Charcuterie: An Experience, Not Just a Fancy Dish
and some research to help you create your best board
My mom used to always say that if she could have cheese and crackers for dinner every night, she would be the happiest woman alive. Clearly, I didn't have my priorities straight back then because I distinctly remember thinking, Wow, that sounds seriously boring, but also wanting to be cool so I just replied, "Oh, yeah, that sounds good" in what you can assume was in a very monotone-like voice.
20 years later, as an adult, I can confirm that I too am a fan of eating cheese and crackers every night to achieve happiness. The fact that I know that there are so many different ways to eat those cheese and crackers, and enjoy a different flavor bomb in every bite is so intriguing. Besides, it's basically a grown-up Lunchable. So, What's not to love about a dinner like that?
I don't remember exactly when Charcuterie became a part of my life. I can only assume that it started a few years ago as they sprawled across my Pinterest boards. I was in so much awe of how beautiful they were as they were put together. It was a simple but fancy meal that I was completely intrigued by but never actually had.
Then, about a year ago I went on a dinner date with my husband. They had Charcuterie on the menu.
"Hey, isn't charcuterie that meat & cheese board thing?" I asked him.
"Um, yeah, I think so."
I'm a simple eater. I like things I eat to be plain, and only recently started enjoying dressing on my salads. I can enjoy a work of art in the form of food but good luck getting me to try it. So, I put myself in a little bit of a shock when the waitress came around and I flat out ordered the Charcuterie. To my somehow, not so actual shock, it was the best damn dinner I ever had.
An Art in the Form of Food
There were so many ways to eat the different but same things on my plate, and they all created a different type of experience in each bite that I took. It was then that I realized that not only does this look like a beautiful meal, but it was also a beautiful experience to add to it. It was enough that I wanted to try more ways and learn a little more about it.
Personal opinion: It's an experience, there's no right or wrong way to do it
Let me be honest for a second, though, I'm still very new to charcuterie. And even though I'm still new, I've learned something that will make experts want to kick me in the face…
You don't have to know every little detail about charcuterie to create a great board that's enjoyable.
However, It's good to know a little bit about the ingredients that can go on your board to have a better idea of how you want to create it. For example, I'm not an expert either, in fact, I'm far from it. At the same time, I like to know a little bit about what I'm putting on my board to figure out what I like, what I don't like, and how I can do it differently or better the next time.
The most important part is to have fun with it
Building a charcuterie board is fun, so don't let all types of different meats and cheeses and whatever else overwhelm you. I've made this mistake and trust me, it's not worth your time and energy. Instead, what you should be doing is letting the creativity in you shine. Mix and match, try something new, make it look a little wild, make it look aesthetically pleasing.
This is your board and your experience. So, whatever you decide to do with it is your decision. There might be things that you end up not liking about your board and things that you ended up absolutely loving. Use that new information for your next board, and continue creating and evolving your board each time you do one. Because that's only the beginning of all the fun that goes into it.
How to make your board:
As I've continuously said so far, there are no rules to doing this, it's supposed to be a fun and exciting experience. However, as I've also said, it's also good to have a tiny bit of an idea about the kinds of ingredients that you can put on your board. From meats to cheeses to bread to all that extra stuff, there's a lot that you can know about these things.
However, I'm only concerned about the bare minimum or in other words, the basics.
The cheese has got to be one of my favorite parts of the board. It has this weird way of being incredibly fun to eat while also introducing you to some pretty unique flavors at the same time. Mixing and matching can be fun too since you can have two different types of cheeses in one bite and they will still seem completely different.
On the surface, cheeses can seem like they might be pretty daunting to understand. And you know, they can be. Luckily, I've separated them into four very simple categories that we all can understand, appreciate, and overall enjoy.
Fresh: The first type of cheeses is called Fresh. These are going to be your yummy and creamy cheeses that are spreadable. Make sure to add some jams along with anything else you decide to pair it with for the ultimate killer bite.
Bloomy: These cheeses are going to still be spreadable but a bit more runny and creamy. Think of fondue-like cheeses when dealing with these.
Hard: Your hard cheeses are often described as cooked and pressed until liquid is almost completely expelled. They're going to be less prone to mold and probably last you a lot longer than the other cheeses. Slicing will also be more of a thing with these than the others. Flavors will range from very mild to very pungent. If you're not sure what kind you want or that you'll even like, ask your local deli-guy or cheesemonger for an example and suggestions before making any commitments.
