Charcuterie 101: What Is It, What Goes On It?


Watch Tutorial on Making a Charcuterie Board

You're having some friends over for a dinner party or just some hors d'oeuvres and drinks, and you want to serve them something a little more sophisticated than the traditional meat and cheese plate most dinner parties have.

So how about a charcuterie plate instead?

Perfect! You've seen them more and more at different restaurants on the appetizer menu, maybe you've even tried them yourself. But what exactly is it? Is there anything special that goes on it? Anything you shouldn't have? And how is "charcuterie" different from a meat and cheese platter, since that's what you actually saw on it the last time you had it?

To be honest, charcuterie actually is a meat and cheese plate, it just sounds fancier.

At the same time, it's a lot more than that.

"Basically, charcuterie is French, and it refers to any kind of cured meat or preserved meat product. My grandmother used to say, 'it's meat, but it's really bad for you,'" said Pascal Sacleux, charcuterie expert at Hinckley's Fancy Meats in Orlando, Florida. Sacleux spent part of his childhood growing up in France with his French father and American mother, where he learned quite a bit about proper French charcuterie.

Pronounced "SHAR-coo-ter-ee," the word comes from the French meaning "cooked meat." And officially, it refers to just meat, but you can add other things to the plate, like cheese and some fruits or sweet items. A charcuterie plate is ideal for entertaining guests, and it can either be the whole purpose of the gathering, or it can just be the light snack before the actual meal.

Kenzie Kittle, Parker Gwen's social media manager, said she often has friends over just for drinks and charcuterie. 

"This is how I like to entertain people. I love to use charcuterie plates as a way to host people when I want to have something a little different," Kittle said. 

There's really no right or wrong way to do charcuterie. You can have any kinds of meats, cheese, fruits, and other items on your platter. The point is to enjoy what you have. Here are a few items we recommend to create your own charcuterie plate.

To start, you want to get a few different kinds of meats, with different textures and tastes. Sacleux recommends a cured ham like prosciutto or Bayonne ham, something soft and spreadable like country pâté or duck liver mousse, and a dry cured sausage like soppressata (a cured Italian salami) or saucisson (a thick French dry-cured sausage).

You can use any kind of cured meats you like, including the regular summer sausages or smoked ham slices you'd find at the grocery store, but Sacleux recommends treating yourself as much as possible.

"If you really want to impress your friends, get jamón Ibérico, a Spanish style of cured ham," said Sacleux. "It's pricey, but well worth it."

You can't have meat without cheese, of course, and again, you can pick whatever you like. For example, pick a very sharp, flavorful cheese, a mild cheese, and a spreadable cheese. Kittle recommends getting a mix of hard and soft cheeses.

For example, try a blue cheese like Gorgonzola or Stilton, a hard cheese like Comté or Gruyère, and a semi-soft cheese like Brie or Camembert. Kittle usually warms her Brie or Camembert so it's easier to spread.

Finally, Sacleux recommends a washed rind cheese like Epoisses or Chimay, which are usually rind washed in wine or beer. "They smell pretty strong, but they're delicious," he said. For some sweeter notes, add a little fruit or honey. You can use anything spreadable like fig paste, honey comb, or quince paste. You can also add dried apricots, raisins, grapes, pomegranate seeds, Asian pears, or figs. Sacleux also recommends cornichons (small French pickles), pickled onions, or something else pickled to cut the fat from the meat and cheese.

Finally, you'll want to serve some sort of toasted bread, like a toasted baguette or toast points, especially if you're serving something spreadable like pâté or Brie cheese. You can slice up the baguette and toast it lightly in a regular oven. (Slice a baguette on the diagonal, about 20 – 25 pieces. Spread olive oil or butter and then bake them at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes.)

When it comes to drinks, there's no magical pairing of drinks with charcuterie. You can drink whatever you like — some people prefer spirits, others want wine or beer. For example, some people will drink big red wines to go with the bold flavors of the charcuterie, other people want white wines because they want the sweetness to contrast.

Kittle says that when she entertains, she sticks to wines, since that's what her friends like to drink. "This season, I'll stick to reds, but in the summer I would do a white wine or rosé," said Kittle.

You can serve up your charcuterie board on a plate, but we like the current restaurant trend of serving them on cutting boards like our round marble cutting board. And don't forget the Banswara Marble Cheese Knife Set to serve up the cheeses. And if you're entertaining a lot of people, check out our 20" x 5.9" marble cutting board.

Or just do what Kittle has done, and use a number of different plates all centered around a seasonal theme.

"One year, for girls' night at Christmas, I put together an Elf-inspired cheese spread. I wrapped up the top of my island with wrapping paper to look like a gift, and then I laid out cheeses, candies, chocolates, and had more of a dessert spread," said Kittle.

"I'm even thinking about doing something for March Madness and doing cheese brackets," she added.

To learn more about how Parker Gwen can help you entertain your friends and family, whether it's a big dinner party or just a charcuterie board for two, check out the Dining & Bar section of our website. Or if you have any questions or need advice, please contact us at support@parkergwen.com or visit our website for more information.

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