Caractere de Cochon: Ham & Charcuterie Shop in Paris

Caractère de Cochon

Many times, I’ve walked by Caractère de Cochon, a slip of a place on a side street, just next to the earnest Marché des Enfants Rouges, in the ever-growing hipper upper haut (upper) Marais, and wondered about the cave à jambons jam-packed with hams of all sorts hanging in the window and from the rafters. But I’ve never stepped inside.

Caractère de Cochon

But recently I was talking to my friend Jennifer, and she’d mentioned the place in glowing terms, letting me know it was, indeed, an amazing emporium dedicated to all-things-ham. So we made a date to go. However as (my) luck would have it, of course, on the day of our date, it was closed for a fermeture exceptionelle.

Caractère de Cochon

Which, in my case, seems to happen a lot.

fermeture exceptionelle

However, we were persistent and made another date to meet up, because it just sounded too good to miss.

Caractère de Cochon

Fortunately a few days later the shop was wide open and inside, Solo, the happy owner of Caractère de Cochon, was presiding over his shop and manning the slicer, helping customers who were coming in and out of his tiny shop, fulfilling their charcuterie needs.

Caractère de Cochon

It’s hard to know where to begin when describing the shop, his Solo (who was originally from Madagascar, and moved to France about thirty years ago to do his studies), realized that other countries – namely Spain and Italy – had shops that specialized and highlighted all the regional hams, but there weren’t any in Paris. So he decided to do something about it.

(Another fun fact is that caractère du cochon in French translates to “pig’s character,” and refers to someone who is a bad person. Which, oddly, is the complete opposite of the effervescent Solo.)

Caractère de Cochon

In his shop, Solo has everything from jambon de Paris, the true boiled ham that’s the only one still made in Paris (and is excellent, and will make you swear off other boiled hams), to hams flavored with mirabelles, tiny yellow plums that are boiled in the bouillon with the hams, which I was skeptical about, until I tasted the lovely jam-like flavor it gave the ham. Then I gave it a thumbs up.

There are also hams flavored with black chanterelle mushrooms, rosemary, and spicy-red piment d’Espelette. You can have sandwiches made from any of these hams, as well as Rostello, and truffle flavored mortadella (bologna) from – appropriately – Bologna.

Caractère de Cochon

There are reduced-fat sausages (maigre), for those watching their ligne. And for those not giving a hoot, you’ll find things like guanciale (cured pork cheek), at the other end of the spectrum.

Caractère de Cochon

Spain and Italy are well-represented, including legs of bellotta ham, aged for four years, and tightly coiled sausages from Italy flavored with bay leaf, with a pig’s ear rolled up inside.

Caractère de Cochon

Solo gave us a taste of fitonu, ripped from a slender, wrinkly Corsican sausage that is sort of an upscale version of jerky, which is chewy and musky, and – yup -delicious. But when I asked him what his favorite ham in the shop was, he said quickly, “L’Ibaïona,” a Basque ham aged for 36 months made from pigs that gorge on chestnuts and chestnut flour.

He gave us a taste, and I could see why he liked it. But I was also curious about the terrines. One was baked in hay, then doused with Cognac, lit on fire, and smoked.

Caractère de Cochon

Another was a terrine of beef cheeks and tails, which tasted like the world’s best brisket, compacted into a rectangular loaf. That’s the one I think I’m going to be coming back for the most.

Caractère de Cochon

But you don’t need to be a connoisseur of all-things charcuterie to enjoy the shop. One of the first things that made me fall in love with France, and French cuisine, was a simple sandwich; le jambon-beurre — a baguette sliced in half, generously buttered, with good ham tucked between.

Caractère de Cochon

Like a number of things, an honest jambon-beurre, made on an especially good baguette, with the true jambon de Paris slapped inside, is harder and harder to find around town. And Caractère du Cochon is the go-to place to get one in Paris, as far as I’m concerned.

