How to Build the Ultimate Charcuterie Board
Entertaining always sounds like a fun idea—until you wind up in the kitchen, frantically sautéing and searing while your guests mix and mingle. Instead, prep in advance and throw a vino-friendly soirée with cheeses, charcuterie and accouterments from the major wine-producing regions of the world.
To make it even more hassle free, skip the presentation boards and serving platters.
“Get sheets of brown parchment paper and line the table,” says Sarah Clarke, beverage director at Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles. “You can draw outlines of each item and write the name and tasting notes next to it.”
Borrow from the traditions of Spain, Greece, Italy and France. Slice, scoop, toss and plate before the doorbell rings. You’ll be able to enjoy the party, glass of wine in hand. What a concept.
The country that invented tapas knows a little something about nibbling and noshing, not to mention keeping things casual and convivial.
“The Spanish food experiences that left the biggest impression with us were simple,” says Justin Severino, executive chef and co-owner of Morcilla in Pittsburgh. “They were social experiences, eating with our hands, drinking while interacting with the people around us.”
Save the fussy appetizers and culinary parlor tricks for another time. Think rustic: Set out bread and toothpicks rather than knives and forks. As Severino suggests, “choose pairings that spark conversation and interaction.”
“The beauty of tapas is that such amazing flavors allow for a multitude of pairings,” says Jussi Roy, beverage manager at Tinto in Philadelphia.
Martínsancho’s 2013 Verdejo from Rueda offers enough viscosity and verve to offset the rich and creamy Mahón cheese, while the herbaceous and slightly effervescent Alleme 2013 Getariako Txakolina complements salty olives, jamón or sardines. Similar to a big Oregon Pinot Noir or Southern Rhône blend, the Losada 2012 El Pájaro Rojo (a Mencía from Bierzo) offers bitter cherry and spice, making it friendly with chorizo. Try the intense, blackberry and black-pepper-tinged Rio Madre 2013 Graciano from Rioja with piquillo or padrón peppers, and the nutty Hidalgo NV Napoleon Amontillado Sherry with a bowl of Marcona almonds and dry, salty cheeses.
Jamón Ibérico: cured Spanish ham from acorn- and olive-fed black Iberian pigs
Lomo embuchado: dry-cured pork tenderloin dusted with pimentón, wrapped and cured
Cecina: hind leg of beef, salted, smoked and air-dried
Jamón serrano: classic dry-cured Spanish ham
Chistorra: fermented sausage seasoned with garlic and sweet smoked paprika, grilled crispy and served with bread
Chorizo blanco: lean white wine and garlic salami
Chorizo de Pamplona: pork and beef sausage from Navarre seasoned with paprika
Padrón peppers: some hot, some not, blistered whole on the grill and tossed with olive oil and sea salt
Pan con tomate: grilled bread seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper, rubbed with raw garlic and heirloom tomato
Garrotxa: semi-firm Catalonian goat cheese
Manchego: firm, buttery sheep’s milk cheese from La Mancha
Mahón: buttery, sharp, slightly salty and lightly aromatic Minorcan cow’s milk cheese
Monte Enebro: ash-rind goat cheese from Castilla
Marinated piquillo peppers: served with eggplant and anchovy on toasted focaccia bread (recipe below)
Spanish olives: marinated in thyme, orange, olive oil and bay leaf
Marinated boquerones: Spanish white anchovies with toasted pine nuts and gordal olives
Marcona almonds: served warm with rosemary and Espelette pepper
Marinated Piquillo Peppers
Recipe courtesy Jose Garces, chef, The Garces Group, Philadelphia
1 (16-ounce) can piquillo peppers or
high-quality roasted red peppers,
drained and rinsed thoroughly
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
2 tablespoons finely sliced garlic cloves
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup high-quality Sherry vinegar
Arrange peppers on large platter, laying flat so peppers are slightly overlapping. In a small mixing bowl, combine parsley, garlic, rosemary, olive oil and vinegar. Salt and pepper to taste. Pour marinade over peppers, cover platter with plastic wrap and refrigerate 2–4 hours. Remove peppers from refrigerator 30 minutes before serving to reach room temperature. Serves 8–12.
If a Mediterranean island vacation isn’t in the cards, you can still go Greek, at least for the evening. Transport guests to the land of abundant sunshine and powdery white-sand beaches (or black, or pink) with native cured meats, cheeses and spreads.
However, don’t forget the treasures sourced from the sparkling Aegean Sea.
“Greece is surrounded by water, and a big part of our diet is seafood,” says George Pagonis, executive chef/partner of Kapnos Taverna in Arlington, Virginia. The country’s impressive wines can deftly stand up to it all, resulting in a fête that’s way more fun than your college Classics course.
