradual shift from things done out of necessity, to things done with intent for deliciousness.
We specifically wanted to study, honor, and be inspired by the famous cured meats of Southern Europe. Charcuterie, salami, sausage… all are European words that have cemented their place in the English language. What can the origins of these terms teach us? Charcuterie is a French word that basically breaks down to mean “cooked flesh”. Salami comes from the Latin word salumen- a mixture of salted meats. The word sausage has roots in the Latin salsus-“salted”. All of these items and so many more are part of the massive body of work that is humans engaging in food preservation- a body of work that stretches back as far as humans have been eating food… techniques that we used for centuries until the advent of modern refrigeration. Especially in Southern Europe’s warmer temperatures, finding ways to keep quick spoiling foods lasting longer was paramount, and the centuries of techniques plus the bold flavors used are iconic.
It’s also important to remember that for most, these foods were not necessarily fancy- historical Europeans were not sitting around their version of a pricey wine bar charcuterie board- they were carefully preserving the small amounts of meats and vegetables that they had, to last through long winters and lean times. Charcuterie flourished in peasant areas, where using the entire animal was an unspoken law, with nothing going to waste.
While it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when the first types of salami as we know them were first created, they have found evidence of similar fermented products as far back as 2000 years ago, during the time of the Roman Empire. Evidence of ancient sausages dates back even further- 2500 years ago in China, 3000 years ago in Turkey, and even more than 4000 years ago in Sumeria/Mesopotamia. So even as Renegade has been especially inspired by the preservation techniques and flavors of Southern Europe, these techniques were by no means limited to these regions, and have been found to have been used in different regions around the world. Here are the three main techniques you’ll hear us speak of again and again, which were often used in combination with one or both of the others at a time.
Curing: A number of processes aimed at preserving food by drawing out the moisture. While we usually think of using salts to cure items, dehydration (often by the sun!) is technically the oldest form of food curing.
Smoking: While also used for the means of flavoring or browning, smoking is also a form of curing or preserving food… one used since antiquity when people realized that the smoke from fires helped speed the preservation process, while also imparting lovely flavors.
Fermentation: Aside from making beer, wine, and so many other buzz-inducing beverages, fermentation for food preservation is the process of adding or encouraging the growth of beneficial microorganisms, in order to limit the growth of malicious ones that might cause food spoilage or sickness.
Over time, flavors that were originally only a byproduct of these preservation processes—salty, smoky, tangy, umami-rich flavors, came to be desired on their own—hence we still enjoy charcuterie, kimchi, pickles, smoked salmon, and so many other delicious items that came about as a result of food preservation techniques. And here we find ourselves at Renegade… honoring and exploring these time honored techniques, but without the animals.
While today, dozens of different types of sausages known as chorizo can be found throughout Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and even parts of Asia; the first chorizo style sausages can be traced back to the Iberian Peninsula- Spain and Portugal. A fermented and cured sausage, Iberians robustly flavored their pork chorizos with garlic and smoky pimenton which also gave chorizo the distinctive red hue.
The spice that Spain refers to as pimenton is their world famous version of paprika. Paprika is made from dried and ground peppers in the Capsicum annuum family, which can include bell peppers, jalapeños, poblano, aleppo, sweet, and cayenne peppers. The basic paprika that most have in their spice drawer tends to be the mild, “sweet” version of paprika, a staple of Eastern European cuisine, with many types originating from Hungary. Spanish pimenton, however, is made from peppers that are first smoked before being dried and ground, which leads to a deeper, fuller, and (obviously) smokier flavor. Because of the variety of peppers that can be used, paprikas can have spiciness levels across the board - in Spain they can be classified as mild (pimentón dulce), mildly spicy (pimentón agridulce) or spicy (pimentón picante). With the dozens of local chorizos across Spain and Portugal today, it’s hard to imagine how they were non existent (as we know them today) prior to the mid 1500s- as all of Europe was paprika-less, as all pepper varieties had yet to arrive from their original home in North America yet!
Tuscany is a region in central Italy known for its beauty of all sorts. The region and its main city Florence are known as the centers of the Italian Renaissance art, and all the associated art and architecture. Also known for stunning, rolling landscapes, Tuscany in fact is more than ⅔ covered by rolling hills used for agriculture. One of the more stunning views that can be found are the enormous fields blanketed in yellow— thousands and thousands of tiny yellow fennel flowers laden with golden pollen.
While dozens of types of salami and cured meats are found in Tuscany, the most well known of all, and most representative of Tuscany, is the Finnochiona. Named for "finocchio", or fennel, they think Finocchiona originated in the Renaissance, or possibly even earlier, during the Late Middle Ages. The use of fennel was an alternative to pepper (a key ingredient of the standard salami), which was very expensive at the time, while fennel grew wild and abundant in the Tuscan countryside.
In fact, eating delicious salami (with or without the meat!) may help you enjoy things around you more—they say that finocchiona was regularly offered by the winemakers of the Chianti area to their customers… but not only because the finocchiona was delicious. Fennel is rich in menthol (which has anesthetic qualities), and as the story goes, winemakers loved to serve the fennel-laden salami as an accompaniment in order to mask the taste of their lower quality wines.
Our third inspiration was discovered in Calabria, Italy. If you remember your school age geography references, Calabria is the “toe” of the boot that is Italy. This Southern Italian region is famous for its spicy and robust cuisine, emphasizing powerful ingredients like garlic, sun-dried tomatoes and red-hot chili peppers. Because of Calabria’s hot and humid climate, Calabrians especially have made an art of food preservation. Oiling, salting, curing, curing and smoking have come to define much of Southern Italian cuisine.
Soppressata di Calabria is one of many types of soppressata produced throughout Italy, but this is the only one with the protected DOC designation. Traditionally, sopressata is smoked and pressed during the curing process, and this pressing is what some believe leads to the name- the Italian verb soppressare, which means, "to press" or "to tighten". In fact, some traditional soppressata come in an irregular and slightly flattened shape from the process putting it under a weight during the phase of drying.
Along with the traditional flavorings of salt, garlic, and red wine, there are three main types of soppressata in Calabria, one that is full of black peppercorns, and also varieties with sweeter red peppers, and a spicy version as well. Our smoky soppressata is a riff on the first type, and we love how the black pepper and smoke play off each other.
We’ve spent years studying and perfecting these techniques, and we’re honored if you’ve given us a try. The world is changing in so many ways but we’re preserving the traditions and techniques, because they are the important part. Just as so many of us now have a desire to care for each other, and for the planet… so why not join us in enjoying these flavors? They are still as delicious, and you can have a rich experience full of tradition, even with plant based salami