Culinary School Confidential: Level 4 - Charcuterie Buffet


In addition to Family Meal, the other half of Level 4 is dedicated to Buffet. As a group, students create two higher end buffets, the first of which is a Charcuterie Buffet.

It all began with a pig -- well, a half pig. On the first day of this section a half pig was brought into class and we got right to work breaking that piggy down, from head to tail. With help from our chef, we each took a turn using a hacksaw, cleaver, and all the tools of butchery. 

I've now done things to a pig that never even crossed my mind to think that I'd ever do.

(Warning, this post is not for the squeamish.)

Goes to show you really can get used to anything

About thirty seconds before this pic was taken, I was picking the pig's nose. I was trying to hold down the pig's head so Chef could saw through it and he told me to put my fingers in its nose to help keep it stable. Holding down the ears turned out to be the most effective route.

As gross as that might sound, my buddy Julia got the ickiest jobs. I'm not sure I could have gouged the pig's eye out without retching.


That said, I did pick through it's brains to get the meat for the headcheese -- which tasted better than you might think. I was surprised.


Head Cheese

After we picked the pig apart, we got down to the business of turning the meat into sausages, salamis, terrines, and all kinds of good stuff. I actually really enjoyed making sausages and would like to do more of it in the future. It's really not all that complicated. Really, all that's involved is grinding the meat, mixing in spices, and then getting the hang of stuffing it into casings. The main things to worry about are keeping the meat and equipment really, really cold to avoiding smearing (melted fat can cause many problems in texture in a finished sausage), and being extremely precise in measuring curing agents like nitrates, nitrites, and pink salt, if they are being used. This is one area in which you need to follow a recipe EXACTLY.


Even though our week was very pig centric, we didn't just serve pork charcuterie, there were terrines and pates made from everything from foie gras to seafood, plus condiments to pair with it all.

Terrines and Pates

Scallop Mousseline with Black Truffles and Wild Salmon
Scallop Mousseline with Black Truffles and Wild Salmon

Roasted and Grilled Vegetable Terrine
Roasted and Grilled Vegetable Terrine

Once we'd put everything out on the pretty display we'd created by masking our normally utilitarian workstation, I think we all felt a little swell of pride. There was more than one sigh of admiration from amongst ourselves and quite a few happy shrieks; "it's so pretty!"

Our Charcuterie Buffet

You would have never known that such a lovely, refined buffet began with all of that guts and gore.


I've always been really squeamish around blood and disease. I have literally passed out multiple times throughout my life when someone so much as discussed a medical ailment. I once watched a play in which the main character was epileptic and acted out a seizure, and I blacked out right along with him. 

I think my historical inability to handle blood, guts, and disease gave me a sort of macabre fascination with my ability to handle this section. If you saw me within this period of time, chances are I showed you my butchery pictures or told you about it in detail. Greg shooed me away and rolled his eyes at me many times in the last few weeks. I waved them at a couple of friends I hadn't seen in ages within minutes of seeing them. Thankfully they aren't a squeamish pair, but they did comment that this was a bit different than the pet or baby pictures others might wave around.

I was starting to think I'd developed a thicker skin for this kind of stuff. Then not too long ago, someone close was telling Greg and me about a medical condition and once again -- quite embarrassingly -- I nearly went down.

So, if I managed to convince you in this post-- as I almost convinced myself -- that I'm a butchering badass, rest assured that I am definitely not.

For those of you who want to see all of the guts and gore, here's the slideshow:


If you're interested in making your own sausage at home, if found this useful site.


  1. Ack, a freaking horror show. The intro shot just looks like meat until you notice the leg and its similar complexion to the human arm patting it. Then the cracked open, scooped out head! The severed eye! Blargle *shivers*

  2. At least you were able to come up with a delicious buffet. Never mind that it all started with the gory butchering.

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