What makes a great Charcuterie presentation.
One of the most confusing things to the average, non-Chef’s of the world is, “What exactly is Charcuterie and how do you even pronounce it correctly?” Two valid questions, when there are so many things considered by so many different Chef’s to be Charcuterie. Solving the easiest of those two questions first; According to a google search, there are two best ways to pronounce Charcuterie.
The first being “shahr-kew-tree” and by other accounts “shahr-kew-te-ree” is also an acceptable way to pronounce it.
To me, both pronunciations sound the same- so as long as you’re not saying “Char-koot-tahaa-ree” you’re good.
Now we’ll tackle the harder question of what exactly is Charcuterie, and what does it entail? What kinds of meat, cheeses, fruit- even what kind of boards and knives do you use?
Modern Charcuterie is such a broad range of things, so we can narrow it down into something you and your family can do at home, or when entertaining friends or business associates.
Historically Charcuterie consist of basically three things- sliced meat, cheese and a wooden serving board.
Now, modern Charcuterie goes well beyond these 3 simple things with the addition of fruits, nuts, breads, jams, jellies, pickled items and small one bite desserts all fall under the term Charcuterie.
There are a lot of choices and options now to serve your family or events guests- so the sky is the limit for what you can create by mixing and matching any kind bite sized Hors d'oeuvre.
Technically, any kind of serving board or tray could be used for Charcuterie, and that’s why at Todd Alan Woodcraft, we sell boards in the main category they were intended for but if you read the descriptions of the boards we create, we detail further what they could be alternatively used for.
Of course, we strongly suggest Wood boards for the natural, organic feel that they add to any dinner or event atmosphere.
Wood boards are also the most commonly associated with Charcuterie and depending on the board, it can add a modern elegant or rustic look to your table.
We offer a Charcuterie specific category of boards, but some of our serving boards would be awesome for a charcuterie layout as well.
We tend to make the Charcuterie boards a bit longer and wider as to be beautiful centerpiece table toppers. Normally serving boards are small to medium and shorter in length. We try to vary our serving board sizes, to fit them into multiple categories, while still keeping the serving boards unique characteristics.
Either way, all our Serving or Charcuterie boards are great for laying out a beautiful presentation.
Though there are many variations in color and style of wood for Charcuterie, we suggest finding foods you like that go with, and compliment your boards features.
Contrasting colors, or uniquely shaped foods that compliment the board are a great way to do this as Charcuterie is not just about taste, it’s about the art of the visual design as well.
Be creative and make whatever board you pick, make your Charcuterie an expression of the artistic branch of your foodie life.
One basic essential of any good Charcuterie board is having some savory and spicy elements. One of the best ways to incorporate both of these is to add a little Mustard. We suggest adding two basics to start with Yellow (or sometimes called “White”), Brown or as most commonly people refer to as Dijon.
Other great additions to the board are garlic mustard, maple or honey mustard, spicy brown and even siracha style mustard. We suggest having small serving bowls and a cheese spreading knife or small tea spoon for guests to spread the mustard on whatever finger food they’ve picked up.
Meats / Cheese / Fruits / Spreads and other yummy things.
Here’s a short list of traditional and modern accoutrements for an exceptional Charcuterie board, which would sure to be a crowd pleaser.
One thing we do suggest, is under oily foods. place something to keep the foods from having direct contact with the wood. Especially for pungent foods such as truffle infused butters, meats and other aged pungent cheeses. The oils from these make cleaning and oder removal a harder task than it needs to be when it permeates and infuses the natural oil and wax used in cleaning and preserving your board.
A few items you can use as a buffer between the wood and foods are: Wax Paper, Leaf Lettuce, Kale, Arugula, Small plates or bowls.
If you aren’t familiar with more than basic American and Cheddar cheeses, its always good to ask the manager of the the local cheese department of your favorite store what Artisan cheeses they might suggest for you. Also, the same goes for meat department managers as well.
Tell them a little about what you’re looking to make, the type of event and most department managers are more than happy to help you select items that will be popular with your guests and work well together.
Some great cheeses to use are brie, blue cheese/gorgonzola, camembert, gouda, gruyere, goat cheese (block, not crumble), cream cheese, different flavors of jack, cheddar or mozzarella, havarti. There are harder cheeses like parmesan, asiago and romano which are great additions to the board.
One tip: If you are using a strong ripened cheese or something pungent, separate the cheese by a few items between them, so over the course of your night or event, the taste of that stronger cheese doesn’t infuse into any mild or bland cheeses around it. And also remember what we said about pungent cheeses making direct contact with your board.
Common meats served with Charcuterie are: salami, pepperoni, jambon, prosciutto other types of sausages or dried game meats. For a more modern Charcuterie board, smoked meats, Paté from different types of poultry, mousse and pickled meats are usually well received by guests.
Cold-cuts are also acceptable, but with those, to make easier for your guests to pick them up we suggest rolling them.
A easy to make crowd favorite is to take sliced Turkey cold-cuts and spread about a tablespoon of whipped cream cheese on each of the turkey slices. Place a very thin sliced pickle spear off to one side of each slice and roll the pickle spear to make a turkey wrap. Put a toothpick in the center to hold the wrap into place.