Like its cuisine, Greek wines may be as tricky to pronounce, but they’re undeniably food-friendly. Taha Ismail, beverage director for Kapnos and Kapnos Taverna, says the citrus tones of the Manousakis 2012 Nostos Roussanne from Crete can break down the fattiness of Greek cheeses. The salinity and minerality of the Sigalas 2012 Assyrtiko plays well with salty cured meats, while the delicate natural effervescence of the Tselepos NV Amalia Brut, made entirely of Moschofilero, has an affinity for seafood. The vibrant acidity of the Gerovassiliou 2012 Single Vineyard Malagousia from Epanomi is a winning partner for tangy marinated olives, while the Gaia 2013 Agiorgitiko 14-18h Rosé from Nemea is a pairings multitasker. “It goes with anything—it cleanses your palate with every sip,” Ismail says.
Pastirma: cured beef coated with spices including garlic, paprika and fenugreek
Lefkada: pork- and pepper-based sausage from its namesake island in the Ionian Sea
Siglino manis: salt-cured smoked pork popular on the Peloponnese peninsula
Feta: crumbly cheese made with goat’s or sheep’s milk and cured in brine
Kefalograviera: rich and salty, a hard cheese made with sheep’s or goat’s milk, similar to Gruyère
Kasseri: medium-hard sheep’s milk cheese that’s mellow yet tangy
Avgotaraho: cured gray mullet fish roe preserved in beeswax
Anchovies/sardines: cured in salt, rinsed and soaked in white wine vinegar
Tzatziki: classic yogurt dip with dill, cucumber and garlic
Taramosalata: creamy and addictively salty carp roe-based spread
Melitzanosalata: roasted eggplant dip (recipe below)
Florina peppers: sweet and spicy
Kalamata olives: purple, mouthwateringly briny
Tsakistes: green olives from Crete cracked to pick up more flavor from the brine
Recipe courtesy George Pagonis, executive chef/partner, Kapnos Taverna, Arlington, Virginia
Serve this classic Greek eggplant dip with anything from pita chips to crudités. Make it ahead of time and refrigerate, as it only gets better as the flavors meld. It’s best at room temperature, so remove from refrigerator at least 30 minutes prior to serving.
2 red bell peppers
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons kosher salt
3 large eggplants
½ cup toasted walnuts
½ red onion, cut into ¼-inch dice
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup crumbled feta cheese, divided
2 tablespoons chopped mint
Pepper, to taste
Sea salt, to taste
Preheat oven to 375˚F. Place red peppers in bowl, and toss with canola oil and salt. Place on cookie sheet and bake 45 minutes, or until skin blisters. Remove from oven, place in clean bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Once peppers cool, remove stems, seeds and skin. Cut peppers into ½-inch squares.
Preheat grill to medium. Pierce eggplants around exterior, and toss with canola oil and salt. Grill eggplants until completely charred on one side, and rotate. Roast until eggplant is falling apart and almost burned, about 1 hour. Remove from grill. Cut eggplants in half, scoop out insides, discard skins and chop into small pieces.
Place walnuts on a cookie sheet. Toast in oven until golden brown. Chop into small pieces.
Toss eggplant with peppers in bowl. Add onion, red wine vinegar, olive oil, ¾ cup crumbled feta cheese and mint. Mix well and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Arrange mixture on plate and sprinkle remaining feta, toasted walnuts, olive oil and sea salt on top.
Carnivores will marvel at the sheer number of cured selections available, while formaggio fans will swoon at options that range from silky, gooey burrata to salty, crumbly Parmigiano.
With culinary goodies hailing from virtually every town or region (including a staggering number of grape varieties and styles), there’s no shortage of readily available ingredients—and this cuisine is perfect for a formal-meets-informal gathering.
“The elegance and sophistication of thoughtful pairings together with the casual mingling atmosphere is such a great approach,” says Clarke. To make it even more interactive, print out tasting sheets for guests with classic and eclectic pairings.
Franciacorta is Italy’s answer to Champagne, and Clarke likes the golden apple and brioche notes of the Bellavista NV Alma Cuvée Brut Franciacorta with caviar-topped burrata. In Lambrusco, red bubbles reign; the Rinaldini NV Pronto Secco Lambrusco is a dry and modern style with low tannins and palate-scrubbing acidity for fatty charcuterie. The mineral tones of the G.D. Vajra 2012 Langhe Bianco work with smoked meats, while its high acidity cuts the richness of creamy cheeses. Pesto and caper berry relish find a friend in the citrusy Ciro Picariello 2012 Greco di Tufo. The classic Nebbiolo grape is young and approachable in the versatile 2010 Nebbiolo del Langhe from Produttori del Barbaresco. It boasts floral aromas, with red berries and fennel on the palate.
