By PARIS WOLFE
Hop on board. Your parents’ wine and cheese party is so over. Today’s in-crowd is serving cheese and meat trays, better known as charcuterie boards. For cocktail conversation purposes, know that “charcuterie” literally means a collection of cold cooked meats. Popularly, though, people use the word to describe a curated collection that also includes cheeses and accompaniments.
Design your own or order a pre-curated culinary collection from the experts. Either way, consider charcuterie/cheese boards for holiday parties of two to 200.
If you love cheese, visit a cheesemonger such as Marchant Manor Cheese in Cleveland Heights. There, owner/cheesemaker Kandice Marchant sells soft cheeses she’s made at an Amish dairy in Stark County from Guernsey cow milk. She also sells artisanal cheeses, both soft and hard, from makers in Ohio and countrywide. Marchant’s large selection of cheese-enhancing products – often local –includes honeys and jams as well as freshly baked bread, locally made crackers and pickled vegetables. She sells meat options from NaKyrsie in Geneva, Ohio.
To compose the best cheese and/or charcuterie board Marchant says, “Look for three contrasts in the cheeses or meats. You want a visual contrast. You want a contrast in texture. And you want a contrast in tastes.”
For example, a soft, fresh cheese will contrast with an aged, hard cheese. These will contrast with a blue cheese. No time to make your own? With three days’ notice, Marchant will custom-make a board for your event.
Brandon Chrostowski, founder, CEO and president of EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute and Edwins Butcher Shop in Cleveland knows both cheese and meat from years’ experience in the culinary industry.
“A board should have a good mix,” says Chrostowski. “It’s an art. Just as I like to see different colors in a painting, I like to see different cuts on a board. I don’t want to see all jowl but an array of different methods and cuts. I like to see some things that are aged and some things that are ground and made into terrines.”
Once meat and cheeses are selected, it’s time for the accompaniments. A culinary globetrotter, Chrostowski sells his favorite olives from Spain and Greece, mustards from Dusseldorf, Germany and Burgundy, France, and pickles from everywhere. Edwin’s Butcher shop can also make charcuterie/cheese boards to order.
Balance and variety are important, agrees Melissa Khoury of Saucisson in Cleveland’s Slavic Village. “I believe there is really no set number of meats and cheeses, but you definitely want to pay attention to mild flavors vs. strong flavors in both,” she says. “Try to have equal amounts of each. It’s also important to add palate cleansers such as pickled veggies.”
“Depending on your meat and cheese selections you definitely want to have some other textures and flavor profiles,” she notes. “Nuts, pickled vegetables and mustard are good standbys. Some soft cheeses would benefit from honey or a jam.” Saucisson carries meat options and crackers as well as local pickles and cheeses. They also make boards to order.
Intimated? Don’t be. “The trend may sound fancy, but we’ve all grown up with pepperoni,” says Trever Clatterbuck, of Ohio City Provisions (OCP) in Cleveland. “Lunch meat is technically a type of charcuterie.”
Of course, OCP takes the meats to a new level. Today’s charcuterie is resurrecting a lost art. “It started as a way to utilize the entire animal,” says Clatterbuck. “It’s a way to respect the animal and every part of it.”
After the best cuts are prepared for sale, a large percentage of meat remains. Charcuterie is a way to use the lesser marketable cuts and fat. Results can be dried or made into something like a pate de campagna (country pate) which he describes as a “fancy meatloaf with nuts, spices and organ meat.”
“We’ve made so many things,” he says of the small butchershop. “We may have different things depending on what we feel like making.” These are available individually or in ready-made presentations.
With OCP’s whole-animal philosophy in mind, building a good charcuterie/cheese board is both creative and noble.