– Words by Sandra Jones Photography by Don Denton
In 15th-century France, charcutiers produced a range of cooked or salted and dried meats. With no side-by-side fridge/freezer combos, these ancient preservation methods were used to ensure that meats would have longer shelf lives for the peasant class.
A few centuries later, the role of charcuterie is not nearly so cut and dried. Today it’s a sought-after and celebrated luxury menu item found everywhere from the toniest of restaurants to the humblest of eateries. Judging by the vast array of social media images paying homage to these boards of plenty, home cooks have embraced the trend, making it mainstream fare for casual nights at home or entertaining on a grand scale.
Brad Boisvert, chef and owner of Cure Artisan Meat and Cheese in Cobble Hill, has been paying close attention to the evolution of charcuterie and has built his business catering to those who are on board with this popular food phenomenon.
“People are dining more casually and charcuterie suits that relaxed approach perfectly,” says Brad. “Many people think of it as an appetizer, but we’re creating boards that serve as dinner entrées and even as a ‘dessert’ course.”
Most boards move beyond a meat-centric tradition to incorporate a variety of cheeses, patés and other accompaniments. But there’s more to this style of eating than merely putting food on a board. Part science and part artistry, the key to creating sensational charcuterie, according to Brad, is in the mix.
“Charcuterie is about combining different textures, flavours and colours to deliver a balance that is ultimately appealing. Yes, people eat with their eyes first, which is partially what makes charcuterie so enticing, but it also has to taste great, which is where the quality and the combinations come in.”
Whether you are creating your own board or relying on the pros, here is what you’ll need to know to put your best board forward, according to Brad:
Amp up the texture
“We often start with a couple of dry cure items like salami, which is a sausage, and then add in prosciutto and perhaps a coppa shoulder of pork, which has a bit more marbling. Each of these meats has a different texture as well as different seasonings and spices that make for a more interesting flavour experience.”
Use the same approach when selecting your cheeses.
“We may choose a Triple Crème Brie from France, which is always a crowd pleaser, and then we’ll add in a few harder cheeses like Manchego, a sheep’s milk cheese from Spain, or a semi-firm like an 18-month aged Gouda with its deep orange colour from Holland. If you like blue cheese, it’s a fantastic and unique flavour addition, or try a tangy goat cheese to round out the cheese component.”
Spread the love
The spreadable world of patés, terrines and rillettes elevates your board with savoury goodness. Made from chicken, duck, rabbit, pork or even a vegan version made with lentils, their richness pairs beautifully with chewy baguette and the vinegary crunch of cornichons. These items look delicious served in small mason jars or crocks set between the meats and cheeses.
Condiments for compliments
Simple touches take charcuterie to the next level. Think flavoured mustards and tart jams or a drizzle of fruity olive oil or aged balsamic vinegar to create that perfect bite. “We make a beer mustard from local beer as well as a red onion jam and a quince paste. Quince is a cross between an apple and a pear and when you pair the quince jam with a salty cheese like Manchego, your taste buds will just come alive. It’s about balancing the flavours.”
Neutralize the breads
While meats, cheeses and condiments are the flavour stars of the show, breads and crackers take on more of a supporting role. “We like fresh-from-the-bakery baguette, a simple thin cracker, olive oil breadsticks, or even our homemade crostini to serve as the backdrop. Keep the flavour neutral so the other flavours don’t compete.”
Pick a peck of pickles
“Rather than raw veggies, we use a variety of pickled elements, such as pickled mushrooms, smoked olives, roasted red peppers or wild onions or zucchini in olive oil. It’s colourful and if you have some fatty cheeses or meats then the acidity really helps to cut through that.”
Assemble like a pro
“We put out the crocks of patés and jars of condiments on the board first because they’re bulky. Then we place the cheeses and weave the meats around them going for more of an organic shape. Some of the meat, like prosciutto, we drape in mounds, while others such as salami we can roll and stack. Layer in the bread and crackers and consider adding height to the board by standing up the breadsticks in a jar or even a glass. We finish by filling in the gaps with nuts, dried apricots, cranberries or fresh fruit.”
Ready. Set. Serve.
Boards are a great make-ahead item and easily kept in the fridge. “For the best flavour, cheeses should be served at room temperature, so pull out the board 15 to 30 minutes in advance. Meats should be served cold so you may want to add those in at the last minute or incorporate the meats onto a second board and keep it in the fridge until guests arrive.”
Cure Artisan Meat and Cheese is located at 1400 Cowichan Bay Rd, Cobble Hill, BC in the Valleyview Centre mall.