It is time to take advantage of the remaining warm summer nights and enjoy an evening with friends, sparkling wine, and charcuterie. Entertaining does not get any easier than this. There is no cooking unless you want to make the pâté or a spread. Just assemble and relax. What you place on your charcuterie platter is up to you, but you want to keep in mind how many people you are entertaining, variety in texture and flavor, plus add your personal stamp to the meal. A charcuterie platter is a perfect meal for hot summer nights when it is too hot to cook, or just enjoying a sunset from your deck with friends.
But what is a charcuterie platter? By definition, charcuterie is a French name for a deli, or market, that sells cured meats, especially pork. Charcuterie also means the products that are sold in a charcuterie. With that understanding, a charcuterie platter is a platter or tray layered with smoked and cured meats and other specialty food items, like cheese and pickles.
Traditionally, a charcuterie platter is very meat focused and consists of a variety of cured meats like prosciutto, soppressata, and pâtés, with add-ins like pickles, spicy mustard, bread, or crackers. However, for my platter, and because I believe it is still in the realm of the definition of a charcuterie platter, I added cheeses, fruits, and vegetables.
How to Build a Charcuterie Platter
How does one put together all those different foods so that it looks appealing and covers all the bases of complementary tastes and contrasting textures? First, organize all your ingredients in groups, then arrange all of the ingredients in a decorative yet easy to reach manner.
Start with the meats. A good rule to follow is 2 oz of meat per person. Charcuterie platters contain very rich foods, so you do not want to overdo it. Pick three types of cured meat with different flavors and textures. The meats pictured on my charcuterie platter are soppressata, prosciutto, and bresaola. These three types of cured meats offer a variety in texture and flavor, although a subtle one. A common rule is, have meat that you slice like the soppressata, one meat that comes sliced, like prosciutto, and meat that you spread like pâté.
Other meats you buy sliced are Guanciale or Mortadella.
Meats for spreading are smooth or chunky pâtés or terrines.
What is missing on my charcuterie board is pâté because my family does not care for it. Smoked fish or gravlax is also a nice alternative and an option for people who do not like pork or beef. Keep in mind you want to make something that you know you and your guests will enjoy.
Similar to the cured meats, it is nice to have 3 different types of cheese on your charcuterie board as well. Although, if you want this to be charcuterie platter that is more meat-focused, one selection of cheese is fine.
Like the meats, your cheeses should have different textures and flavors. I usually follow this rule for building a cheese board, one soft rind triple cream cheese, one hard or sharp-tasting cheese, and one blue cheese. The possibilities are endless. If you do not like blue cheese swap in a soft goat cheese.
Other cheese selections are:
This is where you can get creative and add your personal spin to a charcuterie platter. Yet, keep in mind the additional accoutrements have a purpose other than tasting great and looking pretty. The add-ins provide a break from the rich meats and cheeses, provide textural contrast, and clear the palate.
Fill your platter with a wide selection of any of these foods.
Fruits like figs, grapes, berries or dried fruits like apricots or figs are nice selections.
Pickles like cornichons are a must, but you can use other pickled vegetables like carrots, fennel, and chilies.
Briny olives like Kalamata or good green olives.
Fresh vegetables like fennel, cucumber, radishes, or carrots add an important textural contrast with their crisp crunch and are very refreshing.
Mustard is also an important ingredient to a charcuterie platter as they complement the cured meat wonderfully.
Spreads like hummus and tapenade taste great with charcuterie.
Nuts. Any nut like walnuts, almonds or pistachios you can’t go wrong. Just make sure there are no nut allergies before you add them to your platter.
The list is long, but choose a selection of three fruits and/or vegetables, with a couple of specialty items. Don’t be redundant. If you have olive tapenade, do not put out olives. If you have fig jam don’t put out fresh figs, pick another fruit instead. Although, when in season fresh figs are delicious with charcuterie.
Just remember one thing, do not forget the mustard, sweet or spicy or both, it doesn’t matter. In France, it is sacrilegious to serve charcuterie without mustard.
It is nice to arrange everything on one platter and serve with bread or crispy crackers. You can also arrange your charcuterie selection on more than one platter. This is especially important if some of your guests eat a plant-based diet. They might not want their selections mixed in with the meats or cheeses. By the middle of the evening, the charcuterie platter will get messy, so it is thoughtful of you to keep the foods separate. Serving the charcuterie selections on multiple platters works well for larger parties when you will have more meats to arrange on your board.
Toasted French baguette makes a more substantial selection and looks nice when sliced thin on the diagonal. I especially like to serve charcuterie with bread when I want my charcuterie platter to be a meal. Thin crispy plain crackers work well with the cheese and meats too. Also, I found people really enjoy breadsticks as well.
Serve your charcuterie platter at room temperature. You will need to slice the meats and cheeses when they are cold, but everything tastes better when they are at room temperature.