Caractère de Cochon

For those looking for the ultimate ham sandwich (at least when it comes to length), there is Le Rompi, a long, slender sandwich that can be made to order, with ham or beef, along with some of the lovely condiments that the shop carries. The pea-like marinated tomatoes they use are so good, I swore they were from Sicily. But the other clerk in the shop, who gave us taste by giving us each one on a spoon, said they were from the south of France. The petit orb was like an explosion of an entire pound of juicy, sun-ripened tomatoes, packed by nature, into one itty-bitty bite. There are a few other options, including pickled cornichons, or whatever strikes their (or your) fancy, that you can customize your sandwich with.

Caractère de Cochon

Another French speciality they carry is andouille, a rolled up sausage made of a bunch of stuff that you don’t really want to know about. (FYI: The Wikipedia entry says that its cousin is “…stronger in scent when the colon is used.”) I can’t say I’m a fan, and think it’s something that you need to be born and raised in France to enjoy. However if you want to give it a try, I’d imagine the version sold here is the best of the lot. (I’ll take your word on it, if it’s good or not.)

Caractère de Cochon

While we were there, it was Fashion Week in Paris, and local fashionistas were stopping in and hastily picking up a half (€19) or whole (€39) sandwich, which Solo said people serve for appetizers. A few of the patrons were obviously very important, because one woman was wielding her overly large designer handbag as a weapon in the small space and nearly took my eye out with it, which didn’t seem to bother her when I pointed it out. (People sure are polite here. I was just in New York and you’d get your ass kicked if you did that to someone there.)

Caractère de Cochon

When Jennifer kindly offered another shopper a piece of the “snowball” sausage we were tasting (just above), slices of a marvelously rich ball of meat cooked with truffles then rolled in Parmesan, she was brushed away without even so much as a “Non, merci.” Hrrmph.

Caractère de Cochon

Fashion week patrons aside, I was glad that Jennifer took time from her cheese-tour guide duties (and to risk the wrath of fashionistas) in Paris and Normandy, to give me a look-see in this terrific shop. Thanks!

Caractère de Cochon

Just before leaving, I asked what the basket of saucissons oubliés (forgotten sausages) were. And true to the name, they are sausages that people bought, but forgot at the shop.

Solo has done an amazing job of curating and presenting the best hams and cured meats from across France, as well as our neighbors in Italy and Spain. Even if you’re not in the Marais, it’s worth crossing town to visit his shop where you can sample the best of France in this well-stocked cave à jambon. Just make sure that you keep an eye out for those designer handbags in the haut Marais — and don’t forget your sausages!

Caractère de Cochon

Caractère de Cochon
42, rue Charlot (3rd)
Tél: 01 42 74 79 45

Caractère de Cochon


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37 comments

  • Anthony Z. Dek
    September 29, 2014 2:55pm

    Very interesting. Shop described is similar to one my family shopped at when I growing up in Buffalo, New York

  • September 29, 2014 3:27pm

    I would work there for free.

    And they’d lose money on the deal.

  • Jessica
    September 29, 2014 3:58pm

    So “fermeture exceptionelle” can be pretty much anything?

    All the charcuterie looks absolutely amazing :)

    • September 29, 2014 4:03pm
      David Lebovitz

      I think it defies precise translation, but it’s used with something is unexpectedly closed for whatever reason. It happens quite a bit to me (so much so, that it’s become a joke between me and my partner…) – and Solo said that day, he wasn’t feeling well, so he closed the shop. (Because of costs, small shops and businesses can’t always afford to hire people so if you can’t make it to work, then you can’t open up.)

      However my bank has had a number of fermetures exceptionelles, which is a little disconcerting when there’s a handwritten note on the door of your bank (!) tell you that they’re closed for an “exceptional” reason.

  • Claire
    September 29, 2014 4:08pm

    As a fan of all things pork, I was so disappointed in May when I went to this store and was met by a “fermentuers exceptionelles” note. At least, through your words and pictures, I can see that it is everything I thought it would be and more! Ah, maybe next May.

