Charcuterie is something that has been around for hundreds of years. The concept if simple; make a delicious and varied spread of preserved meats, vegetables, and other easy to eat ourdurves. The board and style of plating dates to as early as 15th century France, though the practice could be much older. After all, the process is simply plating a set of preserved meats and such. It is not exactly rocket science. A lot of the difficulty comes in the artistry and combinations of the process. The first recorded instances of people using traditional salting and curing methods extend back over 2,000 years ago! Back then, the Romans made salted cured meats like salumi and prosciutto.
However, the term did not really become prevalent in Roman cooking or history. Instead, it was the French and Italian that really brought charcuterie as we know it to the forefront and into the kitchens of everyday people. Both cultures have extensive culinary history involving the curing and salting of meats. Some of the most famous preserved meats are Italian or French. Spain also plays an important role in charcuterie spreads and which foods are used.
Parts of a Charcuterie Board Spread
Making a spread is not at all difficult when you know what goes into it. The more charcuterie spreads you make, the easier it gets to pair and display different types of food. The basic foods you will plate when setting up a spread are:
- Cured meats
- Crackers and Breads
Selecting Your Meats
Getting the right meats for your charcuterie is probably the easiest part! There are tons of delicious, cured meats that you can get from a local grocery store. For example, a popular meat to serve is prosciutto. The expensive but highly regarded meat makes for a great combination with cheese, olives, and crackers. Here at Machika, we compiled 5 of the best meats to go with a beginner charcuterie board spread. Those 5 meats are:
- Dry Cured Chorizo
Basic Charcuterie Meats
Salami is a great choice for anyone looking for a familiar tasting meat to add to their spread. While some people with particular tastes may find of the other lesser-known meats in charcuterie too rich or different, salami is always a safe bet.
Mortadella is a slightly different kind of cured meat. Unlike the other meats and sausages on this list, the sausage includes pieces of pistachios and pork fat cubes. These incorporated pieces are what gives mortadella its unique appearance. When cut, the cross section looks like bits of white specs (pork fat) and green spots (pistachios) cover the surface.
Another great choice for any charcuterie spread is chorizo. However, the chorizo that is best for charcuterie is not the kind you would grill up. Instead, you will want a type of cured chorizo that is ready to eat after cutting. The one I would recommend in dry cured chorizo. Dry curing means that you can eat the meat without any additional cooking. Simply cut into thin slices and plate on your charcuterie board.
While the previous choices have been mostly pork, bresaola is a type of air-dried and salt cured beef. The beef is aged for months and salted to pull out moisture and prevent mold overgrowth. It is made from top round. Like other types of dried age beef, like dry aged steaks, it has a musty but strong flavor that is unlike unaged beef. This specific type of air-dried beef originated in Italy.
When it comes to cheese for a charcuterie spread, you are going to be dealing with a lot more choices. However, don’t stress, we at Machika are here to break down your options and provide you with some basic cheeses are perfect for basic charcuterie spreads. Before I provide some recommendations, let’s go over the types of cheese you can use for charcuterie: aged, soft, crumbly, or firm. Every type of cheese can fall underneath one of those textures/types. Aged cheese can be soft, crumbly, or firm but because of its unique flavor, it gets its own unique category. Smoked cheeses are also unique but can be made by simply smoking any type of cheese. The most basic types of cheese you should use when setting up a charcuterie spread are:
- Parmigiano Reggiano
Gouda is an aged firm type of cheese. When making a charcuterie spread, you want to focus on variety. Not only the variety of cheeses but the textures and taste. Technically, you could have a spread of 5 different types of the same cheese, but the flavor and textures would be too similar. Instead, try using a variety of different textures and cheeses. For example, avoid using all firm cheese.
Gruyere is another firm type of cheese. It is a hard yellow cheese from Switzerland. However, it is also an aged type of cheese like Gouda. It is typically aged an entire year before being sold. It is an extremely popular type of cheese in Switzerland and a great choice for any charcuterie board spread.
Feta is our first soft cheese on the list. If you are a pizza lover, then feta should be one of the cheeses you are familiar with. While it is aged in brine, it is not really considered an age cheese as the finished product itself is not then aged for a longer period to get more flavor.
Goat cheese is another typically soft cheese that has a similar consistency to wet feta, but a much stronger flavor. Unlike the other cheeses on this list that are made from cow’s milk, this is obviously made from the milk of a goat. This creates a unique flavor profile that is unlike cheese from cow’s milk.
Parmigiano Reggiano is a firm type of cheese that you should also be familiar with. If you have ever been to an Italian restaurant, then you probably have some across it. Many times, servers will ask if you want parmesan with your pasta or meal. Some restaurants use Parmigiano Reggiano as toppings for extra flavor for meals like pizza. This well-known cheese is great for any spread.
Vegetables in charcuterie spreads are typically very simple. There are a few basic veggies that one can be considered standard for more charcuterie spreads. Some of the most common vegetables for charcuterie include celery, grape tomatoes or cherry tomatoes, carrots, and roasted peppers. You may also serve the peppers raw. Those are the simple veggies for a spread, but you can always experiment with others. For example, some spreads used broccoli or cauliflower.
Fruits, like vegetables, are usually not front and center treats on a charcuterie board though they make fantastic combinations with the rest of the foods. Instead, crackers, cheese, and meats often take up the board. However, fruits can still make or break a perfect charcuterie spread. With fruits, you will typically want to keep it simple. After adding your meats and veggies, your board should be looking pretty full and you still have spreads, crackers, and breads to add! It is best to limit you fruits to two or three different fruits.
Some of the most common fruits you’ll see on a charcuterie spread are grapes (red and green), slices of mango, avocado (yes, it is a fruit), strawberries, and peeled slices of oranges. You really don’t have to get more complex than the fruit previously listed but that does not mean you can’t. If you want more exotic fruits, then go ahead. Just make sure you are not including too much fruit and that your choices pair well with your other foods.
Crackers and Bread
Breads and crackers are most likely the most unspecified part of a charcuterie board. Truly, there is no single right answer. There are so many types of bread and crackers, that even amongst experienced charcuterie builders, the choices will differ. The easiest bread to add to a charcuterie spread is a simple baguette. Typically, you will want to slice into easy serving sizes and toast the break to make tit perfect for spreading. With crackers, you can decide on whatever you think fits best. Basic salted or unsalted crackers can work, but so can whole grain crackers.
When comes to spreads, there are a couple options for keeping it simple. When talking about spread, I am not referring to the charcuterie spread, but what spread you should use for crackers and breads? For example, you can keep it very simple with some garlic butter. Pate, a spreadable meat, is also a fantastic choice that goes well with crackers. Meat spreads can also come in fish flavors like tuna spread. Spreads give you a lot of options.
Unlike the other parts of a basic charcuterie spread, they are more varied and can consist of many options. For example, there are tons of varying type of spreads like artichoke spread and green olive spread. You can also pair your charcuterie spread with some wine though it is unnecessary if you do not want to drink alcohol. Fruit juices can also be a good choice if you want something to wash down your meats and breads.
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