Upgrade Your Charcuterie Board with These Flavorful Cured Beef Products
There's nothing better than starting an intimate dinner party or date night at home with a cheese and charcuterie board. As you taste your way through creamy brie, salty Marcona almonds, and pâté, you may come across some cured beef products. While these products—such as bresaola, soujouk, and cecina—are harder to find than pork-based charcuterie, they're worth seeking out. When you've found the right products, they're undeniably delicious. "Beef, compared to pork, is leaner and tougher, therefore, making it less desirable for charcuterie and requires a higher level of expertise to create an enjoyable product," says Lorenza Pasetti, Master Salumerie of Volpi Foods. Below, two charcuterie experts explain what you should look for when shopping for cured beef products.
Why Is Cured Beef Less Common?
When you think of a charcuterie board, you probably picture chorizo, prosciutto, and ham—all of which are pork products. While beef is an all-American food, you're more likely to find it in the form of burgers and steaks than cured beef. This, in part, has to do with how pork and beef are regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). "In the United States, it's more difficult from a regulatory perspective to make good tasting traditional cured beef products. Due to the pathogens found in beef, charcuterie makers have to go through a lengthy process of curing and fermenting the beef to kill off the pathogens, which ultimately destroys the flavor," explains Charles Wekselbaum, owner of Charlito's Cocina.
Wekselbaum says that high-quality raw beef doesn't contain the pathogens found in cheaper beef, but it's treated the same by the regulatory bodies. However, consumers shouldn't worry about whether or not eating cured beef is safe. "One of the oldest processes in gastronomy is curing meat. It's a completely safe product. Just know your producer and who they're buying from in order to ensure that you're getting a quality product," he adds.
There is also a biological reason why cured pork is more common than cured beef. "Pork has a higher fat content than beef, lending itself to a more palatable, tender taste and texture," says Pasetti. Essentially, it's much easier and faster to create a delicious cured pork product than it is with beef.
Common Cured Beef Products
In comparison to pork-based charcuterie, beef salami is a little more acidic and has an element of smoke to it, says Wekselbaum. Perhaps the most ubiquitous cured beef product is bresaola, an air-dried, salted beef that originated in Italy. Bresaola is made using the eye of round beef cut. It is dry-rubbed with salt and spices such as pepper, nutmeg, and cloves and cured for 21 days, then is stuffed into a casing and air-dried for an additional 90 days. The final product tastes very much like lean beef with a sweet peppery finish.
Other countries all across the world have their own unique cured beef products. Wekselbaum says northern Italy is known for a raw veal sausage, Spain specializes in charcuterie made with a blend of pork and beef, and the Middle East (specifically Armenia) is sujuk, a heavily fermented spicy sausage made from ground beef.