Charcuterie isn’t a word that comes trippingly off the tongue, but the multi-faceted, cured meat nosh certainly dances on the taste buds.
It might be a grind coming back to work to start the new year, and maybe your bank account hasn’t recovered yet, but an upside to the bittersweet end of the holiday season is saying "so long" to the ubiquitous meat and cheese platter, the ugly sweater of Christmas party spreads.
Not so with charcuterie. With its multiple options and potential combinations of complementary flavors, charcuterie offers a versatile, light dining experience for any time of the year.
“Whatever you’re comfortable with. That’s it right there,” says Kevin Kerby, who bills himself as the “Sausage Guy” at Boulevard Bread Company. “If you don’t like something, you shouldn’t have to eat it. If you don’t like pate that’s okay.”
Among his roles at Boulevard, Kerby concocts the fresh sausages that find their way to the house sausage board on the menu. Boulevard also offers a meat and cheese board comprised of three items as well as an artisan cheese sampler.
But real charcuterie, Kerby notes, starts with cured meat. In fact, that’s what the word means.
“A lot of people have the idea of charcuterie as dried salami, but it’s not,” Kerbys says, “anything you try to do to preserve meat, specifically pork.”
It’s all the extras that turn charcuterie into a board, and from pickled vegetables to cheeses to jams and spreads, there is much to choose from.
“For me it’s whatever you want,” Kerby says. “I got this, I got this, I got this. Let’s put it with this and put it with this and put it with this.”
Meat, Your Match
The four traditional charcuterie categories include rillettes, which are slow-cooked, shredded meats; mousse, a blended mixture of meat and liver resembling a pate; salami; and prosciutto, a thinly-sliced pork or other meat that is salted, cured and aged.
The traditional four styles of boards center around pickles and spreads, cheese and fruit, toast or fresh veggies and citrus, each matched with a selection of meats.
But, Kerby says, it isn’t necessary to color within the lines when creating a charcuterie board. As long as the cardinal rule of using complementary flavors is followed, the board is off to a good start.
"To have the right thing to go with the right meat is important," Kerby says. "If you've got something hot, you might want something sweet with that.”
A meat and toast board, for example, might make good use of a fig jam to create a savory-sweet pairing. Start with the meat and work from there, Kerby suggests.
“The way I look at it is you kind of want to deconstruct,” he says. “If you have a breakfast sausage, then you think about breakfast, then you think orange marmalade, so you can look up a recipe for candied orange peels.”
A mild cheese might call for a “more aggressive” meat, like a good dried salami or some other cured offering that brings in that sought-after, aged taste to play off the cheese.
While Kerby is open-minded about what to include in a charcuterie board, there is one thing, other than quality, he won’t leave out.
“Mustard for sure.”
Keep It Real
Kerby, who is also a longtime veteran of the local music scene, says Boulevard tries to use local food and ingredients whenever possible.
“Seasonally we use all the vegetables we can get from our farmers," he says, adding the restaurant uses different herbs depending on what’s available.
It’s also important not to overlook presentation. Color, size and shape of the foods, even the board, are important to the overall charcuterie experience.
“Use all of your senses,” Kerby says. “You want it to be pretty, even the board itself. Our boards are a kind of raw wood.”
Playing around with combinations based on your own taste preferences and experiences is key. If you think a spicy element might need a honey mustard to cool things down — and you also just really like honey mustard — then add it.
“The only limits there are are imagination,” Kerby says. “I’ve done some things that totally don’t work, and I’ve done some things I thought wouldn’t work that came off without a hitch.”
But even as you try new flavors and introduce more zing and zest into your charcuterie board, Kerby advises not to abandon familiar things you enjoy. There is no need to become a charcuterie snob; as long as you start with a good meat, you can stick with the familiar, even if that means your cheese isn’t French and your veggies aren’t pickled.
It’s about the combination of flavors, not the individual ingredients.
“You don’t want to get too snooty, you want people to try it,” Kerby says. “It’s like a song. You still want to have a chorus that pulls people back in.”
Breaking Down The Board
A Matter of Meat
Charcuterie, by definition, is cured meat, frequently but not always pork. It’s the backbone of the board and can come in the form of shredded meats, pates, salamis and prosciutto, which are well represented in Boulevard Bread Company’s charcuterie selection.
Mustard, a Must-have
The one condiment that should have a reserved seat on a charcuterie board. It’s a spicy complement to most choices of meat and heightens contrast with the sweeter items.
Presentation is part of a good food experience. Whether the board is made from slate, wood or something else, a good backdrop can bring out the color and variety of the selections.
Jams, sweet pickles and fruit will cool the tongue and make a tasty 180-degree turn away from the savoriness and spice of the meat selections.
While the sweet stuff contrasts with the savory, briny items like pickles and olives or sauteed items like peppers and onions will hop in the front and ride along with the meat choice.
A Toast to Bread
It will calm the tongue if things get hot, it’s a platform for jam or spreads, it’s a delivery system for the cured meat. Bread or toast ties it all together. Honestly, what doesn't bread go with?
Go With It
If something sounds like it might work, like Boulevard’s toasted almonds, throw it on there. Let the taste buds decide. It’s all about the pairings.