Book Review: Charcuteria - The Soul of Spain

Book Review: Charcuteria - The Soul of Spain

There has been quite a bit of lead up to Jeffrey Weiss's book, Charcuteria - The Soul of Spain, being released, so when I got asked to do a review of the book, I couldn't say no. First off, a bit of background on the current book space pertaining to meat, cooking meat, butchering meat and— of course— curing meat.  Over the past few years it has been absolutely saturated.  Last I counted, there were roughly 50 books or so released in the last 3 years aimed at some aspect of the above-mentioned.  The books are often variations of the same information and, if they focus on curing of any sort, it's usually through an American or Italian lens.  Yes, there are the Marianski books, long considered the must-read for the craft, that aren't Italian or American, but actually rather more Eastern European than anything else.  However, they are really the exception with regards to focus.  Charcuteria is a welcome departure from the standard fare we've come to expect.

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Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 12.53.37 PM

It's immediately clear when beginning the book that it's going to be different.  Weiss takes us through the culture of Spain and the reverence they hold for meat, mainly pork, in the culture.  With an in-depth explanation of the matanza, a cultural ritual around the slaughter and processing of pork, to his explanation of uniquely Spanish cuts the secreto, pluma and presa it's obvious this is going to be a uniquely Spanish point of view on meat and everything around handling it.

Regarding the special cuts, it's been a passion [read: obsession] of mine to really understand how to harvest these cuts correctly.  This is far harder than you may think, as a simple search for how-to's on the removal of these cuts turns up little on the interwebz.  The little it does turn up is often contradictory to other information and just plain ol' confusing. As you might expect, I was quite excited to see that this was going to be covered in the book.  Just one problem though— while it's covered often in the first quarter of the book, it's hardly covered in detail and with very few visuals.  It's hard to really get a sense of how to process these cuts.  It's a significant step forward in understanding them, but with such a uniquely Spanish component of butchery, I was a little let down by its coverage.  This was a sign of a consistent theme in the book; Fantastic text but a lack of supporting and detail images.  The book has some beautiful product photos, some of the best out there, but they aren't really going to help you learn the technique required for some of the preps.  I wish Weiss would dive deeper on things like the cut removal, techniques for handling the leaf lard in UNTO GALLEGO.  

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Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 12.56.14 PM

This is by far my biggest complaint, and hardly makes the book an unworthy buy.  It has a beautiful range of recipes with some of the best photography in a "meat-centric" book I've seen thus far.  The writing is very sound, there are helpful charts and the recipes are clearly written in both metric and standard units.  I especially love the progression of recipes and how Weiss incorporates previously cured products into later dishes.

While the lack of photo detail will make it hard for the beginning hobbyist of butchering and curing,  it's absolutely a must for any fan of Spanish cuisine and food culture.  With beautiful photography, a reverence of the culture and a humble voice, Weiss puts together a solid piece on the Spanish culture of food.