Monday, August 29, 2022

Charcuterie Platters

Who, except vegans, doesn't appreciate a good charcuterie platter?

It's a perfect lazy meal, and fantastic for those sultry summer evenings when the thought of hot food is unappetizing. And I'm not the only one who thinks that. Not only do more and more restaurants offer assortments of meats and cheeses, I've noticed that some entrepreneurial folks are starting businesses that revolve around creating and selling attractive charcuterie platters. A small amount of decoratively arranged salumi (the Italian term for cured meats) and brie adorned with a sliced strawberry and six almonds can sell for $30-$40. At that price, you're better off going to a restaurant. But make one at home, instead.

Sure, the initial outlay for homemade salumi suppers might be a little spendy, but a $6 jar of cornichons will last through multiple platters, as will boxes of crackers, jars of jam, and bags of nuts. Columbus brand salami and capicola, or similar, in 5-oz packages, run $6-7 in grocery stores. The meats seem expensive, and they kinda are compared to others sold by the pound. Keep in mind that cured meats are fatty and salty and rich, so one only need eat a few slices. Particularly if there are also some even more-fatty cheeses at the party. The last time we had a charcuterie plate for dinner, I purchased two packages of Italian meats, three kinds of cheese, and a jar of cornichons for about $35 and used it for three dinners for 2, with cheese and tiny pickles left over. 

Cheese can also be expensive, so don't go overboard. Buy a couple of your favorites; ideally there should be one soft and one firm or semi-firm, like a brie or goat cheese log and a cheddar or Manchego. If you have more than two diners, buy another cheese for every two people. But expect leftovers. In fact, it's probably best to cut a portion of the cheese off and put it on your platter or board, and stash the rest in the fridge for next time. That way, uneaten cheese doesn't sit out too long, and there's one less thing for you to tidy up afterward, especially if you've been hitting the wine.

You may, of course, enjoy your meats and cheeses with your fingers, but it's much neater to use bread or crackers. Thin slices of crusty bread--toasted or not--are perfect if you are extra fancy and have included a pate in your selection of meats. It's also nice with very soft brie. Otherwise, crackers are the way to go. Use whatever you like. Ritz or Club crackers are just fine, as are water crackers or hell, saltines. I try to eat gluten-free as much as possible and have discovered some truly excellent GF and grain-free crackers, which I will list at the end of the post.

In addition to the three essentials--meat, cheese, and bread-like substance--a good charcuterie platter should include other flavor elements. Olives and cornichons are typical accompaniments, but one needs other items to balance out the salt. I like to add sweet things, like a fruit spread or jam, and fresh or dried fruit, including grapes, figs, and mini tomatoes. Nuts, preferably unsalted, add extra crunch. Mustards are nice, as are roasted red peppers, pepperoncini--honestly, whatever suits your fancy. You may choose to arrange items artistically on a platter or board (I use a large bamboo cutting board), or simply place items randomly. For hard or medium-firm cheeses, I like to cut them into serving size cubes or wedges. I put soft cheese like brie or chevre on the board in one large chunk and supply a separate spreader for each type of cheese. Toothpicks are nice for picking up individual cubes of cheese, especially when there are more than two diners, but fingers are fine otherwise.

I enjoy charcuterie boards so much, I've made them for Thanksgiving dinner. As in, the entire Thanksgiving dinner was one big, coffee-table-sized, spread. Lest you think I jest, see below (ignore my reading glasses in the lower right).

It was perfect for three of us to nibble on for the entire day while we watched football and drank copiously. We did this three years in a row, until my brother determined that it was mildly sacrilegious not to have hot poultry on Thanksgiving. So last year I made chicken legs and roasted brussels sprouts to follow a much-scaled-down selection of meat and cheese. I plan to do the same this year.

Most of these fine gluten-free and grain-free crackers I've discovered via the Specialty Food Association's annual Summer Fancy Food Show in New York. While grocery stores have better and better selections of food for special diets, it's difficult to stock absolutely everything available, so I have supplied links for ordering the products online.

Simple Mills Almond Flour Crackers - I'm a big fan of these, particularly the Rosemary and Sea Salt variety. They are available in many grocery stores, but can also be purchased online

Hungry Bird Eats Nordic Crisps - incredibly crisp and delicious crackers that I will happily eat out of the box like potato chips. They can be purchased online from their website

Cabin 11 Bakery 5-Seed Grain-Free Crisps are similarly delicious crispbread-like crackers made with 5 seeds. Their website is down currently, and I'm not sure where to buy them. Hopefully they'll be back up and running soon, as I've run out and need more crackers!

Quator Crisps Yuca Chips - I also like using crisp yuca chips with charcuterie platters. Quator Crisps might be a bit too slender to put cheese on top, but they still work great to nibble on the side. They are available in a handful of shops right now, but you can order them from their website.

Nova Crisp - these crispy air-popped cracker/chips are made with cassava and come in a handy bowl shape that makes them perfect for scooping. The rim also holds in runny stuff like mustard or jelly perfectly. They come in a few flavors, but the sea salt is my fave. They are available in stores like Safeway, Aldi, Lidl, H Mart, and Weis Market but also at Amazon.

Lark Fine Foods, which are not gluten-free but still worth mentioning, makes a bunch of tasty cookies and biscuits that are both savory and sweet. Their Pizzetta biscuits work pretty nicely with soft cheeses, especially if you're into the idea of a cookie that tastes like pizza. They are available in gourmet shops, primarily in the eastern US. Igourmet stocks some of their biscuits, and multi-product samplers can be ordered from Williams-Sonoma.

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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