Prounounced “shahr-kyut-uh-ree,” the French word charcuterie describes cooked, cured and smoked meats such as bacon, ham, sausage, pâté and dry-cured meats. With so many delectable types to choose from, it’s easy to put together a showstopping charcuterie plate as the centerpiece for home entertaining. The key to a “perfect” charcuterie plate is simply variety and balance. Use this as your guide to building a charcuterie plate, and be creative!
1) Meats. This is the star of your spread, so offer a range of flavors and textures and plan for 1-2 ounces of meat per person. This should include various styles of preparation like dry-cured meats (prosciutto, salami, coppa, saucisson sec, sopressata, jamon serrano, bresola, chorizo to name a few) and cooked meats (pâté, mortadella, rillettes). The spice level should vary, with some mild and some spicy.
Tip: An odd number of slices often looks best for presentation on the plate.
2) Acidity. Always include something acidic to counteract the fat and salt of the meats. Try cornichons, olives, whole grain mustard, spicy fruit mostarda, pickled vegetables and/or caper berries.
3) Cheese (optional). Milder style soft cheeses (e.g. ricotta, ricotta salata, pecorino, triple cream brie) let the flavors of the meat stand out. Select mild blue or veined cheeses, aged cheddar, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Manchego if you’d like to complement the meat with more assertive cheeses.
Tip: Unwrap the cheese and let it breathe at room temperature for 30-45 minutes before serving. More tips here!
4) Carbs. Thinly sliced fresh Baguette is a favorite of many, but this is a matter of preference. Choose a high-quality plain bread, cracker, flatbread or crostini to let the meat and cheese shine.
5) Other Components (optional). Add texture and flavor variety to your plate by including nuts (Marcona almonds are a good choice), and/or some fruit that will complement the cheeses you selected. Select fresh or dried honey-sweet fruits (dates, figs, pears) and avoid juicier fruits like peaches, berries or melons.
6) Wine Pairing. A hearty red wine that is not too heavy, such as as Cotes Du Rhone or Pinot Noir, nicely complements most charcuterie spreads.