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November 26, 2021 3 min read
If you've dined in a restaurant or attended a social gathering recently, there is almost always one common denominator...charcuterie is its name.
In the culinary world, the practice of charcuterie has existed for centuries, but it recently has increased in popularity. Some have said the resurgence can be attributed to the generation raised on Lunchables now trying to elevate a childhood favorite. Regardless, what's old has become new again.
When you order charcuterie in a restaurant, you can expect to be served an assortment of meats alongside an assortment of cheeses, crackers, nuts, pickled vegetables, mustards, jams, etc. But there really are no rules. If the chef, or you, can imagine and plate it...it's charcuterie. The definition has broadened to really encompass the thoughtful and creative display of finger food items.
Today, we’re going to share with you some "basic" foundational items to help you build the charcuterie board of YOUR dreams. We will focus mostly on traditional meat and cheese trays, but the formula can easily be adjusted.
Aside from your serving dish, you'll want a variety of acidic (sour), salty, fatty, and sweet flavors. Items you'll need will include meat, cheese, produce, a variety of condiments, an item with a crunchy texture, and a garnish.
Start here as these are the largest and most popular items on your board. Cheese is classified in several categories: fresh (clean, rich, dairy flavor and spreadability like mascarpone or chevre), bloomy-rind (ultra-creamy like brie and camembert), washed-rind (pungent and savory like Limburger or Muenster), semi-soft (mild and meltable like Havarti and fontina), funky (pungent and "moldy" like blue, Gorgonzola, or Stilton), semi-hard (like Gruyere or cheddar), and hard (dry and richly flavored like Parmigiano-Reggiano and Romano). Pick one cheese from four of these categories. Example: brie (soft), gouda (semi-soft), Manchego (semi-hard), and parmesan (hard). You'll want about four ounces per person.
For this, you'll want three to five types of meat. Consider the flavor, origin, and texture of meats when selecting them. Consider cured sausages (hard meats like pepperoni and chorizo), whole-muscle cuts (thin slices shaved from a larger cut of meat like prosciutto or jamon Iberico), pate or mousse (a ground meat mixed with wine and spices and cooked until spreadable).
Example selection: genoa sausage (mild), spicy (chorizo), prosciutto and pate (soft), and salami (hard). No matter what you choose, you'll want to count on about two to five ounces of meat per person. Best if served at room temperature.
These can be fresh or dried fruits and vegetables and fermented items like olives and pickled vegetables.
These are used to complement and enhance the items on your board. Use ramekins or small bowls to serve these and place them nearest the items they'll pair best with. Consider honey, fruit jam, and various mustards.
Here, focus on selecting items in a variety of shapes, sizes, textures, and flavors. Consider toasted baguette slices, fruit and seed crackers, and pretzels. This is where you'd also consider adding nuts.
Something that will enhance the texture and aesthetic of your display. Rosemary sprigs and arugula work, though keep in mind the garnish doesn't have to be food.
Once you've selected all your items, you'll begin plating. Artfully arrange your items. Get creative! Start with the bowls and jars that will hold your jams and spreads and build out from there with the meats and cheeses and the other items.
What are your favorite combinations? Have you tried another charcuterie board (like a candy or vegetarian board)? Share your experience with us in the comments.
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