Blue: This is a weird one for many, many people. You could say that this is the cheese that is not for the faint of heart. To my own surprise, it's one that I like a lot. That's more than often not the case for many people, though. It's often referred to as the moldy cheese, and while the soft cheeses are more prone to get moldy faster or go bad quicker, this cheese is flat out just cured differently than the others. This ultimately creates its unique and intense flavors, that we all know and sometimes don't always love. If you do find that you have a love for the blue, though, the peach jam is an astonishing pairing with it.
- Goat (sometimes also considered as a fresh cheese)
- La Tur
- Ricotta Salata
- Dry Jack
The meat is actually where the name charcuterie comes from. If you google Charcuterie, it will actually bring up the meats that are supposed to go into it before the cheeses and other aspects. There's a whirlwind of different types and definitions that go into the meats, and to be honest, it can be very overwhelming and confusing to try to understand.
Remember when I said not to overwhelm yourself? This is what I meant. Because if you read too much into it, you will get overwhelmed, and building this will not be a fun time.
With that being said, I've tried to simplify it for you to make it as easy as possible to pick your meats with the more popular types that are going to be going into your board.
Cured: A lot of the meats that go on your plates are going to be cured meats. The official meaning of it is the process of preservation through aging, brining, smoking, salting, or anything else you can think of.
Whole Muscle cuts: These are in the category of "Salt Cured Meats", meaning that as they are preserved they are drained from the water and that water is replaced with salt. These are also going to be of more popular meats that you will be adding to your board.
Pate & RIllettes: I'm going, to be honest, and tell you that I've actually never tried pate & Rillettes. Although they're slightly different, they are the same in the way that they are spreadable meats. Crazy, right? But to define a little bit better:
Pate is the creamier of the two. It's mostly defined as finely ground meat. In other words, it's a fancy version of spam.
Rillettes is still spreadable but instead of the ground it's heavily chopped and shredded with fat until it's spreadable.
Whole Muscle Cuts
Pate & Rillettes
I like to call this part the spoon of the board. Why? Because how else are you going to shove everything in your mouth? This is where things can get pretty fun because you can literally put anything on the board when it comes to bread and crackers.
It's just an easy part, and you don't have to put much effort into it at all. Are you wanting some sourdough baguettes and some herb & spice crackers? Do it. The world is yours and no matter what you put here it's going to make total sense because it literally does not matter.
- Water Biscuit
Mixing and matching are what accents are all about. What kind of flavors and textures do you want to add to your board? Do you like salty or sweet? Do you like both? What kind of flavor bomb are you trying to finish off with? This is the final touch of your board before the real fun begins, so what's going to be your style?
Fruits & Veggies: It's kinda funny. You expect things like apples, olives, and dried fruit to be on a board but really can put anything on there. Bell peppers are some of my favorites to add, but if you're serious celery and carrot person, putting some on will always be a good idea.
Nuts: Believe it or not, putting different nuts on your board is a really popular thing to do. It's pretty self-explanatory, and there are so many different kinds. So, what will you be adding?
Jam: This is by far the mose fun part of all the board. This is where those flavors really pop and come together. There are so many different kinds of jams aside from the average grape and cherry. It's a great place to try something new, too. Check local shops and farms that make homemade jams, as weird as one might sound it might be the best thing you've ever tasted.
- Peppers (Spicy or sweet)
- Peach Jalapeno
- Apple Butter
- Cherry Chocolate
Wash It All Down
Most people are going to try and have you believe that the only thing to wash down your charcuterie is with a glass of some fine wine.
Well, I'm here to tell you that those losers are very wrong. In fact, If you're more of a beer person than a wine person than I have some great news for you. What if you're pregnant and can't have alcohol or just don't like it? Sparkling ciders and fake wines exist, too.
While I'm not professional when it comes to wine, beer or really anything in between I know that pairing doesn't have to be as stressful as someone else might make it out to be.
But if you are looking for a perfect pairing, I have some great links for you to check out.
- Cabernet Souviet
- Pinot Noir
- Wheat Beer
- Wild & Sour Ale
- Specialty Beers
- White grape
- Fre Wines
The experience of building and eating a charcuterie board is one that you definitely don't want to miss. You can decide to tell a story or throw a bunch of stuff on there and figure it out as you go. It's a fantastic way to try new things and experience food in a different way with every bite.
Be creative, have fun with it, but don't feed into that idea that they are just for fancy dinner parties.