Don’t sleep on the accoutrements
While I love to make opulent brunch dishes from time to time (a shiny babka, a quiche packed with neatly chopped vegeables, a tray of fat cinnamon rolls) I’ve recently found myself more interested in snack-style meals. And to me, that means a charcuterie board. I’m not talking about a piece of chorizo and a hunk of whatever Cheddar I have in the fridge, but a discerning selection of meats, cheeses, and accoutrements. Of course, I can talk a big game about my interest in putting together such a platter, but it can be a little intimidating when I actually get to the store. So I consulted Elias Cairo, salumist and founder of Olympia Provisions who provided me with his top ten tips for putting together a killer charcuterie board.
1. Factor an amount of meat per person
“As a general rule, serve two ounces of charcuterie per person,” Cairo told me in an email. Like how you might factor one bottle of wine per person at a dinner party, approximating how much meat to serve per person is a great way to avoid overspending and under buying. Not everyone will eat two ounces of meat, but someone is sure to eat less and someone is sure to eat more.
2. Vary textures on the board
Cairo recommends using a mixture of textures, because “variety is pleasing to the eye and the palate.” For example, instead of putting three hard salamis on the board, use some hard salamis like chorizo or sopressata, some thinly sliced meats like jamón or prosciutto, and softer paste like a pâté, mousse, or rillette. This also ties into…
3. Incorporate different flavors of meats
“We like to have a mix in flavors in our meats,” Cairo said. He suggests pairing dry cured salami with smokier sliced meats.
4. Cheese is necessary
Nothing goes better with cured meats than cheese. Cairo recommends two or three cheeses per board, in a variety of textures. “Make sure to get something hard alongside something creamy.”
5. So are carbs
Really, what are meat and cheese without bread? A sliced baguette is a great choice for salty meats and cheeses, as are crackers and and crostini.
6. Empty out the pantry
After all that meat and cheese, you’re going to need something to balance those rich flavors. Cairo suggests accenting the board with acidic pickles, crunchy nuts, whole grain mustard (Maille is his favorite brand), tinned fish, and something sweet like quince jam or a drizzle of honey.
7. Add something warm
Especially in the winter, Cairo likes to add something warm to the board, like a crisped up sausage or warm rillettes. “This way you're pleasing all of the senses,” he said.
8 Try something fresh
“As a general rule of thumb, we like to pair the decadence of charcuterie with something lively or refreshing, like pears or apples, depending on the season,” Cairo said. Figs, pomegranate seeds, and grapes also work well here.
9. Finishing touches make all the difference
Just before serving the board, drizzle the hard and soft meats with good olive oil, then sprinkle the pâté, rillettes, and mousse with flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
10. Don't forget the wine
“Nothing pairs better with an epic charcuterie board than wine,” Cairo said. Since there are so many flavors happening on the board, anything goes when it comes to wine, and he recommends having several unique bottles of red, white, rose, and sparkling wine on hand.