Trendy Meets Easy: Enjoy Charcuterie During National Sausage Month

For a video guide on how to prepare a charcuterie plate click here, or view below.

Charcuterie — one word with many meanings.  To food historians, it is a word that reflects a French culinary art from the 15th century.

To European and urban shoppers, it is the delicatessen-style market where cured meats and air-dried sausages are produced and purchased.  To culinary arts students throughout the world, it is a required class, teaching the procedures for the production of sausages, pâtés and terrines.  For today’s foodie, charcuterie is the French appetizer course featuring a platter of cooked and dry-cured meats, sausages and smooth pâtés accompanied by crusty baguettes, pungent mustards, enticing cornichons, pickles and other savory morsels.  While restaurants may serve charcuterie as an appetizer, home cooks are finding how easy it is to offer the charcuterie platter as an appetizer, entrée, picnic staple, galley kitchen presentation or the main attraction at a tailgating party.  The platter is appealing to the host/hostess because of the ease of preparation.  

Charcuterie platters are easily transported — to tailgating events and holiday parties.  It is the ideal appetizer to take for the holidays.  It does not require the use of the oven, range top or even the refrigerator.  The hostess will be grateful the platter can immediately be placed on the cocktail table.


Planning

The same elements required when planning a meal are perfect guidelines for assembling a charcuterie platter:

1. Textures: Select foods with a variety of textures.  Along with firm textured sausages consider including a nicely seasoned pâté such as our Country Pâté recipe.  Or select a prepared pâté from the market.  There are a number of soft textured pâtés, terrines and mousses that will provide a texture contrast.  
The inclusion of crusty baguettes, artisan breads and crackers also contributes to a variety of textures.

2. Flavors: Offer several flavors on the platter.  The smoky, spicy and salty flavors of sausages and cured meats harmonize well with the buttery smooth flavors of soft and semi-firm cheeses and the acidity from pickles or cornichons.

3. Colors: Present several colors on the platter.  Pair green olives and/or cornichons with the dark cured meats.  White baguette slices will provide color contrast.  
The pale yellow and butterscotch hues from cheese selections will be an appealing contrast to the dark sausage tones.
 
4. Shapes: Vary the shapes on the platter.  Fold some of the paper thin sliced sausages into quarters, forming a small triangle.  Roll a few of the sausage slices into cylinders.  Slice some of the cheeses into wedges or rectangular strips.  Crackers that are rectangles, hexagons or squares also add contrasting shapes.

Purchasing

Specialty deli shops and local supermarkets across the country are a great source for all the platter ingredients.  You may purchase the ingredients as sliced-to-order from the deli department or as pre-sliced/shaved hams and dry cured sausages available in vacuum sealed packages.

Start with good quality ingredients from specialty shops or supermarkets:
  • Select fresh olives from the olive bar.
  • Choose artisan or rustic breads.
  • Offer sturdy crackers that will stand up to the weight of sausages and meats.
  • Select a quality Dijon and/or stone ground mustards for a bolder taste.
  • Present the crunch of roasted Marcona almonds, walnuts or roasted and salted pistachios as an added garnish.

Choose Sausages and Meats from the following

Dry Cured Sausage Cooked Sausage Dry Cured Meat
Saucisson Sec
A traditional French-style dried salami-like pork sausage that offers a light peppery taste.
Garlic Sausage
This French-style sausage presents flavorful varieties with the enhancement of red wine.
Jambon de Bayonne A popular French-style prosciutto. This is the French dry-cured, aged ham, offering savory flavors.
Sopressata
An Italian dry-cured pork salami with flavors of garlic, wine and studded with peppercorns.  The coarsely ground marbled salami is the most well known of the Italian salamis Available in hot or mild varieties.  
Mortadella
The classic, much loved, subtly flavored Italian sausage is composed of very finely chopped, cured pork and beef with added cubes of white fat.   Mortadella is smoked at high temperatures and air dried.
Prosciutto
This Italian product is the most famous of all dry- cured hams.  The surface is rubbed with spices and has a delicate, salty and complex flavor.  It is always cut into paper thin slices.  For flavor and texture contrast, wrap prosciutto around thin crisp bread sticks. (See recipe below.)
Salami
Cured and air-dried Italian salami are seasoned with garlic, peppercorns, coriander and many other spices. Most Italian salami feature a chewy texture.The most well known salami is Genoa, but the varieties are almost endless with flavorings of black pepper, green peppercorns, spicy, mild, smoked over specialty woods or infused with fennel pollen.

