3 Simple Tips for Building Your Own Charcuterie Board
Class up your next gathering with a well-crafted charcuterie platter.
By Dave Zucker
Nothing says, "I am a grown adult with my life put together," more than breaking out a fine meat and cheese plate at your next soiree. Little secret: It's actually not that hard to put one together. Follow these easy guidelines and you'll be the toast of your next, well, toast.
Don't worry, there's no trip to Home Depot in your future. However it is worth investing in some decent materials when building your party platter. While you certainly can lay your spread on a regular plate or cutting board, dedicated platters look much nicer and come in a variety of materials. "Wood has natural antibacterial properties, but can be scratched and marred easily," says Stacey Penlon, owner of Beacon Pantry. "Slate is beautiful and easy to clean and the contrast between the dark slate and the cheese can be striking." Both are fairly inexpensive and will last for years with proper care.
Cutlery is the next major consideration. Cheese knives can often appear elaborate or ornately designed with hooks and holes, but those fine details actually serve physical purposes. Knives featuring holes throughout their spines are intended for cutting through softer cheeses; by reducing the surface area of the blade, there is less for the cheese to stick to. Knives with hooks on their tips, meanwhile, can be used to spear and pick up slices of harder cheese.
Start by building a flavor palate
If you're painting a living room, you want colors that complement each other and your belongings. Similarly, you want your charcuterie to have some kind of unifying profile. If it doesn't work to have a green wall next to a pink rug and a brown sofa, odds are it won't work to put out a French brie with Spanish olives and a California rosé.
Penlon gives an example of a good, solid pairing: "If a guest wants to try Spanish cheeses, we would likely pair them with serrano ham and perhaps add some marcona almonds and quince paste to round out the flavors."
A good board is going to have a wide array of flavors and textures. The easiest way to start is by making sure that you have at least one soft cheese and one hard, and one softer, whole-muscle meat (like a Prosciutto) and one harder, cured meat like sopressata or a salumi. You can then add things like pickles, olives, or even mustard spreads, which have sharp, acidic flavors that act as an excellent palate cleanser for rich cheeses and fatty meats like pâté. Sweet notes like honey, jams, and dried or fresh fruits lend a similar balance to saltier cheeses such as blue cheese.
After pairing a perfect meat and cheese platter, it would be a shame to ruin it with the wrong drink. Luckily, Penlon is willing to share a little more wisdom:
"There are definitely some classic pairings, such as brie and Champagne or Stilton and Port. Generally white wines are easier to drink with cheese than red wines as the tannins in red wine tend to clash with some cheeses, particularly soft cheeses. A good all-around wine for cheese is a dry or semidry Riesling. Choosing a wine from the same region as the cheese is often a good starting point."
Non-oenophiles will be happy to learn these same principles translate nicely when selecting beers and hard ciders, as those flavor pairings also tend to work very well with both cured meats and cheeses.