WHAT IS CHARCUTERIE?
Charcuterie (from chair 'flesh' and cuit 'cooked') is the branch of cooking devoted to prepared meat products such as bacon, ham, sausage, terrines, galantines, pâtés, and confit, primarily from pork. Charcuterie is part of the garde manger chef's repertoire. Originally intended as a way to preserve meats before the advent of refrigeration, they are prepared today for their flavors derived from the preservation processes.
THINGS TO LOOK OUT FOR
If you happen to chance upon that perfect piece of meat with just the right amount of pungency and flavor, I would strongly advise you to find out what the brand or who the manufacturer is. Don't think it's enough to know it's Saucisson Sec. You need to find out exactly who makes it, because if you buy it from someone else, chances are, it's going to taste different, and you will spend the rest of your life wondering "what if".
For the most part, how hard or how soft cured meat is doesn't really matter. But I've found that it does for a particular kind -- that of the French dry salami, or Saucisson Sec. This is my current obsession. The version I used to get back home in the Philippines from the gourmet deli, Santis, is called Saucisson Perche Dry (I read that Le Perche is a region to the west of Paris; I'm assuming that's where the name comes from.) Both of these are part of the same category. Make sure you get the kind that gives under young fingers, without hurting your fingers. I've made the mistake of making myself believe that it's soft enough just so I don't have to go home empty-handed. I've found that the soft ones have that really rich and pungent flavor, while the hard ones just taste salty and flat. So don't listen to the sales people who tell you that they're all the same. Insist on feeling each one so you can choose which ones to get.
I like proscuitto best when it's toughened up a little, which happens when the package is left open for about a day. It's not as delightful to eat when it's newly opened and soft and stretchy.Chorizo Pamplona from La Espanola is the best chorizo I've tasted so far. It depends though, on your preference. There is a hint of tanginess together with the saltiness; I've also been told it smells like pot, so don't eat it around anyone with a sensitive nose. My parents bought some chorizo straight from Pamplona, Spain, and the taste is mild in comparison, and a lot fattier. It can be argued that it's an indication that it's fresher, if such a thing exists for cured meats.
Salami Genoa is a good Italian salami I regularly went back for back when I worked close to a Bristol Farms. The Peppered Salame is one from the Columbus line that's a good buy if you're at Ralph's and like peppered things.
One last note: If the deli is going to be slicing any of the smaller (1" diameter) meats for you (saucisson perche dry), make sure you ask them to slice it "super thin". If you don't say anything, they will slice it the easiest way possible, which means THICK. The reason is because this comes in an intestine-like casing that curves and coils, and is therefore harder to slice. So don't forget to explicitly ask. They will hate you, but it's worth it.