Soppressata: large-diameter dry sausage with lots of definition between meat and fat
Speck: dry-cured ham from the Alto Adige region that’s cold-smoked with juniper
Capocollo: cured sausage using whole muscle from the shoulder and neck; can be spicy or sweet
Bresaola: air-dried, salted beef aged several months
Grissini: thin, crispy Italian breadsticks spread with European-style butter mixed with truffle salt and wrapped in prosciutto (recipe at right)
Burrata: mild, luscious, semi-soft cheese that makes an excellent base for accompaniments
Ricotta: curd whey-based cheese, served with a drizzle of olive oil, pepper and pistachios
Gorgonzola Lombardy and Piedmont cow’s milk cheese, either dolce (sweet) or naturale (aged)
Pecorino Toscano: luxurious sheep’s milk cheese from Tuscany
Parmigiano-Reggiano: drizzled with rich and unctuous balsamic vinegar
Mozzarella di bufala: made in Campania with water buffalo milk, served with condiments (listed below)
Tapenade: finely chopped olives, capers, anchovies and olive oil
Romesco: puréed nut and roasted red pepper spread with Spanish roots
Pesto: puréed sauce of basil, pine nuts, garlic and olive oil
Caper Relish: caper berries, garlic, olive oil, shallots, herbs and red wine vinegar
Grissini with Truffle Butter and Prosciutto
Recipe courtesy Osteria Mozza and The Mozza Cookbook by Nancy Silverton with Matt Molina and Carolyn Carreno (2011, Knopf)
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon truffle salt
24 long Italian breadsticks
24 thin slices of prosciutto (about 6 ounces)
Combine butter and truffle salt in small bowl. Break breadsticks in half. Spread 2 inches of truffle butter on last 3–4 inches of the broken end of breadsticks.
Tear prosciutto slice in half and loosely drape around breadstick and truffle butter. Repeat with remaining breadsticks. Lay breadsticks on serving platter, crossing undressed portion of sticks in “x” formation. Makes 48 sticks.
Consider yourself forewarned: With copious amounts of pâté, foie gras, rillettes and butter, this country does not pander to calorie counters. Be inspired by the French people’s unapologetic joie de vivre with decidedly hedonistic Gallic fare. According to Ed Scarpone, executive chef at DBGB Kitchen and Bar in Washington, DC, the perfect French charcuterie board should include all of the above, along with creamy cheeses, crusty breads, pastes, mustards, olive oil and fleur de sel. But no matter the ingredients, begin the evening on a sparkling note.
“A glass of Champagne in hand immediately puts me in a festive mood,” says the restaurant’s head sommelier, Caroline Bowker.
Pâté and cured meats love bubbles, says Bowker, who pairs the Pierre Gimonnet & Fils NV Cuis 1er Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne with everything from charcuterie to gougères. More wallet-friendly but equally versatile is the Bénédicte et Stephane Tissot NV Crémant du Jura Extra Brut Rosé. The Le Rocher des Violettes 2011 Touch-Mitaine from Montlouis-sur-Loire is full of tension and mineral notes, foiling rich spreads and creamy cheeses. Any other dry Montlouis or Vouvray would serve a similar purpose. Red wine fans should seek ones that are crisp and fresh, according to Bowker, since “the acid refreshes the palate and counters the richness of the meat.” The spicy, black-pepper-tinged Pascal Janvier 2012 Cuvée du Rosier, made with Pineau d’Aunis, and the more perfumed, pretty George Descombes 2012 Morgon (a cru Beaujolais) are both perfect with saucisson sec.
Pâté de campagne: country-style terrine with pork, liver, fresh herbs and peppercorn, served with rustic bread
Duck pâté: smooth spread of duck gizzards, mushrooms and peppercorn spiked with brandy
Saucisson sec: dried pork sausage seasoned with Espelette or black pepper
Rillettes: confit-based meat spreads stored in its own fat, served at room temperature with crusty bread and pickles
Foie gras: spreadable cured duck liver usually encased in a layer of its fat
Whole grain and Dijon mustards: served as cheese and meat accouterments
Quince paste: sweet, thick jelly made from quince, pairs well with cheese
High-quality honey drizzle over soft cheeses
Cornichons: tiny, tangy pickles that add texture and bite
Fromager d’Affinois: sweet, silky double-cream cow’s milk cheese
Comte Sainte Antoine: hard cow’s milk cheese from Jura with a round mouthfeel
Fourme d’Ambert blue cheese from Auvergne that’s tart and creamy, with less spice and tang than other European blues
Crusty French breads including baguettes and raisin bread