Coppa. Basquese. Prosciutto Culatello. Fleur de Sel caramels. And a wedge of fudgy cake. It’s nearly poetry, isn’t it? Yes, and it’s also the contents of a bag I received as a gift recently. A fragrant, intoxicating, magical gift. I pulled out the butcher-paper wrapped packages of charcuterie and pressed them to my nose, inhaling deeply as my friend Rob explained that he had picked up this treasure trove at a nearby store called Picnic, and there were little signs with information about the provenance of the food items, so he thought the meat would be within my comfort zone for ethical farming practices. I could have cried just a little right then, cradling the meat in my arms as the utter sweetness and thoughtfulness of the whole thing sunk in.
I was filled with a primitive urge to tear the packages open with my teeth and bolt the contents like a hungry wolf after the kill, scattering shreds of waxed paper. I resisted however. I wanted to wait, get some bread and cheese for sandwiches, to do this right.
Later, when I arrived at Michael’s place with the goods, he also took a deep sniff and smiled. “This takes me back,” was all he said, but I knew what he meant. Last summer, we spent two weeks travelling through Spain. When we first arrived in Barcelona, punch-drunk from jet lag, we sat down at an outdoor café in a sunny square and ordered a plate of assorted meats and manchego cheese. And then we ate salty, delicate, melt-in-your-mouth cured pork at least once a day for the rest of that trip.
We had thin-sliced, salty jamon in outdoor restaurants. We ate a memorable racion of heaped-up meats, cheese, and a few rough-torn hunks of bread served on a wooden platter at a street festival in Pamplona. And bocadillos (baguette sandwiches) stuffed with different combinations of meats, purchased from vendors or made ourselves, for picnics or on trains or just to fortify ourselves until the restaurants opened up for dinner at 9:00 pm. The smell of that bag stirred a deep sense-memory that included red wine, sunshine, street performers, the hot ancient Roman stones of Toledo, the dust and sweat and adrenaline of Pamplona, the gritty salt tang of the Costa del Sol, and the Rock of Gibraltar appearing on the horizon.
We opened the packages to reveal the meats, sliced tissue paper-thin and stacked on waxed paper. Deep marbled red, purple, and translucent pink, we peeled the meats from their papers like leaves of a precious papyrus manuscript. Once the cheese and bread were sliced, we couldn’t bear to turn that meat into sandwiches. We laid it all out on plates, to sample at will until our fingers and lips were sheened with fat. We were full beyond belief, fat and happy but still nibbling, unable to stop. The flavors of the meats exploded in the mouth, the fat so delicate that it melted without chewing. And when we couldn’t eat anymore, we ate the cake.
I had to see for myself, so I took a little field trip the other day. Picnic is a wonderful store–a den of delights, with walls of wine, tables stacked with truffles and condiments, and a cold case of meats and cheeses. I ordered the Charcuterie Plate to go, and enjoyed myself browsing while the meat was cut to order. Picnic isn’t a store for when one is in a hurry, but rather for a a place for peaceful anticipatory contemplation as one’s order is lovingly assembled.
Salame feline, sopressata, basquese, a chunk of pate. Also included were some mustard, cornichons, pickled onion, and several slices of baguette. A feast. And like all of the finest feasts it was simple, elemental, and best shared with loved ones.