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"Choose Your Own" Charcuterie Platter
From the restaurant to your home.
Edmonton, where I live, has a thriving food scene; so much so, that companies use this city to test out franchise ideas. That means there are a lot of wonderful new restaurants - and dishes - to try out.
Recently, there has been a surge in popularity for charcuterie platters. Often on the menu as an appetizer, these platters are wonderful for sharing and trying new foods.
The first time I encountered charcuterie was in a new and trendy coffee shop and wine bar. Unfortunately, that place has since closed, but it's on the menu of more places now. I enjoy them so much that I've chosen new restaurants to try based on whether or not they had a charcuterie platter on their menu!
The budget does not allow us to eat out very often. Thankfully, that doesn't need to stop us from enjoying charcuterie at home. We now make them fairly regularly, either as a large spread to enjoy with guests, or a small plate for a personal indulgence (the platter pictured here is enough for 3 people as an appetizer, or 2 people as a light meal).
The charcuterie platter is also wonderful way to treat someone special. It's as appropriate for Mother's Day as it is for Father's Day, a birthday, or any other celebration, a quiet, romantic evening for two, or a great way to share good food with good friends. The beauty of making your own platter, of course, it that you can include as many - or as few - ingredients as you wish, and fit it to your budget.
So, what is charcuterie, anyhow?
Charcuterie is a French word referring to cold, preserved (usually dry cured) meats, as well as to the specialty shops that sell them, differentiating them from butcher shops. Charcuterie is also the making of these meats, and can be considered an art form.
Charcuterie includes sausages, pates, terrines, galantines, confit, and others, made using techniques that date back to the times before refrigeration. One of our newest local restaurants, specializing in craft beers, offers a charcuterie platter focusing on their own house-made sausages, each paired with a carefully matched sweet or savory spread. Another local restaurant has a platter that includes house-made terrine and jerky, as well as a selection of cheeses.
The types of meats that fall under the umbrella of charcuterie is vast, making it easy to come up with platter ideas to satisfy almost any taste or budget!
Choose Your Own Ingredients - Build a wonderful platter
While a basic charcuterie can be made using just a selection of meats and some bread to eat it with, a platter can include quite a number of ingredients.
When considering what ingredients to include, keep in mind such things as your budget, the number of people being served, and whether it's meant to be an appetizer, a light meal, or even a brunch.
When deciding what to include, I would recommend choosing quality over quantity. Especially if the budget is tight. Better to have one or two ingredients you really enjoy. Having more of something of substandard quality is really quite a waste, and takes away from the enjoyment of your platter.
Time required: Even a large platter should only take a few minutes to assemble.
Cost: highly variable
- A selection of meats
- bread or crackers
- optional - cheeses
- optional - sweet or savory spreads
- optional - fresh or dried fruits or nuts
- optional - pickled or brine cured foods
- optional - dips
- platter or board to serve on
- knives for cutting bread or sausages
- cheese knives (one for each type of cheese, if possible)
- small containers to hold spreads dips etc.
1. Choose your meats.
The selection of meats forms the heart of your charcuterie. Choose about 2-3 ounces per person of any variety of cold sausages, pates, terrine, galantine, roulade, or other cured meats you like. Basic sandwich meats from your local grocery store deli will work as well as fancy preparations from specialty shops. Let your own tastes and budget decide!
2. Choose your bread.
Or crackers. Those do just fine as well. A crusty loaf such as French or Calabrese, or a bagette, works well; especially if you are including something it can be dipped in (see below). Crackers or something crisp and dry, like Melba toast, add a nice texture. Flatbreads such as pitas or naan are nice, too.
Whichever bread you choose, cut or slice into smallish pieces, about a bite or two in size. Flat breads look nice cut into triangles.
3. Choose your spread.
PIctured here is a mustard/horseradish blend with a real kick to it! There are a wide variety of mustards that are excellent for your platter. Alternatively, you can choose a sweet spread, such as fruit jams or jellies. Or, you can combine the two, with a honey mustard. I wouldn't recommend the type of yellow mustard typically served on hot dogs, though.
Other spreads such as olive tepenade, pesto or hummus work nicely as well. Or bacon jam. That was a surprisingly delicious pairing with house-made sausage that we've had.
4. Choose your pickled or cured accompaniments.
This is one of those optional ingredients that I, personally, wouldn't do without. My personal favorite is garlic stuffed olives, but a variety of olives, as pictured here, is also excellent. Alternatively, you can choose small pickles or any type of pickled or marinated vegetables you like. Even some relish would work. The intense, acidic flavors of pickled or brined foods are a lovely contrast to the salty fattiness of the cured meats.
