Charcuterie! What is charcuterie you ask? Only the most delightful way to enjoy an evening, that’s all. But really, it’s the classy way to say a meat and cheese platter. Although the title may have lead one astray, charcuterie is not a verb. Sorry, it should have said “how to put together a charcuterie”. But c’mon. “How to Charcuterie” sounds so much better.
Charcuterie boards/ antipasto platters have become a really popular appetizer at restaurants, with places like Cavern and Cured specializing in the art of the meat and cheese platter. While it’s a great thing to get for a night out, I couldn’t help but notice how simple it is to put together yourself for a gathering or a night in. Last night I had some friends over for wine and charcuterie before heading to Nuit Blanche (more updates on Nuit to come).
Here is the art of charcuterie, in a few basic principles.
The charcuterie starter kit
The shopping trip. In this city, the Italian Centre is the best place to go for charcuterie supplies. They have incredible deli counter service and a wide range of high quality meats. This is your one stop shop for charcuterie in Edmonton, and the best part is they are happy to let you sample their meats and cheeses. In other cities, I recommend seeking out a European grocerer, or a regular supermarket will do just fine as well.
The golden rule of charcuterie: minimalism
Do not overwhelm the palate with gorges of various meats and cheeses. Do not overcrowd the platter. This is not the ’90s. We’re not filling a platter with a thick layer of ham and turkey and cheddar cheese anymore. Ideally, none of the elements should be touching one another. Separate those meats and cheeses! Do not over-serve the platter either. If you are concerned it will not be enough for your guests, you can always restock the platter later.
The golden number for a charcuterie: 3 meats. 3 cheeses. 2 miscellaneous. 1 bread.
With that in mind, the meats I picked up were: prosciutto, hot capicollo, and salami al prosciutto. You don’t want all sausages or all prosciutto-like meats. Go for three meats that give a wide variety of texture and flavour experiences. That being said, I like to stick to all ham products instead of mixing the meats.
As for cheeses: a goat brie, piave vecchio, and Swiss raclette. Brie is a classic in charcuterie because its softness makes it great to spread on crackers. Piave Vecchio is seriously one of the best cheeses I’ve ever tried, and it’s super unique due to its crumbly texture. When choosing your cheeses, I recommend opting for a variety of stronger and milder cheeses to create a flavour balance.
To tie everything together, it’s great to have some crackers. I picked up Lesley Stowe’s Raincoast Crips in the salty date & almond flavour. These chips are exquisite tasting and provide a great contrast to the other colours on the board.
And finally, you need a couple things that aren’t meat and cheese to complement the platter. For this platter, it was concord grapes and Sammarelli olives. Other options include, but are not limited to: strawberries, mushrooms, sauces or dips, nuts, dried fruit, and pickles.
It’s all about the aesthetic
When arranging the platter, do not think logically. Let your artistic juices flow. While everything on the board will taste amazing, half the enjoyment is the visual stimulation that the platter create. With that in mind, the placement need not be what is most sensible. The meats need not all be together, unless that is what is best for the aesthetic. Is it inconvenient that I placed the crackers in the middle of the board instead of on a separate plate? Probably. But that’s where the crackers belonged. The canvas (or cutting board) was calling to them. Did basil really belong on this platter? Not really, no one ate it. But the platter was calling for some colour infusion.
Another common charcuterie mistake is cubing the cheese. Your guests are not infants, and it really ruins the look of the platter when all the cheese is pre-cut. Serve the cheese in blocks, perhaps with a few pieces pre-cut, and a strategically placed knife will do the trick.
And lastly, enjoy. Charcuterie is nothing without the great conversation and intimate atmosphere it creates. Let your taste buds soak in your beautiful masterpiece.