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Charcuterie 101

Searching for a way to provide your guests a culinary adventure without hours of cooking? Look no further than an artfully selected charcuterie board. Packed with flavor, variety and eye-pleasing design, this appetizer arrangement serves as a conversation piece as well as a no-fuss crowd-pleaser. It’s also great for porch, patio, pier or picnic.

Charcuterie (Shar-koo-tuh-ree): The branch of cooking devoted to prepared meat products, such as bacon, ham, prosciutto, salami, sausage, terrines, pâtés and confit. The charcuterie board pictured above is from The Cheese Cottage in downtown Mobile.

Arrangement

Flavor and texture are essential to ensuring a delicious charcuterie board. Color, shape and height play important visual roles. Choose fruits that provide pops of color in addition to sweetness, such as strawberries, grapes and pomegranates. Stacking, smearing and crumbling various ingredients can also add visual appeal. Ramekins help contain liquids or items that roll in addition to adding height and division to the board.

PRO TIP: Kristi Barber of The Cheese Cottage applies interior design concepts to her charcuterie boards, such as this one, left. “You don’t want to do a line of 10 crackers on one side, all the cheese in one corner and all the meat in the other corner,” Barber says. “Scatter the ingredients around and mix it all up until your board is completely full. You really shouldn’t be able to see much of the board.”

Meats

A charcuterie board should always include several varieties of high-quality preserved meats. Variety is key — choose a hard cured sausage, like salami, along with something soft and spreadable, like a pâté or terrine. For crunch, include a few slices of thick bacon. Don’t forget sliced meats — ham and prosciutto are common additions. For a Gulf Coast flair, try adding pickled Gulf shrimp.

PRO TIP: While it’s perfectly acceptable to buy charcuterie ingredients from a restaurant or gourmet grocery, Michael Lane, sous chef at Red or White’s Mobile location, says making pâtés, curing your own bacon or pickling shrimp is easier than you’d think. “Sous vide makes it very easy for people to prepare pâtés and terrines at home,” he says. Cure your own bacon by purchasing pork belly from an Asian market and finding a recipe online. Pickling shrimp takes just a few minutes.

Cheeses

When considering what cheeses to include on your charcuterie board, prioritize variety. Think about taste and texture. Include a soft cheese, like brie, Camembert or chevre; an approachable hard or semi-soft cheese, such as Gouda or cheddar; and something funky — a spicy, blue or otherwise interesting selection. Another method of ensuring variety is to seek out cheeses made of different kinds of milk — cow, goat, sheep or even nut for vegan friends. If serving as a main course, be sure to have at least 3 - 4 ounces of meat and cheese per person. Two ounces per person is plenty if the board is a snack or appetizer.

PRO TIP: “Before you serve cheese, leave it out for at least 30 minutes,” Kristi Barber says. “Cheese is meant to be served at room temperature. Also, you can eat every cheese rind except the ones that have writing on them. The rind is part of the beauty of a cheese — don’t let it go to waste.” To store leftover cheese, Kristi says to wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and store in the vegetable crisper. The only exception is blue cheese — it should be wrapped in foil.

Accompaniments

Although meats and cheeses are the focal point of any charcuterie board, accompaniments often  provide guests with the adventure of discovering new flavor and texture combinations. Make sure to have several savory and sweet options. Pickled vegetables, salty olives and grainy mustards complement meats. Sweet accompaniments, such as honey, dark chocolate, jam or fresh fruits, go well with most cheeses. Spicy and nutty flavor profiles add variety as well. Bread and crackers are placed on a charcuterie board simply as a vehicle for combining flavors. Toasted baguette slices or plain crackers serve this purpose well — no need to get fancy. Anything to avoid? In general, stay away from overpowering flavors that tend to linger. Citrus, garlic and spicy peppers are a no-go.

PRO TIP: Michael Lane says home cooks are often unnecessarily intimidated by the idea of preparing charcuterie boards at home. It’s easy to overthink accompaniments and worry over perfect pairings, but Lane says most people already have many ingredients on hand. “It’s really not complicated at all,” he says. “Trust your palate and look in your refrigerator and pantry at what you already have and enjoy eating. Build the board around the little bit of that jam you love that’s left in the very bottom of that old jar or the ham that you have lying around.”

Drink Pairings

                                

Randy Williams, Owner Red or White
“With charcuterie, sparkling wine with good acidity is always a perfect choice. I like Cava Avinyó — it’s got a little more body than most sparkling wines and runs $16.99.” Red or White • 1104 Dauphin St. 478-9494

Tricia Freeman, Sales Rep for International Wines
“A light and fruity red wine from France pairs nicely with charcuterie. The acidity in Dupeuble Beaujolais ($13.99)balances with the concentrated flavors of berry and violets to give structure and depth. One of my favorite (and most under-appreciated) reds.” Southern Napa • 2304 Main St., Daphne. 375-2800

Marissa Wilkins, The Squashed Grape
“A versatile rosé is a great choice for charcuterie. With the fruity flavors of a red and the brightness and body of a white, these wines can pair with just about anything. In the case of a charcuterie board, the lighter colored the rosé, the better. I’d specifically go for a French rosé out of the Loire Valley, like Moment de Plaisir Rosé ($13).” The Squashed Grape • 2770 S. McKenzie St., Foley. 923-4360

Anna Teachey, Haint Blue Brewing
“Don’t forget about beer when considering what drinks to serve with your charcuterie board. Try to create pairs with matching intensity. Haint Blue IPA is perfect for a creamy blue cheese. Visit haintbluebrew.com for a list of carrying retailers.

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