ALL ABOARD: Charcuterie Explained

Charcuterie (shar-KOO-ta-REE) is a specific term with origins reaching as far back as 15th century France; literally translated, it means the products of a fancy pork butcher. Modern charcuterie does often include pork, but the definition has widened to reflect a dish served throughout many cultures.

Known in Britain as a ploughman’s lunch, served in Italy as antipasto and familiar to many North Americans as the humble meat-and-cheese plate– these days, charcuterie can be found in any number of variations and is served everywhere from pubs to high end restaurants.

ORIGINS

So how did people get in the habit of sitting down to a cutting board of sliced meats, cheeses, fruits and condiments served with bread or crackers? Besides the delicious results, cured and preserved meats like sausages and pates were created to extend the life of less-desired cuts and byproducts of meat. Long shelf stability, easy preparation and low cost led to its popularity among working classes. Fermentation, seasoning and other processes eventually gave way to deeper and more complex flavours. Like many other “peasant” dishes, the simplicity of characuterie hides an art form that is practiced by even the most accomplished chefs.

VARIATIONS

Whether you are in your local deli or at a fine dining establishment, picking and choosing what to include on your charcuterie board can be intimidating. Here are a few, short explanations of some of the more common options:

  • Meat: Consider sliced classics like ham, headcheese, salami or soppressata. Find a pate, terrine or roulade that suits your tastes– those are fancy terms for fine, ground meat served like a spread. Most are typically made with pork or beef, yet almost all items can be made with meat or game of any variety (venison, bison and boar are just some of the more exotic options available).
  • Cheese: Almost any kind works, from a mild cheddar to a potent blue cheese. Mix and match hard and soft cheeses, as well as sweet and savoury varieties.
  • Bread: Sliced baguette is very common, but consider alternatives such as fruit bread, rice crackers or hearty rye crisps for different tastes and textures.
  • Fruit: Choose whatever is in season for fresh fruits like apples and grapes, but also consider preserved fruit like dates or figs for added sweetness.
  • Condiments: Select a few favourites like grainy mustard or sweet pickles and mix in any number of the following in small amounts: aioli, bruschetta, cocktail onions, jams or jellies, marmalades, relishes, wasabi– the only limit is your imagination. Compliment and contrast the flavours you already have on your charcuterie board.

Remember, charcuterie boards can feature many samples of a wide variety or even just large portions of your favourite items. Why not strike a balance between the two and create your own blend? Familiar and far out, bold and mild, sweet and savoury– the choice is yours! Charcuterie works best when it presents diverse tastes and textures that create unique experiences when eaten together.

Come in to D’Arcy’s and we will help you build a charcuterie board customized to your personal taste. With our guidance and willingness to help, we can answer any question or concern you might have about the history, ingredients and flavours of our products. We can offer advice and expertise when it comes to creating, preparing and serving your perfect charcuterie experience!

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