Impress your friends easily with charcuterie. It is harder to say than to make. In fact, the major activity is . . . shopping. And we are all experts at that.
It's simple and fast. A make ahead thing. No themes to fuss about. No formal table serving. The beauty of charcuterie is that it allows everyone to pick what they want and graze at a time of their choosing.
It’s best to have the charcuterie ready when you serve drinks. Of course, we recommend a JL WOOD Chardonnay. Or a Chardonnay spritzer. Our Burgundian-style Chardonnay has enough acidity to cut through the fat and oils of meats and marinades.
One of your best bets for assembling a charcuterie plate is to go shopping in an Italian or Mediterranean focused deli. There you can go through your list with their experts and get the freshest ingredients. Your second best bet is to try the deli section of a very large grocery store, preferably a speciality grocery store rather than a large chain store. In this category, I would put a Whole Foods or a Trader Joe’s or your local Costco.
A lot of stores will have prepared and pre-packaged items. While I would generally advocate for fresh cut meats and cheeses, these packages make a good substitute, particularly if time is tight. And for the vegetable items, things like marinated artichokes, olives, and cheese stuffed peppers, many can be found on the salad buffet.
My last charcuterie took 15 minutes of shopping at Costco. Yes, they have great deli stuff. Not a big selection but that makes the shopping easy. One double package of antipasto meats, a package of two goat cheese logs, a wedge of Gouda, a small brie, a bottle of pickles, a bottle of roast peppers, a box of grapes, and fresh baguettes. And from time to time, they offer sampler packages of cheeses from Spain.
My prep was cutting the cheese into chunks, putting the meats on a dinner plate, the cheese on a separate plate and small bowls for the rest.
Shopping list ideas:
- Meats (2 or 3): Italian dry salami, prosciutto, coppa, cured salmon
- Cheeses (2 or 3): Gouda, goat (log form), Boursin, real Swiss, blue, brie or camembert, a manchego from Spain, feta from Greece, cream cheese if you have salmon, and marinated small mozzarella balls
- Vegetables(2 or 3): roast peppers in marinade, artichokes in marinade, cherry peppers stuffed with cream cheese, cherry tomatoes, cured and pitted olives
- Pickles (small bowl): Dill chips, carrots, asparagus
- Garnish/decorative touches: Fresh grapes, parsley
- Carbohydrates: Crackers, sliced baguette
- Optional: A luxury butter, like salted KerryGold.
- A pretty color or patterned pile of (paper) napkins
In your area, there may be specialty items that are very popular. Feel free to substitute those. Good examples are summer sausages and locally produced cheese. The northern coast of California is an excellent producer of artisan goat cheese and cured fish.
- Are your friends super Covid hygiene sensitive? Finger food is great but better on the end of a round tooth pick; think like your mother! The added plus: it is promotes good hygiene by minimizing direct touching of food. But every crowd is different; you decide.
- Remember 3 plus 2. Either three cheeses and 2 meats or 3 meats and cheeses. Plus some vegetables and pickles.
- Want to impress your friends? Make the pickles yourself. If you can put cut carrots and cucumbers in a clean marinara bottle with vinegar, water, sugar, and a few spices, it will make for a big brag! (Internet has a lot of easy recipes.)
- When you place cheese on a plate, best to never let the size of the cheese exceed a wedge of pie.
- Always pre-cut or pre-slice a part of cheeses or meats; it will help overcome the shyness of guests reluctant to upset the visuals of your food arrangement
- Vegetables are a critical part of the mix: roast peppers, pickled carrots, fresh carrots, stuffed peppers (with cream cheese), etc. No more than three or four.
- It’s best to place sliced bread, like half slices of a good sourdough, or crackers, on a separate plate to keep them free from oils and sauces. No need to provide more than 2 carbohydrates.
- Foods in liquids, like marinated items, should be placed in bowls.
- Because of the sensitivities and allergies of your guests, always take a moment to announce what is on the plates.
- And a note on shopping — buy what looks good, not just because it is on the list of this blog entry.
- Don’t buy large quantities of ingredients. Your guests will get their fill from the variety of what your present.
- Wherever you position your charcuterie plates will be the area where your guests will initially congregate. Guests love to be just a few short steps away from their grazing food. Of course, if everyone is gathered around a TV watching sports, then a sideboard or coffee table works great.
- Scatter table spoons around for your guests to move items to their plates.
- Personally, we usually use small dessert plates for our guests. But, if your time is short, using paper plates works fine. Easy clean-up makes for happy hosts!
- Also, napkins are always important.
A word for Instagram enthusiasts . . . a custom board is not needed. Nor is a fancy layout design. I suggest you make your food approachable, not something your guests will be reluctant to disturb. And if you plan to take an Instagram, a quick upgrade to your set-up is to move a flower or plant arrangement into the scene you set. My last visual included some cuttings from an eucalyptus tree in our yard.
(If you're wondering about the picture, we used our 1920's antique Wedgewood gas and wood burning stove as our sideboard. And the plates are vintage Noritake "Homecoming".)