When I first heard about Charcutepalooza, a year-long foray into the “craft of salting, smoking and curing”, I did not hesitate to sign on.

Cathy Barrow and Kim Foster, the brains behind Charcutepalooza, are buddies of mine not just on the internet (to the point that I “dm” them both all the time on twitter), but great friends in the flesh, as well. I’d be a part of any group they dreamed up, no matter how ridiculous.

Charcutepalooza isn’t silly, though. Fun, yes: lots of breast jokes were made on twitter when we took on the first challenge (making prosciutto involved lots of massaging of our duck breasts, you see). But silly, no.

A craft that was “invented” to preserve meat before refrigeration, charcuterie is something that deeply interests me for the following reasons:

  • I’m careful about the meat I eat and make every attempt to eat meat raised in the most natural and humane way possible.
  • If I’m going to eat foods like bacon and sausage, I make sure they are preserved in chemical-free manner.
  • I love learning about traditional foods and food preparation techniques….things that used to be made at home, but aren’t much anymore.

As mentioned above, for our first project, charcutapalooza-ers were tasked with making duck prosciutto. The recipe, from Michael Ruhlman’s book Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing, is simple (I’m pretty sure more complicated ones will come later); the only challenge here was finding a suitable place to hang the salted duck breasts for 8 days (you need a spot that’s 50-60 degrees, with proper humidity levels).

The unfinished section of my basement worked out perfectly: the prosciutto was delicious and I enjoyed it a number of ways, including in this salad with organic baby spinach, local apples, and cashews.

The duck breasts I used were larger than those of the average duck because they came from moulard ducks raised for foie gras. I purchased them from Hudson Valley Foie Gras, a local company which, unlike most foie gras farms, maintains their ducks cage-free.

Baby Spinach Salad with Apple, Cashews and Duck Prosciutto

Serves 2

Ingredients:

*2-3 cups baby spinach
*1 crunchy apple, preferably a Honeycrisp or Fuji, thinly sliced
*1/4 cup raw cashews
*10-12 very thin slices of prosciutto (I used homemade duck prosciutto)
*1 small shallot, minced
*2 tablespoons olive oil
*1 tablespoon rice vinegar
*2 teaspoons pure maple syrup
*sea salt and fresh ground black pepper- to taste

Directions:

1. Toss the salad ingredients in a medium bowl.

2. In a smaller bowl, mix the dressing ingredients (minced shallot, olive oil, rice vinegar and maple syrup) and pour over the salad. Mix well.

3. Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper before serving, if desired.