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“The neat thing about Charcuterie boards is that you share it in a way that you don’t share other foods,” Forbes said. “The intent is for everybody to enjoy the board together and savor that moment that you’re sharing with each other.”

Charcuterie boards offer lavish eats for holiday starter courses

The holidays are fast approaching, and in the interest of public health, most celebrations will be scaled down significantly. Think positive, though: At least you won’t have to prepare enough glazed ham or brisket to feed an army of aunts and uncles.

If you’re looking for a way to spend that extra time and money elevating the festive foods you serve your pandemic pod, consider a charcuterie board. The customizability makes it easy to tailor to your group’s tastes, and the small audience means you can splurge on high quality ingredients. Duncan Forbes, co-owner of North Country Charcuterie, said a board can even bring people together.

“The neat thing about Charcuterie boards is that you share it in a way that you don’t share other foods,” Forbes said. “The intent is for everybody to enjoy the board together and savor that moment that you’re sharing with each other.”

Forbes and his family run North Country, which specializes in curing meats and pairing them with the perfect cheeses and accoutrement, all locally sourced. If you want to construct a stunning and delicious holiday charcuterie board that would put foodie Instagram feeds to shame, Forbes has some need-to-know tips.

What is charcuterie?

Charcuterie is surprisingly tough to pin down. The name comes from a French term that means “cooked flesh,” but what else you include is a point of heated contention.

“Wars have been started over less,” Forbes said.

The ever-expanding realm of acceptable companions for a plate of sausage can be overwhelming and frankly ridiculous, so Forbes narrowed it down to the essentials. By his definition, a charcuterie board must include a cured meat, a cheese and a pickled vegetable. The acidity of pickled veggies is essential in Forbes’s eyes, as it helps cut through the fattiness and reset your palate between bites.

Forbes said everything else is optional. Just add some crackers, and you’re good to go.

Picking ingredients

Although three ingredients might seem simple enough, that means they must be chosen carefully. Forbes said since every other element is selected to support the meat. The standard choice is some type of sausage, but you can include a variety of meats to mix things up. Prosciutto is popular, and North Country Charcuterie even offers spreadable chorizo.

No matter what meat you choose, Forbes said it is important to buy fresh, whole links. There’s no telling how long a packaged, pre-sliced meat has been sitting on the shelf.

After you’ve selected your meat, it’s time to find a cheese that will pair well. Researching pairings can be helpful if you aren’t sure what direction to take, but Forbes said it’s most important to buy something you like. While there’s value to professional opinions, you’re the one who has to eat it.

To test out cheeses, Forbes suggested picking up a few “cheese babies” each time you get groceries. Most supermarkets sell a wide variety of scraps from large blocks in a bin near the deli, helping you determine what will compliment your board.

Next up is the pickled vegetable. There are tons of options, including red onions, mustard seeds, carrots, and cauliflower. Forbes highly recommended pickled sweety drop peppers. The small red peppers bring a pop of sweet-and-sour acidity to any board, and their bright color makes them a great visual accent (more on that later).

Beyond the basic three, it is up to your imagination. Forbes suggests avoiding overwhelming flavors, such as hot peppers. Jam, marmalade, or even honey can add much-needed sweetness, but he warned against including candy or mint, no matter how festive. Chocolate is a rare exception, as some high-quality dark chocolates fit right in with the proper cheese.

Arranging your board

You have your ingredients picked out. How do you make a board that’s as beautiful as it is delicious? Forbes has tips for that, too.

First, a rule of thumb for any board is to provide an ounce of meat and an ounce of cheese per person. If you’re only feeding your family, this will allow you to invest in top-shelf ingredients, but it also might make it tough to arrange. Forbes suggested slicing as thinly as possible to create attractive arrangements and slow down would-be cheese hogs.

Everyone has seen the sliced meats and cheeses fanned out or shingled on a platter, but Forbes stressed that contrast and variety are what make an arrangement stand out. Place dark meats next to lighter cheeses, dot with peppers or jam for a pop of red, chunk up hard cheese for texture, or accent with fresh herbs for a splash of green. Rosemary and pomegranate seeds can even provide a festive facsimile for pine needles and holly berries.

“It can be a really fun, creative outlet for folks who don’t normally have a creative outlet, “ he said. “Everyone is gonna try to have a meal at some point during the day, so have some fun with it and put some thought and care into the creation of the charcuterie board.”

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By Nicholas Youngblood
December 16, 2020
614NOW/Stock & Barrel