Holiday Charcuterie Board

With all of the holiday parties and get-togethers, friendly gift-exchanges over rum and eggnogs, family dinners with goodies galore, and New Year’s Eve upon us, we wanted to provide you with an easy way to share delicious food no matter what festive event you’re attending.  A charcuterie board is, we think, the yummiest way to enjoy a variety of cured meats, mustards, cheeses, preserves, pickles, bread and crackers.  You’d be hard-pressed to glance at a menu in Calgary without often finding an in-house cured charcuterie on offer.  Gone are the days of a pile of salami and a chunk of havarti.  But does that mean you can’t make a mean charcuterie of your own? Absolutely not.  It’s easier than you think and there are plenty of options out there.  We’d like to show you how to throw together a spectacular spread in one stop here at the Calgary Farmers’ Market.

All you need is a big cutting board (or two) or a couple of slate slabs and a little sense of adventure…. because who doesn’t love going to a party and stumbling on something new and delicious?

Ok so let’s break it down.  A great charcuterie board has a number of delicious elements: meat, cheese, pickles/olives, preserves/jams/mustards, fruit, and bread/crackers.  Sounds like a lot?  Perhaps, but they will all compliment each other to create a symphony of awesome and your friends will appreciate that variety.  What’s that idiom?  Variety is the spice of life?  Yeah, that’s the one.

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So what kind of meat should you go for?  Anything cured is the simple answer.  So that means: pancetta, Proscuitto, salamis… we used the coppa and capicolla from Fresh DELIcious and the bison bresaola from Olson’s High Country Free Range Bison.  You can also include terrines, smoked salmon, and pâté too (we love the wild board pâté by Valbella Farms).

Ready for the cheese?  The best way to make your cheese selections is to think of balance.  You don’t want all ooey-gooey cheeses or a whack of rock-hard slabs for your guests to fight to enjoy.  Variety, remember?  Go for something like the award-winning extra-aged sharp Grizzly Gouda by Sylvan Star Cheese, an earthy Brie like the mushroomy Brie de Meaux, a triple creme soft-as-butter Brillat Savarin is a crowd pleaser, and always a blue cheese.  Never discount the sometimes pungent, stinky selection; there are LOTS of blue cheeses available. From super-stinky dirty-sock blue cheese, to milder blues like the creamy, tangy Saint Agur from the village of Beauzac in the mountainous French region of Auvergne.  We love the Moody Blue from Fresh DELIcious as it’s on the milder side and it has a subtle smoky undertone.  There are so many incredible cheeses to choose from; if you’re not sure, ask for a quick taste before you decide to take it home.

Pickles on a cheese plate?  Always.  The acidity of a perfectly pickled spear of Edgar Farms asparagus or snap pea or bean or carrot or OLIVES! Yes, pickles are a must.  Innisfail Growers has an impressive selection of pickled vegetables, choose your favorite.  Then there are olives.  Sure, not everyone loves olives.  But for those that do, they really love olives; no one is ever just on the fence about an olive.  2 Greek Gals and Soffritto have a good selection, so does LA CUCINA and Fresh DELIcious.  You have no excuse to leave them out.

No charcuterie board is complete without the preserves and mustards that compliment the cheese and meat.  It’s all about balance, remember?  A bresaola is best with a tiny dab of mustard, like the grainy Brassica mustard from Blu Seafood.  Fig jam is a common and very approachable accompaniment to almost every cheese; we added the Grand Marnier and Honey Spice Cranberry Sauce from Beeland to our charcuterie just to mix it up.  And their Roasted Nuts and Wildflower Honey is pure heaven on a hunk of blue cheese.

Fruit is also a great addition to any charcuterie board.  Figs, dates, grapes, strawberries, gooseberries, pears, even apple.  They pair well with the cheese and cleanse your palate before moving on to the next bite of “yum!”

Baguette or crisp crackers are the perfect vessels for your well thought out board.  Providing a rice cracker is must these days for your gluten-sensitive guests; we’ve gone one further and are offering the Raw Vegetable Flax Crackers from Healthy Delights.

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Only a few more notes: ‘fluff’ your meat selections, don’t just slap ’em down on the board to make your guests pick through the pile.  Don’t ever jab a knife into your wheel of brie.  Just don’t.  Provide knives for your guests to enjoy your wonderful cheese selection.  Thinly slice the fruit and bread, add dollops of mustard and preserves, and place pickles/olives around the board.  Also, it’s always nice to label your selections… unless you want to spend your night helping your guests navigate your charcuterie or listen to hushed “what is this cheese? what am I supposed to do with the honey? what the heck is this?!” whispers.  Throw ’em a bone and let ’em know what they’re enjoying.  You can even place a ‘menu’ of sorts in a frame beside your charcuterie to ease your guests’ into knowing what they’re eating and loving every bite.

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