Fruits, Nuts and Vegetables.
A great addition to a meat and cheese board are savory and sweet tastes. Also hearty and earthy flavors of veggies add to the many variety of tastes available for modern Charcuterie options. Just remember to take into consideration anyone you know who has a nut allergy when designing your layout and design as you may want to omit nuts. We suggest unshelled nuts only, because shells can get messy and into other foods on the board.
Here are some great additions to your board:
almonds (plain or seasoned), peanuts (plain or seasoned), cashews, walnuts, hazelnuts, seasoned pine nut (in a bowl with a spoon), pickled vegetables (onions, cauliflower, asparagus, peppers, carrots gherkins), black olives, mediterranean olive varieties, artichoke hearts, carrots (sliced, or sticks), roasted red peppers, celery sticks, zucchini slices, sugar snap peas, green beans, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, grapes, pear slices, apple slices, sliced kiwi, pineapple, cherries, figs… the list could go on and on.
Mix and match colors and come up with come innovative flavor combinations!
Other than honey, normally sweets haven’t been a part of a Charcuterie spread, but are now gaining more and more acceptance as professional chefs, caterers and event hosts have been increasingly using them in their designs.
Some simple ideas for sweets to add to your culinary line-up are: chocolate squares or candies (dark, milk or white), dried fruit (blueberries, cranberries, raisins, peaches, apricots, apples), small cream puffs, bite-sized cakes and cheesecakes, cake pops and mini-doughnuts. Chocolate covered strawberries are always a popular choice.
We don’t suggest adding wrapped candy or pastry items to the boards, no matter what quality the candy or pastry might be. Wrappers cheapen the look and take away from the over all aesthetics of the board. Plus, sometime- and I hate to say it- but people can be a little sloth and just place the wrapper down without being mindful of the food around it and you don’t want a wrapper getting into something you’ve spent time cooking/baking or designing.
Many people like to add jams and jellies, or a small tea light candle fondu pot of melted chocolate to dip marshmallows or pretzels in.
Pepper jellies are great and add a little sweet heat to your board. One thing we love to do is take a block of a little less than room temperature cream cheese or goat cheese, place it on a small plate, then pour jalapeño pepper jelly over it. We garnish the cheese and jelly with some kind of berries and serve it with whole wheat crackers and a spreading Cheese knife. It’s a crowd favorite every time.
We also suggest fig spreads, orange marmalade, apricot marmalade, Sweetened canned cherries and berry preserves. These can be served in bowls with spoons, or over different foods.
Bread, Spread and everything else.
Crostini, bread (sourdough, rye, wheat, rustic wheat, cheese, so on), wheat crackers, rye crackers, chickpea crackers and depending on your spread, chips and pretzels add to the many things you can add meats, cheese, spreads, mousse and paté too. They are great for dipping, spreading and as a platform for stabilizing meats and cheese while eating.
Dips are spreads are an easy to add item to your Charcuterie board, but the one important thing to remember is keeping these cool- as they can go bad with bacteria once they stay at room temperature for a short while. If you are going to use dips, make sure to do some research on proper ways to keep them cool.
Things you can add are hummus, ranch dip, onion dip, blue cheese dips, and other types of spreads for veggies, meats and breads. Olive oil and balsamic vinegar together plated, or in a small bowl, makes for a great bread dip. Room temperature butter is also a good addition, with an easy spreading butter knife.
Last food items we’ll mention are things like pickled hard boiled eggs, pickled quail eggs are popular items to add, either whole or sliced, sautéed foods- which have been chilled and plated, like mushrooms and onions are excellent toppers for a cracker/mousse combination.
One thing we suggest staying away from is seafood and fish- unless you read up on proper techniques to keep your seafood and fish chilled throughout your evening or event. You run the risk of food borne bacteria quickly developing and also, fish unless presented properly can infuse into the wood and be one of the hardest smells to remove from a wood board.
Finally, what serving utensils and knives are important to have available to guests? Cheese knives are a must, one for the softer more spreadable cheeses, and a knife for the harder cheeses that take more effort to cut.
The two types of Cheese knives we suggest you have available for your dinner or event are: a Fork-Tipped Spear knife which works great for both cutting, slicing and also the tip can be used for picking up the cheese and the second is a Soft Cheese Knife. These are both essential for your cheese plates. Soft cheese knives can also be used for spreading mousse, paté, jams and jellies. An additional knife, though not essential, yet very handy is a Cheese fork. This is useful for picking up not only cheese, but also meats, veggies and fruit as well.
As far as plating and serving, that is up to you, your budget and creativity.
Many party supply stores have plate and napkin styles for a variety of budgets. We suggest if serving food that needs spoons, knives and forks, that you don’t use plastic- as they can be dangerous around foods if they shatter or break.
We hope this helps settle some of your questions on what is or isn’t Charcuterie, what boards work the best, what food choices are available for your boards, and helps take any confusion out of planning for your Charcuterie.
Realistically when it’s all said and done, nowadays creating a unique and imaginative Charcuterie board is whatever you can dream and imagine.
So be creative and have a lot of fun with it!
To see our full line of beautiful Todd Alan Woodcraft Charcuterie Boards Click Here.