5. Choose your cheeses.
I love to include a variety of cheeses with my platters! In this photo, there is a prosciutto wrapped mozzarella roll, some camembert and a soft cheese with a French name I can never remember!
update: Found the name of that cheese! It's Le Pleine Lune, from DuVillage. This amazing soft cheese with a vegetable ash rind is buttery and glorious. When you first taste it, it's mild and subtle at first, then more flavours reveal themselves as you eat it. It also has a very interesting dual texture between the centre and the outer layer. If you have a chance to try it, I highly recommend it!
Cheeses fall into three general groups. Soft cheeses, such as brie and camembert, semi-soft, such as mozzarella and havarti, and hard cheese, such as parmesan. There are also firm cheeses, such as cheddar or gouda. Blue cheeses, such as gorgonzola, are also very nice, and I just love a nice smoked cheese!
There is such an incredible variety of cheeses available! Your charcuterie platter is a great way to try some new varieties.
It's a good idea to have a separate knife for each variety of cheese to prevent the mixing of flavours.
6. Choose your fruit and/or nuts
Any variety of fruit works well; either fresh fruit in season, or dried. We've successfully used strawberries, grapes, pears, apple, cantelope and honeydew. Figs, fresh or dry, as well as dried apricots, dates, etc. are also great items to try out, as well as dried berries, such as cranberries or blueberries.
For a bit of crunch, you could also try including nuts. You can purchase or make your own toasted, salted, candied or spiced nuts. One restaurant charcuterie I've had included candied pecans that went incredibly well with their house-made duck terrine.
7. Choose your dip.
This is not something we usually do, and when we do, it's in place of a spread. In this photo is a combination of truffle infused olive oil and orange blossom honey balsamic, which is so light in colour, it's not really visible in the photo! Trust me; it's there!
A good extra virgin olive oil with balsamic vinegar is a nice, basic dip. There are, however, large varieties of each available, so it's a good opportunity to experiment. The price range of oils and vinegars can be pretty wide!
A Word on Beverages
A few ideas.
Of course, with your wonderful charcuterie platter, you will want something to drink! Especially if it's being served for a special occasion.
There is no limit or restriction when it comes to what you wish to drink, other than your own personal tastes and budget. You can't pick the "wrong" one! So go ahead and have something simple, or completely indulgent. You choose! Here are some ideas.
Beer: If your charcuterie is heavy on the meats - especially sausages - beer makes a nice beverage. I am not a beer drinker, though my older daughter has been trying to find some type of beer that I will like! Still, I would recommend going with a craft beer. Quality over quantity! Plus, microbrewed beers have become so much more accessible, and are often quite affordable. Or, perhaps, you like to brew your own? A charcuterie platter is a great dish to show off your brewing expertise!
Wine: If your charcuterie includes a selection of cheese, a wine pairing might be your preference! Red, white, rose, dry or sparkling; there's a whole world of wine choices out there!
Ciders and meads: I'm not much for wine, either, so I've been looking more into other types of alcoholic drinks. There are a wide variety of ciders available, and meads are becoming more popular. Pictured here is something new I've tried recently; 19 Original Colonies Mead, brewed with Jasmine, from Rogue Farms. This brewery actually maintains 19 colonies of bees, where they get the honey used to make this mead! That's the sort of thing I like about buying craft brews rather than mass produced brands.
Of course, you don't have to have alcohol to enjoy your charcuterie! Try some of these alternatives.
Tea: Everything is better with tea! A nice hot cuppa can really hit the spot. Personally, I enjoy going to specialty shops and getting a nice blend of loose leaf teas, but I'll quite enjoy some ordinary bagged tea, too. Some of my favorite teas include vanilla rooiboos and gunpowder green.
Coffee: I assume coffee would go just as well. I don't actually know. I don't drink coffee! If you try it, let me know!
Juice blends: A great drink that would make a Mother's Day Brunch really special is a combination of equal parts cranberry juice and ginger ale. If you don't want the fizz, try mixing equal parts cranberry juice and orange juice. I love to mix any number of berry juices with orange juice. To help keep it chilled and add some flavour, toss in some frozen berries! Berry juices are also very nice when mixed with a spoonful or two of yogurt. Mmm...
The Charcuterie Poll
Have you had a charcuterie platter before?
A dish as beautiful as it is tasty!Click thumbnail to view full-size
It's your turn; feel free to leave a comment. Is this something you enjoy? Do you already make them at home? Would you like to? Would you rather have a large platter, so share with friends, something smaller to treat someone special, or a platter for one, just to treat yourself?