A charcuterie (pronounced shar-koo-tur-EE) is a board or platter of meats, cheeses, fresh fruits, crackers and condiments. The meats tend to play a starring role and are surrounded by all kinds of deliciousness that guests can’t wait to get their hands on.
These often elaborate boards might seem intimidating to try to create, but the truth is, you can do just that in a matter of minutes. We got pointers from several chefs and threw in a list of some meat selections, with descriptions, to head you in the right direction at the store.
First things first. Says Mari Younkin, chef-owner of Cuisine Contemporaine, whose family hails from Italy, “Select a theme, like northern Italian, Spanish or classic European. That helps you focus on foods from that region and wines that pair with them.”
Then start putting together the meats and cheeses.
“I’d go with Italian dry salami like Genoa salami, pancetta, prosciutto, and soppressata,” she said. “For cheeses, I’d include Parm Reggiano, gorgonzola and fontina. I like to wrap prosciutto around melon and incorporate some mascarpone cheese to mellow the saltiness of the prosciutto.”
Using high-quality meats and cheeses is “very important in creating your board,” she stresses. For shopping, she has three recommendations: Mollica’s Italian Market and Deli, for its great selection of meats and cheeses, and The Wine Gallery, which has a nice gourmet market, both in Colorado Springs, and Springside Artisan Cheeses, in Pueblo.
“Then add fruits, fresh and dried; vegetables, such as grilled asparagus and roasted red peppers; and tasty olives,” she said. “I also place a few condiments on the board, such as chutney and dipping spices. Round out the board with thinly sliced breads and crackers.”
She prefers ciabatta and flavored flatbread crackers.
Charcuterie boards can get pricey, but she said King Soopers “can meet all of your needs at a reasonable cost to create an awesome charcuterie board.”
Cortney Smith and Dave Cook, owners of Gather Food Studio, put together a checklist of ways to construct a charcuterie board, with places to shop and some easy recipes to make your own condiments.
Must-haves for their boards? Smith goes for Nita Crisp Crackers (when she isn’t making her own), Marin Triple Crème Brie and Schmidt’s honeys, which are locally made. She loves making homemade beer mustard and shared her recipe with us.
“Homemade crackers and mustard aren’t usually things people think to make,” Smith says. “But they are super simple and extra impressive.”
Cook is a fan of store-bought Raincoast Crisps Fig and Olive crackers and Rogue’s Bolder Beans, a brand of pickled vegetables and bloody mary mix.
“The beans can be made into delicious dips,” he said. “And I like to make chicken liver pate, for a personal touch.”
His recipe follows.
Here’s their checklist and shopping spots.
• Keep it rustic. “Don’t muddy the platter with too many ingredients,” Cook says. “Keep it simple and clean. Each ingredient should be seen. Don’t cover any items under others. Let your guests see what they can choose from.”
• When serving a crowd, label ingredients. “That way everyone knows what it is that they are choosing.”
• Twist sliced meats for an artistic presentation.
• Use a wood or slate serving platter.
• Put condiments right on the platter. Or if you prefer, you can put them in small bowls.
• Play with flavors, balancing fat, sweet and acid. “Try fun add-ons like cornichon, olives, quince or fig paste, fresh berries, mustards, sliced apples or pears, or honey,” Cook said. “Get creative!”
• Make sure to supplement with crackers and bread. “They help your guests move though quickly and easily. Look for rustic handmade crackers,” Cook said.
• Gather ingredients from an olive bar at your local grocery or deli. “It’s a great resource for a quick and easy platter,” Cook said.
• Avoid pre-cut anything. “Edges dry out as soon as the cheeses and meats are cut,” Cook said. “They begin losing flavor, which makes the ingredients more expensive. Plus pre-sliced food has added preservative on the outside so that they don’t stick together. All around, take the time to slice your own. Or head to your local meat counter and have them slice meats for you. It’s less expensive and better quality.”
Where to buy
• Mollica’s Italian Market and Deli: One of the few places that carries Spanish chorizo.
• Costco: Great selection of meats, cheeses, condiments, and crackers for easy one-stop shopping for a party.
• Cheese Haus: Great selection of Wisconsin meats and cheeses.
• Whole Foods Market: A large selection of gourmet meats and cheeses.
• Murray’s Cheese at King Soopers: The $3-or-less bin lets you experiment with more expensive cheeses in smaller quantities.