Shareable plates bring people closer together. Diners deepen connections as they orbit around a platter of food. For Howard Kirk, chef and owner of 13 Gypsies, charcuterie is the quintessential example of a communal dish. Memories of grazing on cured meats and breads in his family’s kitchen in Andalucía, Spain inspired him to create his own charcuterie at his restaurant in Jacksonville’s Riverside neighborhood. Kirk guides us toward bringing those influences in-house, and creating an authentic, crowd-pleasing dish, perfect for entertaining.

Pictured above:  Cured Pork Collar, House Cured Bacon and Nduja Sausage. Chef Howard Kirk, owner of 13 Gypsies specializes in making house cured charcuterie at his Riverside restaurant.

Charcuterie is the perfect soiree emulsifier. “There’s a certain intimacy and closeness that people feel when they gather around a plate with charcuterie,” Kirk says.

Spanish-style charcuterie lets the cured meats shine on their own with pieces of baguette interspersed. Traditional Spanish charcuterie doesn’t require accoutrements like cheese or honey. The rich flavors of the meats that develop after curing should be enjoyed singularly. “You don’t need to dress it up,” Kirk says.

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(Left to right) Bresaola (house cured beef), House Cured Bacon and Cured Pork Collar garnished with house made pickled onions, jalapeño mustard, Japanese plum jam, ricotta cheese and pickled cucumbers with peasant bread.

He suggests integrating meats with variation in fat content and lithe and dense textures — prosciutto, Serrano ham, pepperoni, salami and chorizo fit the bill. Toss in some pickled onions or pickled cucumbers to splice acidity into the rich, meaty flavors.

“There’s a certain intimacy and closeness that people feel when they gather around a plate with charcuterie.”
Chef Howard Kirk

Weeks of effort preclude the development of charcuterie, a word derived from the French’s char and cuit— literally meaning cooked flesh. The term became affiliated with 15th century French shops that offered products from pig and offal. The process dates back thousands of years, to man’s earliest discovery of salting, smoking and cooking to preserve meat. Charcuterie has evolved to an artisanal pursuit for those who value the culinary traditions of ancestors past. Think animal butchery and canning.

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Detail of paper thin slices of Bresaola or House Cured Beef.

Kirk takes his own craft seriously; 13 Gypsies, Kirk’s intimate Mediterranean-influenced eatery is where customers can experience the artisanal meats he has perfected. He makes small batches of smoked pork loin ham, pastrami and nduja (spreadable chorizo), and other delicious meats in a curing chamber the size of a wine cooler in the back of his small restaurant. He also experiments with technique in his curing lab at home, because creating charcuterie is a science. “You need to know everything about the curing environment to achieve a good, safe product, from humidity levels to air flow. It’s very scientific,” Kirk says.

DIY CHARCUTERIE

We asked Chef Howard Kirk to suggest some ideas for entertaining at home. Warning: Your mouth is about to start watering.

Charcuterie Board

Pickled onions or pickled cucumbers

Pickled peppers

Olives

Prosciutto

Salami or pepperoni

Baguette

Cheese Board

Honey

Roasted Marcona almonds

Quince

Any kind of fruit jam

Baguette

Soft cheese (burrata, blue cheese or gorgonzola)

Semi-firm cheese (taleggio)

Hard cheese (manchego)

But for all that technical work, the finished product is fantastically rustic. A beautiful spread of charcuterie paired with a gorgeous vintage of wine is simply classic entertaining at its finest.

“There’s such beauty and elegance to charcuterie,” Kirk says.