  • Didier
    September 29, 2014 4:30pm

    You’re welcome!
    “I think you have to be truly French to like them.” Ha!! To say the least… :)

  • Stephanie
    September 29, 2014 4:43pm

    I LOVE your pictures of ‘fermeture exceptionnelle’ signs!!! I started taking pictures of the signs a while ago as well, but I haven’t figured out what to do with them yet :)

  • Sara
    September 29, 2014 4:53pm

    I am swooning. If only You’d written this sooner–I was in Paris for a week in July staying nearby. Next time. And now I’m off to Seattle’s Salumi to feed the craving!

  • Linda
    September 29, 2014 4:55pm

    Wonderful

  • Catherine
    September 29, 2014 5:14pm

    Were you able to sit down or does one have to eat elsewhere?

  • ron shapley(nyC)
    September 29, 2014 5:15pm

    People sure are polite here. I was just in New York and you’d get your ass kicked if you did that to someone there.)….. LOVE LOVE LOVE !!!! THANKS DAVID..

  • Nancy
    September 29, 2014 5:27pm

    Thanks for this wonderful analysis. Wish I were there!

  • September 29, 2014 5:35pm

    Worse than the occasional fermetures exceptionelles are how all of Paris shuts down between the end of July and the beginning of September! I think I had a list of 14 restaurants I wanted to try and exactly one was open.

    Not surprised that the Fashion Week crowd does not mix well with charcuterie. I would also be crabby if I was around all this lovely fatty charcuterie I could not eat ;)

  • George DuPree
    September 29, 2014 6:00pm

    Concur with your comment re. having a taste (or not) for andouille. You must have to eat it from birth to like it. My wife and I just returned from a two week Tour de France (Paris, Bayeau, and Arles. While in Normandy I made the mistake of ordering a menu which included a medallion of the stuff, which I thought was the Cajun version. It was not. Fortunately it was served with a good mushroom sauce and mashed potatoes, which together, worked well enough for me to be able to say that it was “no bad”, much to my wife’s great amusement.

  • September 29, 2014 6:02pm

    Thanks so much for mentioning that you don’t care for andouille/andouillette! I agree, they are tough to enjoy. French friends say I should just keep trying a little bit each time someone else orders one. Well, that’s how I learned to like pastis – maybe it would work for the sausages?

  • heidipie
    September 29, 2014 6:30pm

    The first time I was in France, we got off the red-eye, got our car and made our way to Dijon, where for my first meal I ordered andouillette, not knowing what it was. Yup, it sure was strong, in every way!

  • September 29, 2014 6:31pm

    It was a fun afternoon and I’m so glad you decided to try the beef terrine. It was incredible! I will definitely be buying a big slice to bring home this week.
    And I’m so glad that fashion week is over. It will be much less dangerous in there! :)

  • September 29, 2014 7:46pm

    The shop looks amazing, but – €40 for a sandwich????? No. Just no. No matter how good, it’s not worth blowing a whole week’s lunch budget on just one sarnie.

  • catherine
    September 29, 2014 7:56pm

    And the tiny shop now filled with the scent of ham used to be my favorite bar in Paris, run by a diminutive white haired lady named Nini who was born and raised in the Marais : if you were lucky she was a bit tipsy and singing songs and telling tales about Occupied Paris……..but it smells much better now as she had a bit white cat, usually asleep on the bar, who perfumed the place.

  • Bebe
    September 29, 2014 8:12pm

    Some years ago I visited that shop with an expat friend who lived in Paris. A regular there, she bought some lovely items for a cocktail party in my honor (she didn’t need much to give her an excuse for a cocktail party!)…

    I will never EVER be French enough or chic enough to eat something that smells and tastes as though it should be flushed. One whiff, one tiny bit, and ew.

    But everything else was beyond wonderful.

  • September 29, 2014 8:19pm

    need to get to Paris……immediately

  • Bebe
    September 29, 2014 8:48pm

    If you like gallows humor, here is a foodie on andouillette and a raft of Comments afterward that will amuse and horrify:

    http://www.thegrubworm.com/2010/12/andouillette-or-the-dish-of-death/

    Some things were not intended to be eaten. At least by humans.

  • September 29, 2014 11:30pm

    Good God, I love the Marais! Always have and that’s before I knew this little shop existed. I’m definitely making a beeline to this charcuterie on my next trip to Paris! thanks for pointing it out!!

