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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Cobb Salad with Roasted Sweet Onion Dressing

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Have you ever met someone who just doesn’t like a cobb salad?  Sure, there are vegetarians or vegans and ingredient-restricted individuals who steer clear of this delicious, often-reinterpreted salad, but there’s something for everyone in the well-rounded salad that eats like a meal.  This version, with a southern sweet onion twist, is sure to please even the pickiest of palates.  While it has many individual elements, it all comes together quickly and taking the time to make your own dressing is entirely worth it.  So let’s get started.

Ingredients

Market-Sourced Ingredients

Dressing:

6 unpeeled garlic cloves from Souto Farms

1-2 large sweet onions, peeled and quartered through the core from Souto Farms

1/2 cup olive oil, plus more for brushing from La Cucina

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

juice and zest of 1 lemon from Cherry Pit

Kosher salt

Freshly ground pepper

Salad:

1 clamshell of fresh Alberta romaine lettuce from Cherry Pit

1 clamshell of fresh spicy microgreens from Cherry Pit

1 avocado from Cherry Pit

1 bag of sweet tomatoes (your preference) from Gull Valley Greenhouses

2 cups shredded cooked Bowden Farms chicken from Spragg’s Meat Shop

1 package of bacon from Spragg’s Meat Shop

4 ounces crumbly Gorgonzola cheese, (1/2 cup) from Fresh DELIcious

1/2 cup toasted pecans, choppped from Going Nuts

2 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and sliced lengthwise from Sylvan Star Cheese (or Blush Lane Organics)

Kosher salt

Freshly ground pepper

Cobb Salad Collage

MAKE THE DRESSING: As we are likely enjoying the last week of warm sun and beautiful blue skies, we opted to grill the chicken and onions.  We even wrapped the garlic in foil and threw it on the grill too.  If you choose to do this step of the process in the oven, roast at 425°. Wrap the bulb of garlic (or individual cloves) in foil and set on a baking sheet. Brush the onions with oil and arrange on the baking sheet. Bake for about 1 hour, until the onions and garlic are lightly charred and soft. Let cool.

Peel the garlic and transfer the cloves to a processor. Add the onions, cider vinegar and lemon juice and puree until smooth. With the blender on, gradually add the 1/2 cup of olive oil until incorporated. Season the dressing with salt and pepper.  At this point, we’d like to be perfectly transparent and admit that while our recipe calls for absolute measurements, we prefer to free-pour the vinegar and oil and trust our instincts.  Food is all about what tastes good right?  So if you want to add a little more vinegar, knock yourself out!  This dressing should have a good kick to it as it will cut through the rich chicken, bacon, and avocado and balance the salad.  Remember: Taste. Taste. Taste.  Taste as you go.

Set Up

MAKE THE SALAD: In an effort to not overdress the salad (who wants wilty, wet salad?), we placed the romaine and micorgreens in the bowl and arranged the remaining ingredients on top.  Just before serving, add your fresh-made sweet onion dressing and allow your guests to toss it all together to really see the magic happen.

This salad is a full meal that is sure to leave your family satisfied, hitting every mark: crisp lettuce leaves, succulent chicken, salty bacon, creamy avocado, bright tomatoes, nut-crunch…. and that’s just a few!  If you don’t like blue cheese, a milder cheese will absolutely work in this salad.  Choose what you like…. because let’s face it, food is meant to be enjoyed so use what you love and leave with a full and happy tummy.

*The onion dressing can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.