#54 – Charcuterie Board

#54 – Charcuterie Board

This is Recipe Roundup Episode 54. This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to gather with several friends I hadn’t seen in quite some time. In preparation for our meal together, we decided to get some type of snack to tide us over while dinner was cooking. We ended up with a full charcuterie board and though we did eventually make our way to the delicious meal, we all remarked on how our appetizer could have been the meal itself!

Our ability to control the aging process of foods so that we get delicious results instead of rotten ones is an ancient skill that has been passed down and refined across millennia and a Charcuterie Board is a great way to fully appreciate this history!

When we get down to it, a Charcuterie Board is a very fancy way of talking about crackers, cheese, and meat. However, with quality ingredients, this simple ensemble becomes a way to experience the best that meat, dairy, and time have to offer. While high-end prosciutto or 3-year aged gouda might fetch a pretty penny, I believe what makes these foods so elegant is that they are truly basic. When it comes to their ingredients, you won’t find lists and lists of exotic components. All of the magic is derived from the process of curing – as well as the way you
plate it!

When it comes to choosing your components, know that you may be overwhelmed with the number of options you truly have. But also know that there is very little chance that you will mess this up. I have a few tips about how to create a balanced board, but if you know exactly what type of cheese and meat you are after, these are not hard and fast rules.

The Meat
The cured meats you may be most familiar with are pepperoni, salami, and bacon! While these can be excellent options for your board, there are SO MANY other kinds out there, from all different cuisines. My recommendation for a balanced board is 1 meat that you know you and your guests will like, 1 spicy meat, and 1 meat that is more complex or that you haven’t tried before.

The Cheese
I personally believe that cheese is the MOST important part of this whole shebang. Perhaps it’s just from my short stint as a cheese monger in LA, but I feel that cheese is the most versatile, intimidating, and yummy aspect of the board. There’s cheese that tastes like cheese, some that tastes like fruit, some that taste like mushrooms, some that stink and will dominate your palate for the rest of the night. Again, I recommend finding at least 3 cheeses – 1 that is soft and creamy, like a chevre or brie-style cheese; 1 cheese that is semi-hard and will resonate with most palates like a cheddar, gouda, or comté; And then finally, a challenging third cheese – a blue cheese, something that stinks, or a cheese that has a strong added flavor from herbs or truffles. It can also be fun to make sure you are getting cheeses made from different milks – cow, goat, sheep, buffalo, etcetera.

While the cheese and cured meat is key, there are other board accoutrements that complement and extend the flavors. Crackers or bread slices are extremely helpful as delivery mechanisms – I recommend having at least one soft and one hard option. Fruits, whether fresh or in preserve form, help lighten the heft of the meat and cheese. Berries, grapes, figs, apples, citrus – really any fruit. You are welcome to have vegetable crudités as well. I would highly recommend looking into some classic antipasto ingredients as well, like olives, pickled peppers, and stuffed grape leaves. Nuts and mustards are great too!

Arrange all of your components creatively on a wooden cutting board or large plate. Group the slices or pieces of each component together, and use your eye for color or shape to place the others around. If you think one cheese will go particularly well with specific meat, place them near each other. Provide your crackers and bread on the side or as part of the arrangement, and make sure each of your preserves or mustards has its own serving utensil. Then DIG IN and enjoy all of the many wonderful combinations!

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