By Beth Zollars
5 Minute Read
Charcuterie FRENCH from chair, ‘meat’, and cuit, ‘cooked’) is the branch of cooking devoted to prepared meat products, such as bacon, ham, sausage, terrines, pates, and confit primarily from pork.
Charcuterie is part of the Garde Chef repertoire – A Garde Manager (French for “keeper of the food”) is a cool, well-ventilated area where cold dishes (such as salads, hors d’œuvres, appetizers, canapés, pâtés, and terrines) are prepared and other foods are stored under refrigeration. The person in charge of this area is known as the chef Garde Manger or Pantry Chef.
A charcuterie board is one of my favorite entertaining secret weapons. I particularly enjoy an oversized board served on something unique and extra points for antique.
Many times, creating a casual evening with friends includes serving a charcuterie board in place of a sit-down dinner allowing me more interaction with my friends and an easy peasy nite of entertaining.
Don’t get me wrong, after my culinary school training my foodie game elevated to new heights and my kitchen is my happy place. However, during a particularly busy week, entertaining with charcuterie becomes a great option without wiping yourself out.
The traditional charcuterie consists of a wide variety of smoked and cured meats. Incorporating traditional meats on my board is pretty standard. However, what I’m actually creating is a Vesper Board the German version, incorporating more tasty snacks than just smoked meats. I’m not a big meat- eater moreover, many of my boards created are a healthier more modern adaptation. A nibble and a bite for everyone.
The idea behind the Vesper is a feast of small bites sparing the host the heat of the kitchen and affording more time cocktailing and chatting. Abundance and balance on the board is truly chefs option. Make it yours – make it beautiful.
How to Start
Starting your board, I consider the following flavor combinations – acidity, sweetness, salt and savory. But even before heading to the market, taking into consideration the number of guests defines what type of masterpiece you can create.
How many will you be serving? Is the board the main course or an appetizer? If the former, my rule of thumb Always starts with the protein. Usually 2 adults for a 4oz-6oz serving of protein. Ex. (4) 4-6 oz tenderloin/salmon fillets will serve 8-10 people. If you have 10 hungry men, I may up the amount.
- Find a unique serving option. Depending on the size of your crowd pick an antique or another unique platter that can be utilized as both your serving and centerpiece.
- Antique boards are my favorites, an old wine-stained barrel repurposed into a board – my fav.
- A large piece of slate or barn wood
- Favorite platter round or square
2. Design your board. It can be arranged by color, type of food, nationality themed or whatever is eye appealing to you. If you want to get really precise and technical you can use parchment paper to design a layout and trace food groups over your board.
3. Creating boards can be planned well in advance or in a moment’s notice. Below I will give you tips for both.
Time to plan
A well planned modern charcuterie offers varieties and choices for everyone. Eating restrictions play a huge role in today’s diets; vegetarian, keto, paleo, kosher, gluten, etc.
Creating board’s I consider dietary restrictions based on my guests’ request. Note- Allergies are important to consider – you would hate for ingredient cross-contamination affecting your guests.
For 10-12 Adults
I create a cross-section of meat representing my guest’s requests, flavors, textures and a few surprises thrown in the mix. Vegetarians attending? I put the veggies or a marinated tofu a bit further away from the meat, with a barrier of dishware, fruit, or spreads creating a contamination free zone.
4 seared tenderloin fillets- sliced very thin (cooking one well, the others medium- rare.)
4 grilled or smoked salmon fillets
¼ pound each Capicola, prosciutto, soppressata, sausage.
Option Kosher guests – I pick up a rotisserie chicken from my grocer kosher section and slice thin. (Maybe restraints on other kosher serving rules, best to ask your guests)
(About 3 to 4oz per person)
Inviting cheese to the party is always a good idea.
Even though cheese isn’t traditionally on a Charcuterie Board we are breaking the rules, again. Additionally, think about complimentary flavors and textures; include both buttery and creamy kinds of cheese as well as hard cheeses. Try some of my favorites;
Firm and Nutty – Cantal
Semi-Firm – Ossau- Iraty
A Bloomy Rind – River’s Edge Chevre/Sunset Bay
A Mild Blue- Gorgonzola Dolce
Buttery Creamy – Pierre Robert
Note on cheeses- In my previous entertaining experiences, I would never cut the cheese into cubes as represented in grocery store platter versions. However, at evenings end, I have on more occasions than not, had several beautiful varieties of cheese untouched. Option cut a portion of the cheese and leave the rest whole. If the cheese isn’t moving, cut more, or in the case of your soft cheeses, I may create a few little bite-size morsels with a combo cheese and chutney to get the cheese party started!
Just remember you are looking to cut the fat and protein with some acidity from a complementary item. Additionally, an opportunity to introduce many healthy options for all types of diets
Grapes- try a Moondrop variety for an exotic flare
Figs – fresh whole figs are beautiful when sliced in half
Pears- Bradford pears in season are so succulent
Wild American cherries (usually sold preserved)
Berries (especially helpful for those on Keto)
Roasted Cauliflower – purple makes a beautiful presentation
Roasted Brussel Sprouts- a fan favorite
Whole baby carrots – not the fake mini pressed ones, again eye-popping on your board.
Roasted red or yellow peppers- think about your color here, what is missing, choose a color you don’t’ have represented
Baby arugula- nice peppery green
Small bite size potato
Roasted or grilled asparagus
The sweet and spicy mixture
photo Dorin Paul
Try blending a few flavors
You will need an appropriate and useful vehicle to deliver all the deliciousness- some may want to skip the carbs and use a fork. I like to offer options that are sans carbs/gluten but still offer a crunch.
Country bread such as Pain de Campagna- or pain Au Levain
Classic baguette – make sure there are lots of air holes in the dough, a sign of quality.
Almond flour crackers (low carb option)
Lentil crackers (low carb)
Sauces and spreads
Lemon dill sauce (for seafood)
Horseradish sauce for meat
Deviled eggs are making a comeback- create your grandmothers
Homemade potato chips and blue cheese
Homemade parmesan crisps
Multiple Board works well with a larger party – create by theme, variety or food sensitivities.
Location of your Board
I have tried putting the board in the sitting room, living room, family and outdoors. Guess what? People gravitate to the kitchen, a center island or table is the perfect spot for nibbling, visiting, tasting wine, and the heart of the party.
Moments Notice Board
Oh s*&%#*^%% friends or co-workers are coming over in 2 hours (or less)
Similar to the above options but sub out cooking any proteins and go for store-bought smoked meats and below
In most higher-end grocery stores you can go to the deli counter and find prepared meats and fish. My go to;
Grilled or smoked salmon (Whole foods has a lovely grilled salmon) Slice 1 inch.
Turkey Breast – Lemon pepper or your favorite flavor. Shred
Red meat option- filet, or strip steak – sliced very thin (paper)
Anything you can unwrap quickly- same rules apply as above
In your pantry keep the following
- Peppers in oil
- Grainy mustard
- Dried or marinated cherries
No need to bother roasting if no time
- Purple cauliflower
- Whole carrots with tops
- bite size tomato
Don’t stress- arrange on a platter and serve lots of wine!
Charcuterie Next Gen
One last idea to leave you with.
Think about the flavors. Then pair them together in tasting suites. I present them vertically and have my guest taste each “flight” with a palate cleanser in between. Great fun and everyone starts talking about their favorite, and least favorite. Get’s the party started and a great way for guests to get to know one another.
What are some of your board combinations?
What has been your favorite food on your board – the real crowd pleaser? What was your epic fail? Love to hear your Charcuterie experiences!