Chilled sparkling wines like a Spanish Cava or an Italian Prosecco, Lambrusco, or a dry rosé are perfect for this type of meal, especially on hot summer nights. Some dry reds that are not too heavy pair nicely as well. Dry sparkling wines help cut the richness of the cheese and meats and clear the palate so you can keep on sampling.
Beer is another good beverage of choice, but I would not do anything too rich. I really enjoyed the pairing of a red ale with my Irish Cheese Platter, so I imagine it works with charcuterie as well.
My son Andrew recommends Saisons because they are dry and spicy, or a good Pilsner. These types of beer will help clear the palate. He also loves Lambic, a Belgium Sour, with charcuterie. Low alcohol beers work nicely because they do not fill you up and you can easily snack on your charcuterie.
For a non-alcohol beverage, seltzer is perfect. Mixed in with lime, or lemon and/or cucumber is very refreshing and helps clear the palate. Anything bubbly that is not sweet. Stay away from soda. You won’t taste the charcuterie if you are drinking a coke.
I hope you enjoy the remains of summer and the ease of the season with charcuterie and friends.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
This month I decided to teach myself about Irish food. I know about the usual suspects, but not much else. Realizing there is probably more to Irish cuisine besides corned beef and cabbage, I set out on an Irish food journey. My journey began researching beer which led me down a delightful but windy road to discover Irish cheese.
If, like me, you are not familiar with Irish cheese, then you are in for a treat. In my area, the available Irish cheeses are from Kerrygold. I was concerned this company is a big commercial brand and not one with artisan cheese quality. Typically, large US grocery stores carry cheeses and food from major commercial companies so I wasn’t sure how these cheeses would taste. I knew their butter was outstanding and decided to have an Irish cheese tasting of three different cheeses: Dubliner Irish Stout Cheese, Irish Whiskey Cheddar and Cashel Blue Cheese. What I learned is Kerrygold not just makes delicious butter, they make wonderful cheeses.
Usually, when I make up a cheese platter I select three distinctly different cheeses. For this platter, I wanted to present a region so the types of cheeses I had are more limited. I also like to have fresh and dried fruits with the cheese because the sweetness and acid from the fruit can cut the richness of the cheese. When I have a cheese tasting I serve the cheese on very plain crackers, like Carr’s Water Crackers. That way I predominantly taste the cheese. The plain crackers are also great to clear your palate.
Three Irish Cheeses
My first Irish cheese sample was Cashel Blue. I don’t know if there is a protocol with cheese tasting, like there is at a wine tasting, but I went ahead and dug right into the strongest cheese on the plate. It is a strong blue cheese, but not a biting one. There is a wonderful creaminess to offset the musty veins. We loved it, and I later learned it is an award-winning cheese. As I was tasting it I was going through my mind of what I would want to make with it, like my Blue Cheese Baby Cheesecakes, or Blue Cheese Dip with Caramelized Shallots. Yet again, Cashel Blue is just fine by itself paired with Killian’s Red Ale.
Dubliner Irish Stout Cheese was the driest in texture and mildest of the three cheeses. I would not classify this as a mild cheese though, as it has a lot of body. This is a Dubliner cheese infused with Irish stout. It has a rich and nutty taste with a hint of malty stout. The stout flavor is mild, yet blended well with the nutty cheese flavor. The color is so buttery and beautiful.
Irish Whisky Cheddar is exactly as the name states. Oh man, this cheese is delicious. It is a sharp but creamy cheddar with lots of body. There are hints of the caramel from the whisky without the boozy flavor. This is another winner, and in our opinion, one of the best cheddar cheeses we have ever had.
I am no stranger to good cheese. I worked in a gourmet cheese store in NYC and lived my entire life in the States with exceptional artisan cheese companies. There is an obvious connection between areas where there are quality dairy farms and high-end artisan cheese making. All the cheeses are balanced in flavor. You know the phrase, “You are what you ate, ate”? These cheeses deliver in quality flavor because they were made from milk of grass-fed happy cows. I wanted to travel in space and land on an emerald-green coastal pasture in Ireland.
My Irish cheese tasting was a fun and delicious discovery and I will happily do again. Yet, any one of these cheeses would be welcome on any cheese platter. As recommended, I served an Irish red ale to pair with the cheese, but snuck in tasting some stout along the way. The Irish red ale thoroughly complimented the cheeses, and I did not miss the customary wine and cheese tasting. As the saying goes, “What grows together, goes together”.
If you want to make an Irish Cheese Platter, but can’t find any cheeses in your area, I-gourmet is a very good specialty cheese and food website. They started their business in my hometown of Yorktown and offer a great choice of cheeses and other fun food and gifts items. Click on this link for their “Little Bit of Ireland” selection.
What beer and cheese pairing do you enjoy?
Full disclosure, I am not sponsored by Kerrygold or anybody. This is about my research based on what Irish cheeses and beer are available to me in NY. It is my intention to learn more about Irish cuisine, (and beer), and how I can develop this cuisine into my repertoire. Cheers!
© 2017 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.