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More Than a Cheese Tray

It’s more than a cheese tray.  More than pepperoni and salami on a platter.  More than a fruit plate.  More than a basket of crackers and a bowl of nuts.  It’s cheese, fruit, crackers, nuts, and cured meats on a flat board, any size and any shape.  It’s a charcuterie board.

            When I first heard charcuterie, I asked, “A char what?”  I looked up the word in my online dictionary: cold cooked meats.  It wasn’t in my trusty paperback Webster’s New Dictionary, copyright 2002.  What’s the origin of the word?  When and how did charcuterie boards become the rage for entertaining? 

            According to online sources, charcuterie is from two French words: ‘chair,’ meaning flesh and ‘cuit,’ meaning cooked.  It was a way to preserve meat, before refrigeration was available, and to prepare meat products.  During the first century in Rome, meat was salted and cured, and centuries later charcutiers in 15th century France produced and sold bacon, sausages, head cheese – any pork that could be preserved. 

            Corkdining.com states that charcuterie is rooted in the belief that nothing from the animal should be wasted; not even the heart, lungs, kidneys, fat, or brain.  This takes me back to hog-killing day on the Friday after Thanksgiving when I was a kid when Dad and Granny certainly didn’t know cured meats were called such a fancy word as charcuterie.

             According to most sources, a charcuterie board must include meat, so add cured meat to a simple cheese tray and voila!  During the past few years, charcuterie boards have evolved into meals, party themes, works of art, and almost anything goes. 

            Wanting to learn to create a board from a master, I recently took a class taught by Diego Alvarez, the owner of the Royal House of Cheese.  On my working space, he placed a two-inch thick, eleven-inch diameter wooden disc and enough food to feed a family of six.  Grapes. Strawberries and raspberries.  Three kinds of cheese.  Salami, polish sausage, and prosciutto. Dried apricots and cranberries.  A sleeve of round crackers. Handfuls of bagel chips and nuts.

            Was it possible to balance all of that on something with no sides? And what went where?

Diego patiently explained the circle as a clock face and suggested the placement of foods.  As crackers slid, he expertly fanned them into a crescent.  He suggested food arrangements based on flavors that complement each other and said to vary textures and colors.

            Diego is an excellent teacher, as well as entertaining, and I created a charcuterie board that I proudly served to guests the next day.  Only one raspberry rolled onto the floor.  And Diego taught me how to confidently say charcuterie: char- like to blacken meat, cu- like cu when saying a cute baby, and erie rolls off the tongue to rhyme with rotisserie.

            Now that I can put together charcuterie boards, will they go the way of fondue?  Remember fondue parties in the 1970’s?  By the time I hosted one, they were going out of style.


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