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Charcuterie boards

by guest columnist Charlyn Fargo Ware

Today, Jay Kitterman turns over his column to Charlyn Fargo Ware, MS, RD, LDN, adjunct culinary instructor at Lincoln Land Community College and also with medical education, SIU School of Medicine.

Here’s something to wow your guests this holiday season – a charcuterie board. It’s top of the trendy list for a get-together of wine and appetizers or simply a first course.

Charcuterie boards seem to be all the rage this year, a sure conversational piece at the holiday party. In the simplest terms, it’s a tray loaded with all sorts of finger foods, commonly eaten as an appetizer. Meat and cheese are just the beginning. After that, let your creativity rule.

I like to think of three C’s rule when making a board – creativity (colorful foods arranged artistically), choice (tailored to your likes/dislikes) and convenience (small nibbles and individual portions make choosing easy.)

Think cured meats, cheeses, crackers, nuts, veggies, fruits, pickled items, sauces and spreads arranged artistically. The term “charcuterie” refers to the culinary art of preparing cured meats, meat that is ready to be eaten. As such, charcuterie boards most often contain meats like salami, prosciutto, summer sausage, ham or cured chorizo. However, the best thing about charcuterie boards is you can use whatever foods you like.

Almost any board or platter can be used, as long as it’s food-safe: wooden cutting boards, platters, a Santa serving tray or even butcher paper on your kitchen counter will work. When thinking about what to put on your charcuterie board, consider a variety of colors, textures and flavors. You want to add foods that are sweet, savory, salty and spicy.

The healthiest of charcuterie boards are those that contain piles of fresh fruits and veggies, which are a good source of vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber. A charcuterie board can contain all five food groups in USDA’s MyPlate (fruit, vegetable, grain, protein and dairy). While processed meat is in the protein group, high intakes of processed meats may increase the risk of cancer. Choose smaller amounts of meats and fill in the gaps with nuts and hummus. Choose whole grains, such as whole-grain crackers, and remember to not completely gorge yourself on the cheese.

Here are some charcuterie board ingredient ideas:

  • Veggies: Cucumber slices, radish slices, cherry tomatoes, mini peppers, sugar snap peas
  • Fruits: Grapes, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, pitted Medjool dates with blue cheese and prosciutto, dried apricots, mandarin orange wedges, split pomegranate
  • Cheeses: Fresh mozzarella (soft), La Bonne Vie triple crème Brie cheese with honey, Devonshire cheddar (semi-hard), gouda, Havarti, Vermont Creamery Crémant cheese, Westminster rustic red cheese, Somerdale Stilton cheese with cranberries, drunken goat cheese
  • Meats: Columbus Genoa salami, speck prosciutto, ham, summer sausage, Columbus peppered salami slices
  • Nuts: Marcona almonds, cashews, pistachios, caramelized pecans
  • Crackers: Cracked pepper wafer crackers, cranberry-pumpkin seed cracker crisps, Butcher & Baker Sea salt flatbread crackers
  • Breads: Whole wheat crackers, baguette slices, pretzels, oven-baked Parm crisps
  • Pickled Elements: Olives, cornichons, pepperoncini’s, tri-color Pepperazzi spicy-sweet peppers
  • Spreads: Olive oil, red pepper jelly, jalapeno jelly, cranberry stone ground mustard, hummus
  • Dessert: chocolate and assorted bite-size sweets

When you’re ready to arrange your board, it’s like ordering pizza. Match the size of the board to the number of guests – 8 inches in diameter for 2-3 people; 10 inches for 4 to 5 people; 12 inches for 6-7 people and 15 inches for 8 to 12 people. Then use small, colorful plates and bowls to spotlight specialty foods and hold sauces, dips and small items like nuts and olives.

Your goal is to arrange the food into a beautiful artwork display where the board is your canvas.

Randomly place the small bowls and plates (unfilled at first) on the platter. Wash and slice all fruits and veggies. If needed, slice cheese, meat and breads. Place ingredients that you want the most of on the board first. Then fill in the gaps with your other items. A good rule: Add four or five primary foods in ample quantities, then smaller portions of secondary foods.

Remember a well-rounded board needs contrasts. Use a variety of vegetables, fruits and dips for color. Balance soft cheese and hummus with crispy crackers. Add flavor surprises like chocolate covered pretzel sticks for a mix of sweet and salty.

If you’re not serving immediately, store all but nuts, breads, dried fruits and oil in the refrigerator. And refrigerate perishables after two hours, including meat, cheese, dips and fruit.

Here’s a recipe for a Charcuterie Board Bite from Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman.

Charcuterie board bite

  • 1 small baguette
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • ¼ cup cherry preserves
  • 5 ounces fontina, shredded
  • 2 ounces thinly sliced spicy salami
  • ¼ cup mini cornichons (pickles)

Position an oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat to broil. Slice the baguette slightly on a bias into 16 crostini. Spread a thin layer of the butter and preserves onto each slice, then place onto a baking sheet. Top each with a good pinch of the fontina and transfer to the oven to broil, about 5 minutes.

Carefully remove the baking sheet form the oven and transfer the crostini to a board or platter. Fold the salami into triangles and add one to the top of each slice. Garnish each one with a mini cornichon and serve. Serves 16.

Lincoln Land Community College offers credit programs in Culinary Arts, Hospitality Management, Baking/Pastry, and Value-Added Local Food, and non-credit cooking and food classes through LLCC Community Education.

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