  • LWood
    September 30, 2014 4:38am

    I was recently introduced to guanciale (from a Mangalista pig), and now I hear about it everywhere!?!? Those snowballs and terrines also have me drooling. How does one decide? And alas, it would be so disappointing to get home and realize that you’ve forgotten your sausage.

  • Sandra Alexander
    September 30, 2014 5:53am

    Oh, I get it – the 39 euro sandwich isn’t really a sandwich, it’s to be cut up and served in separate portions as finger food in whatever circumstances – right? People here (Sydney) pay A$50 to $60 for a party platter of sushi, for a similar purpose. Not so scary then! Thanks for a great post, shop is on the list for Next Time.

    • September 30, 2014 1:13pm
      David Lebovitz

      The long sandwiches are about 4 feet (1,2m) long and yes, are meant to be cut into small portions for cocktail parties. A normal jambon-beurre sandwich here is around €5-6.

  • Lynn
    September 30, 2014 2:26pm

    I had the good fortune to rent an apartment in the neighborhood. I understood from Solo the name of the shop translates as “pig-headed”.

  • Mary
    October 1, 2014 11:37am

    I just read the blog comments from Bebe, concerning Andouillete sausages….and some are just hysterical! But there were other commenters saying how delicious it was, so I guess it just depends on the recipe or perhaps how the pig was raised. They say to avoid any with a strong odor….if a waiter warns you when you order it, take him seriously!

  • Emma
    October 1, 2014 11:40am

    So, as a French woman I discover that andouille and andouillette are really really strong…
    Well I knew it was no neutral food, but I wouldn’t have imagined such a strong feeling.

    On the other hand, 6 € for ham sandwich, even great ham… where are we going ?

  • Susan C
    October 1, 2014 9:04pm

    Great photos and narrative, as per usual. :-) Thanks for sharing your windows into the world of Paris.

    There is a chapter in Ann Mah’s book, ‘Mastering the Art of French Eating,’ all about andouillette – its history and the process of making it, and working up the nerve to try it. Who knew reading all about sausage could be so interesting?

  • October 1, 2014 10:25pm

    I would eat my weight in cheese and meat if I lived anywhere near there.

  • October 1, 2014 10:42pm

    Merci beaucoup David ! My husband and I are leaving Paris tomorrow after spending a month in France. We made this sandwich our last promenade and our last repas en France. Le Monsieur dans ce magasin était si gentil, et le sandwich était délicieux :-)

  • October 2, 2014 12:37am

    We were supposed to visit Paris and surrounding countryside this summer, but my Mom’s broken foot and my Father’s broken back (literally – they had to implant steel rods) have prevented our tour. Crossing our fingers for next summer – I can’t wait to have some good cured meats and sausages!
    Thank you for sharing your amazing photos!

  • Brett
    October 3, 2014 1:23am

    My wife, who is not French, and I were on our honeymoon in Brittany, and she ordered a crepe with andouille, thinking it was referring to something similar to the cajun sausage found here in the states. As soon as her plate came out, I realized what it was, but not wanting to ruin the meal, I kept my mouth shut. She enjoyed her meal, but kept exclaiming how grassy the sausage was. Imagine her surprise when I told her after the meal what it was. She was mad at me, but still admits it was not all that bad.

  • October 3, 2014 6:07pm

    How can I send you a copy of our recent cookbook novel for your library?
    We visited your favorite utensil store in Paris; it was a hoot and we found items we needed. We did pass on the caldrons in the basement
    Cheers,
    Fritz Knecht

  • October 12, 2014 6:03pm

    David – what a lovely post. I think I’ve found the place I want to die and go to when the time is right!

  • Ruthie
    October 19, 2014 2:52am

    We went on a Paris by Mouth food tour of Marias last week and one of the stops was Caractère de Cochon. Solo was there and was a fabulous host! we got a selection of hams and of course the famous snow ball. It was a treat to taste the wonderful hams and chat with Solo. He mentioned while we in there that David just reviewed the shop and he was glowing while he told us, he was a proud Papa!