Mortadella
Both German and American mortadella versions include pistachios while the classic Italian mortadella is without pistachios.
Coppa, Capicola or Capocolla
These spicy Italian-style offerings will give the platter lots of heat. American-made coppa is spiced with either black peppercorns or red peppers and paprika. Whatever the country of origin, it will be hot and spicy.
Gothaer Cervelat
A dried sausage of German origin prepared with very lean finely chopped pork. Some Carvelats tend to be peppery and are smoked.
Bierwurst
A chunky, tubular German-origin sausage made with pork, beef and flavored with garlic. It is cooked at a high temperature and then smoked.
Black Forest Ham
An air-dried, German style ham that is salt-cured and smoked over pine and fir. This ham offers a bit more moisture than other dry-cured hams.

Cheese Pairings

To give the platter balance, present one or two semi-firm cheeses and at least one soft cheese.  Some of the semi-firm cheeses should be pre-sliced or planed for ease of serving.  Leave the smoky cheeses for another occasion as such flavors are too similar to the smoked meats and sausages.  Also select unflavored cheeses, none of the herb or garlic varieties.

Cheeses that give complementary flavor balance to the cured meats and sausages include:
  • Gruyere: This cow’s-milk cheese offers great contrasting color and flavor with a pale yellow interior and rich, nutty flavors.
  • Manchego: A sheep’s-milk cheese yielding a nutty flavor that ranges in color from pale cream for younger cheese to a butterscotch hue for aged Manchegos.
  • Gouda: Either the slightly aged pale butterscotch cow’s-milk Gouda or a lightly colored goat’s-milk Gouda are tempting choices to pair with cured meats. Young Goudas offer a rich, milky and buttery flavor and smooth texture.  Be sure to purchase an unflavored Gouda, not the herb or garlic varieties.
  • Provolone: The smooth texture of cow’s-milk Provolone is a nice contrast to the sausages.  Select either an aged Provolone or a younger variety to yield a light ivory colored cheese with mellow flavors.
For the soft cheeses, select Brie, Camembert or Chèvre.

Wine Pairings

Hearty, earthy-toned red wines are a natural flavor mix for the blend of charcuterie platter flavors.  Serve the meats and cheeses with any of the following:  
  • A medium to full-bodied Pinot Noir,
  • A French Côtes du Rhône,
  • A medium-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon,
  • A Washington state Merlot blend containing Cabernet and Cabernet Franc,
  • An Australian Shiraz.
If you love sparking wines, serve a refreshing Italian Prosecco or another light sparking wine.

Serving Tips

If the charcuterie platter is a first course, plan two ounces of protein per person.  If the charcuterie is the main event at a dinner party, purchase at least four ounces of protein per person.
The serving platters may be traditional or creative.  A wooden serving board, marble slab or attractive decorative platter would all provide an appealing background for the sausages and cheeses.

There are endless ways to present the charcuterie platter.  You might wish to combine mild and spicy flavors to reflect the contrast.  The above chart identifies meats and sausages by country.  You might create an interesting theme by matching same country meats, cheeses, wines and even olives.  The Italian presentation would focus on a variety of olives while the classic French charcuterie presentation might include fruit such as figs, dates or dried apricots.

All the meats and sausages should be sliced paper thin.  If they are freshly sliced, it would be ideal to serve them the same day, but if that is not possible, it would be best if served within two to three days.  Cured meats and cheeses are at their peak flavor when served at room temperature.  Remove the cheeses from the refrigerator one full hour before they are to be served to enhance both flavors and textures.  The sliced meats will come to room temperature within 20-30 minutes after they are transferred from refrigeration.

For an attractive presentation, arrange sausage slices in a shingle fashion, just slightly overlapping the slices.  Place the mustards, dates, cornichons/pickles and nuts in small decorative bowls or ramekins or arrange the nuts and olives atop the meats.

Your guests may appreciate small signs or labels which identify the meats, sausages and cheeses, especially the spicy, hot varieties.

Shelf Life

Be sure to wrap any leftovers and return them to the refrigerator.  All products in the cooked sausages category must be refrigerated.  Even though some of the platter ingredients are cured meats, refrigeration is best once the package is opened and meats are sliced.  


These tips should offer guidance in the selection of cured sausages, meats and pâtés so your charcuterie platter will be an enticing display of textures, flavors, colors and shapes.  Why not replace the menu at your next cocktail party with a gourmet cured meat and cheese platter?  It might just be possible to enjoy your own party when serving an easy-to-prepare charcuterie platter.

Prosciutto Breadsticks Appetizer    

Makes 5 to 6 servings.

10 pencil-thin crisp breadsticks
10 paper-thin slices prosciutto

No more than 1/2 hour before serving, tightly wrap one prosciutto slice around the top half of one breadstick   Repeat with remaining ingredients.  Cover, loosely with waxed paper and keep at room temperature.

    
    

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