A well-curated charcuterie board is a work of culinary art, with each element complimenting the other in a perfect harmony of tastes, flavours and textures.
If you’re looking to create the perfect charcuterie board for yourself at home, here’s what you’ll need:
Cured and preserved meats
Dried and/or fresh fruits
Olives or other pickled vegetables
Bread and crackers
Olive oil, honey, jam, mustards or other spreads
It is suggested to plan to offer two ounces of meat and cheese per person if serving as an appetizer, or up to four ounces if it’s the main meal. When selecting your items, pick your first item, and then balance its texture and flavor with your next choice.
What sets charcuterie meat apart from generic, deli cold cuts is time, salt and texture. Charcuterie cured meats are divided into three types: forcemeats, sausages and salumi, an Italian word for “salted meats,” which includes preserved whole cuts of meat. Within these types of cured meats, there are a wide range of flavour profiles from mild, which includes prosciutto and soppressata, intermediate such as speck (smoked prosciutto) or chorizo, and finally bold flavoured items like bresaola or black truffle salami. These haute meats are higher end, and maybe more difficult to find. They can challenge your palate but can also be very rewarding for the adventurous eaters among us.
Cheeses also have their own distinct classifications. As an overview:
Fresh Cheeses - Offer a wide range of textures and flavours.
Examples: chevre, ricotta, Boursin, mozzarella, feta.
Semi-Soft Cheeses - Offer milder flavours as they are only aged from a few days to a few months. These cheeses typically have a creamy texture which becomes harder with age.
Examples: asiago, Havarti, fontina, Monterey Jack.
Soft-Ripened Cheeses - Known their velvety white rind, the interior of these cheeses become creamier and softer as the cheese ages.
Examples: brie, camembert, robiola.
Surface-Ripened Cheeses – Typically have a thin rind around oozy interior or a wrinkled rind with more firm cheese. These cheeses typically have a dense creamy texture with earthy aromas and sometimes show sharper tangy flavours.
Semi-Hard Cheeses - Includes a broad range of firm cheeses with high moisture content. These cheeses often have salty, nutty, or savory flavors and become more nuanced with age.
Examples: gouda, gruyère, swiss, Emmental, Colby, provolone.
Hard Cheeses – Typically salty and sharp with nutty flavors, becoming saltier with age. They tend to be crumbly and more challenging to cut.
Examples: cheddar, aged manchego, Parmigiano-Reggiano, pecorino romano, grana padano.
Blue Cheeses - Can be soft, firm, creamy, or crumbly. Some are sweeter while others are salty. But all blue cheese features blue veins of mold throughout that bring sharp and tangy flavors.
Examples: Roquefort, stilton, gorgonzola.
Washed-Rind Cheeses – Typically washed with saltwater, brine, beer, or even brandy and tend to be quite “stinky.” These cheeses don’t make for very enjoyable wine pairings. Save them for when you’re craving a Belgian beer.
Examples: taleggio, appenzeller, oxford isis, limburger.
Olives and Olive Oil
Appreciated for both for its fruit as well as its prized oil, olives are the perfect addition to any charcuterie board.
There are over 800 varieties but the best for a charcuterie would be:
Castelvetrano, an Italian olive that is green with a meaty, buttery flesh, and a mild flavor. Consider serving with sheep's milk cheese and a crisp white wine.
Manzanilla, a brine-cured olive with a crisp texture and a slightly smoky, almond flavor. Often stuffed with pimentos or cracked and dressed with olive oil and fresh garlic. A spot-on hors d'oeuvre, especially when served with cold Fino Sherry and crusty bread.
Beldi, the Moroccan olive that is processed through a unique salt-cure method. Irresistibly chewy in texture, similar to sun-dried tomatoes, their rich and intense flavor is pleasantly bitter with a salty bite.
Gordal, a large, Spanish olive with plenty of firm, meaty richness to match the imposing size, these are beloved tapas olives. Serve them beside some jamon and a glass of Sherry.
Picholine, French green olives that are wonderfully crisp and crunchy with a tart, nutty, anise flavor.
Kalamata, the king of Greek table olives, beloved and popular kalamatas are deep purple, with tight, snappy, shiny skin and a pretty almond shape. Typically preserved in red wine vinegar, red wine, and/or olive oil for a distinctive rich, smoky, fruity flavor. This variety is a great candidate for tapenades.
Just like there are many varieties of olives, there are also a wide array of olive oils. Understanding extra-virgin olive oils is like understanding wine, each offers a range of flavors that compliment the food you are serving with it.
To help consumers make their selections, olive oils are graded according to their intensity. Some have a mild, delicate taste, others are strong and robust, with many variations in between.
So how do you know which olive oil to pick? Here are some food pairing ideas based on the three different categories of extra virgin olive oil:
Delicate oils pair better with raw and mild tasting foods, adding more of a subtle flavor to your dish.
A medium oil is better paired with white meats (not fish). Otherwise, it’s best with carbohydrates and sweeter foods.
Robust is meant for hearty dishes that already have an impactful flavor to them.
When in doubt of what oil to buy for your dish, remember this rule: What grows together, tastes good together, which also applies to wine. If you are making an Italian dish, try pairing it with an Italian olive oil and Italian wine!
Dried and/or Fresh Fruits, Nuts, Other Spreads, Bread and Crackers
Charcuterie boards tend to contain foods with a lot of salt, so you’ll want palate cleansers like fresh or dried fruit. Pears, and apples go great with softer cheeses, while harder cheeses benefit from the sweetness of jam, compote or jellies. Blue cheeses taste sinful with dried cherries and/or dark chocolate.
Nuts provide a variety of textures as well as increase flavour combinations. Buttery pâtés are often paired with mustard, compotes, or cornichons.
And don’t forget the crackers or sliced bread. A fresh-baked, crusty baguette is always a great choice.
Bonus - Wine Pairing Principles
When paired with the right wines, the art of your charcuterie is transformed into a true masterpiece.
For wine pairings, focus on the food’s main components of salt, fat, and acid. Salt in food will soften wine’s harder elements, like bitter tannins or sharp acidity. At the same time, it will enhance the perception of body on the palate. Keep in mind that wines with high tannins will clash with anything spicy or bitter.
The wine should always be more acidic than the food you are serving. Aim to match the boldness of a wine to the boldness of the dish. If you prepare a charcuterie board offering more delicate flavors, select a similarly delicate wine. When it doubt, select sparkling wines such as a prosecco or champagne. The lightness of the body of these types wine, coupled with the acidity and bubbles won’t overwhelm the lighter flavours and also cuts through heartier flavours, therefore pairing beautifully with a wide range of charcuterie board selections.
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