One of the trendiest foods right now is one that has actually been prepared for centuries: charcuterie. It’s a term the Oxford Companion to Food says comes from the French “chair cuit,” or “cooked meat.”
Another culinary guide, The New Food Lover’s Companion, says the preparation of charcuterie has been considered a French culinary art since at least the 15th century. It’s considered an art because those who make the best charcuterie must be highly skilled to ensure that what they make has the correct taste profile and texture and is safe to eat.
Beyond France, charcuterie has been made for eons in other parts of Europe — Italy, Germany and Spain — and elsewhere in the world, including Canada.
Foods considered to be charcuterie include things such things as pâtés, terrines, rillettes and ham, dry-cured meats such as prosciutto, sausages such as chorizo and salami and a host of other prepared meats.
Pork has long been — and still is — the prime choice for charcuterie, but other meats and fowl are also used, including game.
For me, the recent rise in popularity of charcuterie is easy to explain. If you’re having friends over for a glass of wine and want to serve them something that looks impressive, tastes divine and is easy to make, get out a board, fill it with charcuterie and complementary items, set it out and let everyone dig in.
Here are some tips on making a charcuterie board.
How much to buy: Charcuterie is rich-tasting and meats such as salami are cut thinly. So when it’s fanned out, it doesn’t require a mountain of charcuterie, weight-wise, to create an impressive-looking board. If the charcuterie is meant to be a snack before a meal, or if it’s part of a dinner buffet, I usually allow about 60 grams per person.
If the charcuterie is meant to be more of a meal, I allow about 140 grams person, spreading that amount among the charcuterie I’ll buy. That said, I tend to buy more charcuterie than I need, because I don’t mind having leftovers for sandwiches and other uses.
What to buy: For an interesting-looking charcuterie board, choose at least five items that vary in colour, taste and texture. A smooth or coarse pâté, or one of each, is a must. I also like to include some type of salami and dry-cured and/or smoked sausages, such as chorizo, andouille or saucisson sec, and something almost silky that’s sliced paper-thin, such as prosciutto or jamon. Cooked, cold sausages, such as mortadella, blood sausage or garlic sausage, and an item that is not made with pork, are also nice to include. There are many types of charcuterie, including those shown in today’s photo, and people’s tastes vary, so it’s really up to you to select the ones that appeal most.
What to serve with charcuterie: Once your charcuterie is nicely laid out, pair it with complementary items, setting some on the board and others in bowls. Items to consider include small pickles, such as cornichon, pickled vegetables and olives, and condiments and preserves, such as Dijon mustard, chutney or fig jam. Dried fruit and nuts, such as apricots, cherries, walnuts and almonds, also go well with charcuterie, as do fresh fruits, such as melon. Bread and/or crackers should also be served and should be more neutral-tasting, such as a baguette or plain-flavoured crackers, so they won’t compete with the taste of the charcuterie.
Add some cheese: Cheese and meat always work well together, so if you want an even more divine board, serve cheese with your charcuterie, too. Because it is supposed to be more about the meat, I usually opt for two types, a soft or semi-soft cheese, such as Brie, camembert, gorgonzola or creamy goat, and a firm or hard type of cheese, such as an aged gouda, provolone or asiago, Manchego or grana padano.
Where to buy: There are a number of places to buy charcuterie around Vancouver Island, such as butcher shops, European-style delis, fine food stores and supermarkets. But in Victoria, some of my favourite places to shop for it are the Whole Beast, 2032 Oak Bay Ave.; Ottavio Italian Bakery & Delicatessen, 2272 Oak Bay Ave.; Choux Choux Charcuterie, 830 Fort St.; and Italian Food Imports, 1114 Blanshard St.
Victoria Festival Celebrates Meat and Cheese
If you would like to sample a wide range of charcuterie and cheese while sipping a tasty beverage, check out Victoria’s Cheese and Meat Festival, May 20 at Crystal Gardens, 713 Douglas St.
Organizers of this popular event say it’s broken down into two tasting sessions and those attending can choose which one they wish to attend. The afternoon session begins at 3 p.m., and the evening session starts at 7 p.m. Each session lasts two to 2 1/2 hours.
When you arrive at the event, you will be given a charcuterie board and a tasting glass to sample the products of an impressive list of vendors, including Cure Meat and Cheese, Blue Grouse Vineyard, Mcleans Meats, Lighthouse Brewing, Picnic Charcuterie, Whole Foods, Everything Wines, Fol Epi, Sea Cider, Little Qualicum Cheeseworks and many more.
To see a complete list of vendors and to purchase tickets for Victoria’s Cheese and Meat Festival, go to cheeseandmeatfestival.com and click on Victoria. Tickets are $55 per person plus service fees and taxes. Each festival pass grants you access to all cheese, meat and beverage samples.
Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.