Pâtés, terrines, prosciutto, dry sausage, salume...charcuterie satisfies our basest cravings for salt and fat. It's also the perfect cocktail party hors d'oeuvre; requiring no preparation (unless you're curing it yourself), serving well at room temperature, and satisfying the most sophisticated of palettes to the simplest, that is, if meat-and-potato-vores can get used to the texture of pâté. We put together a small serving board of fine charcuterie and came up with these tips.
1. Buyer Beware
Beware of large grocery stores and their deli platters. Do your shopping at gourmet grocers who specialize in traditionally cured meats, not at deli counters that hock over-processed sandwich filler injected full of chemical flavors and colors. We're lucky enough to live and work near foodie paradise Formaggio Kitchen, whose selection of cheeses, cured meats, and artisan groceries leaves nothing to be desired.. If you're an unfortunate soul who resides in a gourmet food desert, plenty of gourmet grocers and salumerias have opened up their doors online, including Formaggio and the Seattle icon Salumi.
2. Pork: The Only White Meat
Even at their busiest, the staff behind Formaggio's impressive cheese and charcuterie counter are always more than helpful. With their help we picked out a delicious range of cured pork; the mainstay of any charcuterie platter.
La Quercia Speck, an aromatic applewood-smoked speck (similar to prosciutto) cured from heritage breed pigs in Iowa that melts on the tongue and lingers in the mouth with its light, smoky flavor.
Rosette de Lyon, a French dry sausage (or saucisson) that's soft and chewy with a lasting finish. It's delicious with cornichons--the perfect garnish for your platter.
Their House-Made Pork Rillette, a confit of local pork with a simple and strong flavor that spreads easily onto crispy slices of baguette.
Pork is wonderful and comes in enough variations to fill the largest of platters and satisfy the most sophisticated foodies, but don't pin yourself down. Complement your pork selections with alternatives. Formaggio Kitchen makes a fantastic rabbit rillette, but we went with...
Their House-Made Duck Pâté. A lunchtime favorite of mine that's made with Hudson Valley Moulard duck, pork fat, pork and chicken liver, salt, pepper, cream, eggs, flour, red wine, brandy, sherry, port, garlic, shallot, parsley, thyme, sage, ground ginger, orange zest and port-soaked dried tart cherries. As you might've guessed, it's a symphony in your mouth. And with each bite, just like returning to a great piece of music, you find something new.
A beautifully marbled bresaola (dried beef) that's plain in flavor but gradually builds on the taste buds.
4. Keep It Simple
Charcuterie began in pre-refrigerator Europe out of a practical need to preserve meat. It's since been elevated to an art, but that's no reason to deny its sensible heritage. Avoid ornate plates and platters and select something plain. We spread our charcuterie across a beautiful hickory J.K. Adams serving board. There's no need to be fancy with presentation, as you should be shooting for a pastoral vibe. We roughly rolled what was rollable, laid the sausage flat, and set the pâté and rillette on the end of the platter. If you're passing bread (for Cantabrigians, Iggy's Country Baguette is your best option) slice it beforehand as the crispy crust of a good baguette can be messy and difficult to cut for some.
5. Discourage Fingerpicking
Fingerpicking is great for Spanish guitarists, but not for communal platters of food. Discourage it among (progressively intoxicated) guests by providing basic utensils. We kept a Sabre Nature knife that matched the board nearby for the pâté and rillette and a David Mellor fork for picking up slices of meat.