Preparing Your Holiday Charcuterie and Cheese
With a bit of insight and careful consideration, a charcuterie platter can be the centerpiece of your holiday dining plans.
One of the world’s great gastronomic pleasures and one of the chief delectable arts of the French kitchen is Charcuterie.
As food historian Jane Grigson tells us the word derives from French chair cuit, meaning cooked meat, principally of the pig, and in addition to hams embraces such delicacies as terrine, pâtés and sausages.
When the occasion is sufficiently special and circumstances demand maximum gratification, the best way to really blow it out is with a platter composed of cured meats and artisan cheeses. It offers both an easy route to holiday entertaining, and a smart strategy for hors d’oeuvres before dinner. What you want to create is a sense of excess – and here’s how to do it.
Begin with a large cutting board or slab – marble or slate works. Choose at least three to five charcuterie items that vary texture and style. Perhaps a cooked pâté, like a pâté de champagne, an air-dried meat like prosciutto and two or three sausages. Allow a minimum of 2 oz. per person – the more the variety and the longer the party, the more people will eat.
Cheese is a welcome addition so select two or three. You can follow the old cheesemonger maxim of “something old, something new, something stinky and something blue” by selecting an aged cheese, something fresher and something more adventurous or choose between what kinds of milk the cheeses are from – sheep, milk, cow.
I also like to vary textures. Good candidates might be an Aged Manchego, a gooey Triple Cream and a Sharp Aged Cheddar.
At this point it’s a good idea to think about how people are going to eat the cheese and consider pre-portioning the cheese into wedges or chunks.
Put the biggest things on the board first – the cheeses and charcuterie. Spread the charcuterie pieces out on the board, allowing space between them for garnishes – cornichons and olives to add acidity, dried or fresh fruits to add color and baguette slices.
Fill in the gaps between the cheeses with smaller tasty morsels – Marcona almonds, dried apricots, honey or fig jams and perhaps some spicy pickles – and finally a variety of crackers.
For wine pairings, focus on the main components of the food’s salt, fat and acid and aim to match the boldness of the dish with the boldness of a wine. And remember that wines with high tannins will clash with anything spicy or bitter. Consider something bubbly like a Spanish Cava or a medium-bodied red, a Beaujolais or a Pinot Noir – like the Reference Point Pinot Noir made in Oregon by North Carolina resident Mike Bell of Johnson Brothers Distributors.
Want to see how the pros do it? Check out the epic Charcuterie and Cheese at Four65 Woodfire Bistro + Bar in Highlands. Included in the offering, the extraordinary charcuterie produced by Georgia’s Spotted Trotter.