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The Pate: A Brief History

Updated on October 14, 2011

By nature, it is more challenging to make cold foods delectable compared to hot meals. To do so with success tests just how dexterous a chef can be, whether he or she is just cooking a home dinner, or running a five star restaurant. One significant achievement of cold food production is the pate. The classical French pate has a rich history, and while it may seem foreign to many, the pate and its variations are actually a very familiar and integral dish to many countries.

Thousands of years ago in ancient Greece, Athenian butchers sold pates at the market, along with other meat items (Bode 55). It was probably a way to make more money by utilizing and selling every part of the animals they slaughtered for a living. Whatever the reason for the creation of this meat pie, it has been a charcuterie favorite ever since. Charcuterie comes in a large part from the Middle Ages as a way of preserving meat and fish to last throughout the year (Bode 82). These charcuterie items are typically smoked, brined, or cured (Wiley 619). Around the fifteenth century, pates were a popular choice more for their convenience than their preparation, as they could easily be baked in large numbers using communal ovens (Oliver 93). During the finery of the Renaissance, pates, with other cold charcuterie, were served in the hot summer months (Bode 89). As people began to look at food in a way that was more than just survival techniques, the image of the pate started to shift accordingly, even while retaining its homey appeal to all classes. This is especially true of the French pate.

Marie Antoine Careme, born in 1784, was one of the first and most famous professional chefs in France. He was known for his creative and sometimes extravagant preparations of food, including the pate (Hyman 320-21). Thus the pate was elevated to the fine dining scene from its infancy. The world-renowned chef, August Escoffier, brought the pate to haute cuisine. To celebrate Armistice Day, signifying the end of the “Great War” on November 11th, 1918, Escoffier had the daunting task of serving a meal to fit the occasion at the Carlton Restaurant. The war had left him with few supplies, so he decided to combine his remaining meat with pate de foi gras, truffles, and moist breadcrumbs to be able to serve more of the gleeful masses who descended upon the Carlton that day (James 252).

Despite its place in haute cuisine, the pate is still a favorite in small French towns, and not just for the French. “It is the first thing that travelers to France think of buying for a lunchtime picnic,” Jane Grigson says, painting a word picture of eating a different pate picnic everyday, accompanied by wine and cheese under inviting walnut and poplar trees (68). It is no wonder that the tourists of France feel at home eating pates for lunch--a medley of countries have traditional foods derived from the pate, or simply their own pate variation.

An uncooked pate ready for the oven

Regional takes on the liver pate are found throughout Europe. Leverpostej is a special liver pate found in Denmark, and is a favorite on sandwiches there (Mosaica). Liverwurst, another form of the liver pate, has gone so far as to win awards in Holland (Gourmet). Italy takes the liver pate a step further, adding chicken to create this traditional Italian accompaniment to appetizers and hor d’vores (Italian). The Spanish Iberian pig’s meat is prized as a charcuterie item (Iberian), consequently, Pate de Cerdo Iberico, “finest quality pie from the black Iberian pig,” is from Spain (Andalusien). Tasmanian Pate is one of Australia’s pate companies providing nine unique pates, including smoked salmon, brandy port, and creamy lemon myrtle (Menora).

Meatloaf is an all American comfort food served in homes across the United States. However, meatloaf is actually has its roots in the French pate de campagne, a pate of pork and bacon (Wizenburg). Today there are countless meatloaf variations and probably every family that cooks them on a regular basis has their own recipe. Meatloaf is even on the menu of high-end restaurants such as Cheesecake Factory (The Cheesecake). The Pate is also featured on menus in the United States. East Side Restaurant in Connecticut features a German Pate along with other traditional German dishes (East). Many catering business in the Kansas City area also offer pates. Sugar and Spice Catering has a bacon liver pate in their “special events” section, (Sugar) and a chicken nut pate is on Cuisine KC’s menu (Cuisine).With the love of food, good cooking, and appreciation for the profession of the chef on the rise in the United States, we can also expect similar appreciation for one of the most enduringly popular dishes in charcuterie, the pate. The pate, and derivatives from it, are heralded as both comfort food items and expensive specialty items of great restaurants. Both of these aspects are important to Americans, even if the pate is from France. The love of food in America comes primarily from France, so it should be no surprise that the French pate, with all of its history, is part of United States history as well. Whether it is called pate de campagne or meatloaf, it is proof that after thousands of years, the pate is known and loved throughout the world, its countries, and peoples.

Works Cited

AndalusienShop. Advertisement. Web. 19 Mar. 2011.

Bode, W. K. H. European Gastronomy: the Story of Man's Food and Eating Customs. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1994. Print. 17 Feb. 2011.

“Chicken Liver Pate.” Italian Traditional Food. 19 Mar. 2011.

Cuisine KC. Advertisement. Web. 20 Mar. 2011.

East Side Restaurant. Advertisement. Web. 19 Mar. 2011.

Gourmet-Food. Advertisement. Web. 18 Mar. 2011.

Gravenor, Molly. “A Taste of Pate Past.” Bon Appetit January 2009. Web. 19 Mar. 2011.

Grigson, Jane. The Art of Making Sausages, Pates, and Other Charcuterie = Formerly Published in Hardcover as The Art of Charcuterie. New York: Knopf, 1968. Print. 17 Feb. 2011.

Hyman, Philip and Hyman Mary. “Marie Antoine Carême.” Encyclopedia of Food and Culture 1. (2003): 320-21. Gale Virtual Library. Web. 25 Mar. 2011.

James, Kenneth. Escoffier: The King of Chefs. London; New York: Hambledon Pr, 2002. Web. 24 Mar. 2011.

Menora Foods. Advertisement. 2010. Web. 19 Mar. 2011.

Mosaica. “New Year’s First Leverpostej!” The Butcher’s Apprentice. Word Press, 4 January 2011. Web. 19 Mar. 2011.

Oliver, Raymond. Gastronomy of France. [London]: Wine and Food Society in Association with World Pub., 1967. Print. 17 Feb. 2011.

Sugar and Spice Catering. Advertisement. Web. 20 Mar. 2011.

The Cheesecake Factory. Advertisement. Web. 20 Mar. 2011.

The Iberian Pig. Advertisement. Web. 19 Mar. 2011.


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    • PJ07 profile image

      PJ07 6 years ago from Kansas

      Thank you! I'm so glad you found it useful and interesting.

    • scarytaff profile image

      Derek James 6 years ago from South Wales

      A very comprehensive history of pate. I'm not surprised you study law, you have a lawyer's way of covering every angle. Voted up and useful. Thanks for the information.

    • PJ07 profile image

      PJ07 6 years ago from Kansas

      Thank you for your interest! Sorry about not getting back to you sooner, I have a lot going on with school at the moment. I will definitely try to get a recipe up at some point, pates are delicious. Unfortunately it can be a bit of a challenge to make them-at least to the standard of a professional kitchen. I will try to come up with a simplified recipe of my own since anything from a book is copyright material. It will be a perfect project for winter break coming up! :)

    • Xenonlit profile image

      Xenonlit 6 years ago

      Yum and interesting. Now could you do an easy beginner's recipe?