Chef David Bracha makes his way to a freestanding wine cooler located in the dining room of his Design District eatery, Oak Tavern. Nearby, cooks and waiters prepare for the Friday dinner rush. Burners are topped with pans of sautéed mushrooms. Pots are filled to the brim with slow-cooked sauces. In the wait station, servers polish water glasses and turn them upside down.
But Bracha is oblivious. The blue-eyed chef is focused only on the cooler.
He opens the glass door and makes a hand gesture, coaxing me to step in closer. Inside are rolls of salami finocchiona, soppressata, bresaola, and coppa -- all tagged and labeled with names and dates. "Smell that," he says.
I poke my head into the fridge. The pungent, tangy scent of aged sausage envelopes my senses. It's an overwhelming mix of pork meat, fat, and aromatics like fennel, garlic, and black pepper. Bracha's mouth curves into an eager grin. "Wouldn't that make a great salami perfume?" he asks. It's unclear whether he is kidding.
Charcuterie -- the craft of curing, salting, and smoking meats for preservation -- is a practice rooted in history. It originated thousands of years ago with the Chinese and ancient Egyptians, then Greeks and Romans, who studied and perfected the science of preserving meat with salt. Covering animal parts in a dry "cure," they learned, removed moisture from cells. The process stunted bacterial growth and allowed meats to be kept for extended periods of time.
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