First, pick your meats. There are two types of meat used in a charcuterie tray: cured meats and whole-muscle cuts. Cured meats are encased and usually sliced into quarter-inch-thick coins, such as pepperoni and chorizo. They typically have dominant non-meat flavors, such as black and red pepper or fennel. Whole-muscle cuts are meats shaved into paper-thin slices, such as prosciutto. They have more of a meat flavor to them and are sometimes processed by salting, smoking and hanging to dry. These meats are also typically nuttier and sweeter. For a complete charcuterie board, you need a little of both. Genoa, coppa and bresaola are also great options, but don’t be afraid to ask your butcher for recommendations. As you’re beginning to plate, consider adding a whimsical touch with some fun cocktail picks for easier eating, like Ralph Lauren’s Gents cocktail picks with their convenient holder.
Next, start putting together your meat and cheese pairings. Keep in mind that your cheeses should both contrast and complement your meat selections. This goes for flavors and textures. Ease the fire of spicy, Spanish-style chorizo with a smooth, sheep’s milk cheese like La Serena. The tartness of the cheese calms the spicy meat, and its creaminess will smooth over the chorizo. Conversely, Prosciutto di Parma goes great with Parmigiano Reggiano because the ribbon of fat in the prosciutto melts in your mouth over the coarse cheese. It’s all about having something to enhance the other’s flavor without overpowering it, thus creating a delicious bite every time. Give your guests a few different options, like sharp-aged Gouda, bleu or Camembert cheese. And don’t forget to give them something gorgeous to eat on—L’Objet’s Fortuny canape plates come in a variety of colors and patterns.
|Set of Four L'Objet Fortuny Canape Plates, $195 at Chelsea Gifts|
We need to add in all the other complementary flavors now. A well-made charcuterie tray will have more than just meat and cheese. Carbs are a necessity, so include some bread, crackers or even both. Homemade toast tastes incredible rubbed with some quality olive oil and cloves of garlic, but for something quick, pick up a fresh baguette on your way home. Pâté is a mixture of fat and ground meat minced into a paste, which may sound iffy to the uninitiated, but tastes delicious. Cut a loaf into slices that can be eaten in one or two bites and serve with some chutney or jam. Finally, throw in some last-minute extras for added color and flavor. Try fruits like Honeycrisp apples slices, pears, dried cranberries and dates, as well as a small spoonful of whole-grain mustard. Olives and pickles are great, but if you’re feeling ambitious, try some pickled onions or pickled garlic on the side.
|Juliska Jardins du Monde Cheeseboard & Knife Set, $115 at Chelsea Gifts|
A few final tips: What grows together goes together. If the items come from the same region of the world, chances are they will pair well. Always be thinking about opposite flavors and don’t let beige overpower your board. Add some color! Once you’ve picked out your selection of food, find a beautiful charcuterie board to lay it out on. For a classic look, try the Juliska Jardins du Monde cheeseboard. For something a little more unconventional, the Michael Aram Cat and Mouse cheeseboard is the perfect choice, and the sophisticated Black Orchid napkin holder complements it nicely. However you choose to display your food, create a charcuterie board that is both flavorful and adventurous.