Are you looking for the secret to a totally stress-free but impressive (and delicious) spread? We have two words for you: charcuterie board.
Sounds fancy, huh? “Charcuterie” is actually a French term for a platter of cured meats, which combines a variety of delectable tastes and textures that will make an impressive and enjoyable spread for any occasion.
Traditionally, charcuterie refers to preserved meats, especially pork, but in recent years it has come to encompass a large spread of tasty tidbits like cheese, fruits, condiments and breads. Anyone can order a store-bought deli tray with cold cuts and rolls, but a carefully selected and home-assembled meat and cheese board offers a presentation that is both rustic and elegant with a special artisanal touch.
The key to creating a mouthwatering spread is to offer a variety of contrasting flavors and textures. It is an art form that requires more thought than just throwing some crackers on a plate! You want to offer foods that will complement each other as well as be finger-friendly or easily spread with a knife.
Adding a mix of cheeses that are creamy, crumbly, mild, pungent, firm and soft is a good way to start. Cutting your firm cheeses into bite-sized cubes ahead of time is advisable, as is choosing at least one cheese that is a familiar old standby for most people, like cheddar, and mixing that with more adventurous cheeses.
When choosing your meats, try to also go for variety; adding some meats that are smoky and others that are zesty will help your guests create fun and interesting combinations. We chose a variety of Italian sausages for slicing, but a creamy pâté for spreading would also make a nice addition.
For the perfect contrast, look for some sweet, crunchy and acidic accompaniments to your board. We chose some grainy brown mustard, sweet raspberry preserves, salty olives and capers, a crunchy assortment of nuts and plump, tart berries for our board.
You can let your imagination and your taste buds run wild when creating your ideal board. Feel free to add other spreads like honey or hummus, or add more fruits like grapes, apples or pears. Try sweet and dill pickles, or experiment with a variety of jam flavors. Some people even like to add preserved fish like smoked salmon or mackerel.
These hearty boards can be more than just an appetizer: With enough variety and content, they can be served as a full-fledged meal.
Presentation is half the fun of dining, so get creative with your serving pieces. You can use a rustic wooden board, a silver tray, a festive holiday platter or a piece of slate, labeled with chalk lettering.
Allow your cheese to stand at room temperature about a half hour before serving, and provide a separate knife with each item to avoid mixing of the flavors.
As a shopping trip guideline, most people will eat about 2 to 3 ounces of meat and cheese as an appetizer — and more for a meal.
You might also want to add some crackers, pita chips or sliced baguettes as a vehicle to transport your amazing creations to your mouth. Some crusty bread and crunchy crackers are sure to be a welcome addition.
A sprinkling of coarse ground salt, some freshly ground pepper or a drizzle of seasoned olive oil makes the perfect finish for these tasty morsels. We recommend washing it all down with your favorite wine or spirit!
Try our holiday related charcuterie board recipes below: