Originally charcuterie was developed in France, Italy and Germany where rearing pigs is a long-standing tradition. The word itself comes from the French word chair, meaning “flesh” and cuit – meaning “cooked”. Predominantly pork meat or offal products are used for this and are cured through salting and smoking. This includes cured meats, fresh and smoked sausages, patés, hams, gelatines and forcemeats.
The charcuterie platter has an all-star cast and can often vary, but here are some of the main characters:
This obviously serves as the focus of the dish so you want to give it some attention. You might like to use just one type of meat, or offer a choice of two or three depending on how much variety you’re after. Suggestions include Prosciutto, Coppa, Bresaola or Salami.
Bread picks up the cameo role, playing the likable neutral compliment to the salty meat. Try and get a good loaf from an artisanal bakery or even a big Ciabatta from your local supermarket. The texture of the bread makes a big difference. I like a thick outer crust with a soft, light centre. Some prefer to ditch the bread altogether and opt for a packet of crackers, it’s up to you.
The soft gooey centre of a Camembert is entirely different to the sharp, robust, tongue-tingling flavours of extra matured Cheddar. South Africa makes some phenomenal cheeses and ones that go particularly well on a charcuterie platter are Gorgonzola-style, Gruyère, Brie and goat’s cheese.
An acid component really ‘lifts’ a meat platter (think of the tarty gherkin they put on burgers). Pickled onions, zucchini or marinated peppers are some good options. Otherwise grab a mouth-puckering bottle of relish from your favourite deli or padstal.
Fruit and nuts
If you want to kick it up a notch, a few nuts lend a nice bit of texture to the platter. Think roasted almonds or some chewy cashews. My favourite though are salty, green pistachios (in their shells).
In terms of fruit, sliced pears quickly caramelised in butter and brown sugar, pair beautifully with cheese. If you want to be a bit more exotic however, then try and get your hands on plump fresh figs. And if that’s too out of reach, a large bunch of chilled seedless grapes will certainly do the trick.
Dips and spreads
This – simply put, is the “cherry on top”. A smear of hot, nose-burning mustard or a small jar of olive tapenade is always welcome and just elevates the platter to another level. Even store-bought hummus or pesto is perfectly acceptable.
Last but not least…
Finish the platter off with a handful of freshly dressed greens like baby leaves or Rocket.