Appetizers are the new dinner party. Small plates, snacking and shared meals are all the rage as restaurantgoers and home diners alike turn away from overwhelming portions and look for something different.

Enter the charcuterie board.

If you’re looking for a simple and elegant spread, ditch the traditional menu at your next gathering and instead construct a charcuterie board. You’ll impress your guests, plus with this easy make-ahead dish you’ll be able to enjoy your gathering.

Charcuterie, the French culinary art of the production of meat, sausages, pate and terrine, has been around for thousands of years.

“The word charcuterie translates to cooked meat or cured meat. It is not a charcuterie plate if you use lunch meat, so don’t,” says Sharon Puren, general manager of the winery and tasting room at the Kiepersol Winery and Vineyards near Bullard. “That’s the only rule. Otherwise, you can’t go wrong.”

While the name can be challenging to say, (shar-kood-eree), the dish couldn’t be simpler. No need to turn on the oven or stand over the stove. With just a few tips you’ll be able to construct the perfect board.

Meats

The four components to consider when building a charcuterie board are texture, flavor, color and shape. Keep these components in mind when selecting products. It’s best to begin with the meats, as they will be the backbone of the board.

Plan on 2 ounces of meat per person and two to three meats for hors d’oeuvres and five to six meats if the board will be the main course. Don’t be afraid to ask for samples when deciding what to choose. Butchers are usually happy to assist and can be an excellent resource.

Hard salami, prosciutto, smoked ham, dry-cured chorizo, Genoa salami, capicola, sausages, pates and terrines are all excellent choices. Ask for the muscle cuts, such as salamis and prosciutto, to be thinly sliced.

Pate adds a soft and delicate texture while sausages add a hearty touch.

Cheeses

Next, select the cheeses.

“You’ll need at least three types; a soft cheese, hard cheese and a bold, stinky cheese,” Puren says. “Soft cheeses such as feta, brie and Camembert are bright and tangy, where your Gorgonzolas, Roqueforts and Stiltons are bold. Hard cheeses such as cheddar, Gouda, Muenster and Parmesan are aged and sharp.”

When selecting hard cheese, choose from goat cheese, which offers a more tangy flavor profile, sheep cheese with a rich buttery, albeit mild, flavor profile, or cheese made from cow’s milk, which will provide the most variety and can range significantly in flavor.

Extras

It’s time to add the extras.

Olives, fruits, nuts and spreads will add even more flavor and texture to your board. Including something briny, such as pickled vegetables, olives, pickled jalapenos or pepperoncini will add a mouthwatering tang and can be paired easily with bold meats.

The addition of one or two jams or honey will provide sweetness, adding one more layer of flavor while balancing out the dry and salty meats and cheese. Fig spread is an incredible addition, and partners marvelously with many items. Apricot jam is delicious, too.

Have fun experimenting with this. Chances are you have several options available in the pantry.

Seasonal fruits and nuts round out the board. Fruit adds more sweetness and is a great way to use seasonal items. Strawberries and melon are commonly found on a board. However, they can be watery.

Consider grapes or raspberries as an unexpected addition.

Almonds, pistachios or walnuts are excellent choices; some people like to use unsalted nuts to act as a palate cleanser. Think about colors and shapes in relation to the other ingredients as you make your selections. Remember, we eat with our eyes first.

Bread, crackers

Finally, a variety of crackers and bread is best. Crostini, artisan bread, crackers, even pita chips all work well.

You don’t have to have all of these items, the only requirement for it to be called charcuterie is to have meats.

Putting it together

Time to construct the board. If you prep the ingredients beforehand, be sure to store them in separate containers to avoid the flavors marrying. Cut meats and cheese into varying shapes to add interest to the dish.

Lay out all of the ingredients and select your platter. You’ll want to serve the dish at room temperature, so it’s best to put it together about one hour before you plan to serve.

Traditionally, charcuterie is served on a wooden board, but feel free to experiment. Consider slate, stoneware or even an attractive cutting board — no need to limit yourself to traditional platters. You may wish to serve your spreads in small bowls, same goes for olives if you’re using them.

Begin by placing stationary items on the board first, such as the spreads and olives, especially if you opt to serve them in dishes. You’ll want to build your board to have some dimension; that’s where using small bowls and jars can be helpful. Jams and preserves can be dolloped directly onto the serving dish. Make sure all ingredients are accessible.

Now place the meats. Try tearing the prosciutto into bite-size pieces, even folding into a triangular shape. A beautiful way to present salami is by folding into a rosette. Take a round piece of salami and fold it in half, then fold in half again. Pinch the pointed end slightly and begin laying the pieces on the platter in a circle with the pointed ends touching.

In no time, you’ll have a gorgeous rosette. Easy!

Next, arrange the cheeses. Sometimes soft cheese, such as brie, is served whole next to a small knife. If you are serving a more substantial group, this can be time-consuming for guests helping themselves.

If using bread and crackers, place them on the board now, then fill in the leftover spaces with fruit and nuts. As a final touch, add some fresh mint sprigs or even edible flowers.

Voila! You have constructed a fabulous charcuterie board. Put out appropriate utensils. Often toothpicks and napkins or small plates work best, and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Pair it with wine

Nothing pairs with charcuterie better than a lovely wine — or two!

When choosing a wine to complement your board, keep in mind that it should be slightly sweeter than the food. Acidity cancels out other bitterness, allowing different flavors to emerge and helping prevent cloying sweetness.

Some of the world’s most popular wines, such as chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and shiraz, can clash with cured meats because they’re bogged down by excessive weight and lack the requisite acidity.

Often, the best matches can be found off the beaten path. Experiment and ask questions. Local vintners will be thrilled to assist.

Why not take the opportunity to celebrate the bountiful Texas harvest and the wines that it produces? Local wines are plentiful in East Texas. The Piney Woods Wine Trail, which runs through East Texas, alone has 21 wineries, offering myriad choices to come up with the perfect pairing.

Tami Brooks is a freelance writer based in East Texas.

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