Now that you have mastered the wine styles, beer styles and cheese flavor profiles, the next challenge is pairing them all together. Selecting cured meats and pairing with specific cheeses, nuts, fruit and wines may seem overwhelming.
Let’s get creative and start exploring fun and delicious charcuterie pairing ideas and recommendations. With these guidelines, you’ll have fun crafting an amazing plate to share at your next party or event.
Charcuterie (shahr-cute-uh-ree) is a French word, originally derived from the words “flesh” (chair) and “cooked” (cuit). The term charcuterie was used to designate shops in 15th century France that sold smoked, dry-cured or cooked meat. These owners, charcutiers, would hang inventory in their shop windows to draw customers in. It worked: The craft was mastered, and a culture was born.
Charcuteries is not uniquely French, it’s been around for centuries and every culture has different methods for preserving meat, In Italy, for example, a plate of cured meats is called “salumi,” and in France it is called “charcuterie.”
Both can be produced from a whole cut of meat and can contain a mixture of spices, herbs and sausage-style ground/chopped meats. The curing process is different for each type of meat, but it generally involves salting (preserving) and air-drying. The drying process will take at minimum several months and can last a couple of years. Charcuterie programs have certainly become an important part of restaurant culture. Whether the cured meats are salted and dried in-house or imported from Europe, all cuts have a complex existence.
What grows together, goes together. When in doubt, pair meat and wine that originate from the same region. A good example is Jamon Iberico, originating from Spain. Consider pairing a nice Crianza Rioja or a complex Cava or Rosé to complement the sweetness of the meat. Or pair an Italian sausage with a Barbera or Barbaresco wine.
Meat is full of fat, protein and salt (just like cheese). When selecting cheese to pair with your charcuterie, here are some guidelines.
- Texture matters. A floppy, mushy or semisoft cheese alongside a buttery thin slide of meat will lack the necessary contrasting taste.
- Acidity matters. Whether it is the cheese or meat, one of the elements needs to contrast the other.
- Complementary flavors. Concentrate and focus on shared flavors but also rely on other elements for contrast. Consider three types of cheese, such as a soft triple cream cow’s milk (creamy and buttery), semi-firm goat’s milk (slightly sweet) vs. hard aged cheese, rich and salty (Gouda).
Packed with flavor, salumi and salamis are easy to prepare and offer plenty of variety. If you’re preparing an Italian or French themed charcuterie board, be sure the dry-cured salumi includes the regional seasonings to complement the same regional wines.
Prosciutto is an Italian cured pig leg and should always be sliced super thin, otherwise will be very tough to chew. It is a delicate meat, that is very salty and sweet with buttery fat flavors.
An Italian ground salami, Sopressata is a moderately spiced, with large sections of meat and marbled fat. It provides a different texture experience.
Making a Charcuterie Board
- Select a wooden or slate board
- Choose 3 to 5 items that represent various styles and textures, such as smoked and meaty; dry-cured and firm; cooked and creamy.
- Serve something acidic, like cornichons (gherkins) or fruit chutney to complement the flavors. Grapes, figs, pears, nuts and apples are also good pairings. Or try truffle butter, which is especially tasty o a slice of bread with saucisson sec.
- Inviting cheese to the party is always a good idea. Mix in your favorites between charcuterie. Think about complementary flavors and textures, including both buttery and creamy cheeses as well as hard cheeses.
- Allow two ounces per person and serve with crackers, rustic country bread, flat bread or a baguette.
- Decorate your board with red and white grapes.
- Just like a wine tasting, start with a light to medium wine to pair with lighter cheeses and meats. As you start tasting richer and spicer meats, switch to full bodie and BOLD wines. Cleanse your palate with a cracker or bread, in between tastings.