The deli counter is my favourite part of a market. The pungent smell of cured meats and cheeses lures me in so that my eyes, and inevitably my belly, can feast on the array of briny, salty treats behind the glass. The thick cured sausages hanging overhead next to strings of menacing looking chillies beckon to me, inviting me to order more than I need as I reach for a taste of cheese on the counter. Tins of things dressed in bright Italian labels line the shelves next to more types of mustard than I thought possible. Buying a large wheel of parmesan or a whole leg of prosciutto seems like a perfectly reasonable option as I stand there, trying to decide what cured goodness I will take home with me.
Whatever I bring home doesn’t last long. As those parcels are unwrapped their contents usually go straight on a board, surrounded by jars of pickled things, fruits and whatever takes my fancy from the pantry. It’s Saturday lunch. The best kind. It’s the sort of lunch that encourages lingering, flicking through the weekend papers and drinking a cheeky glass of cold beer. There are no rules to a Saturday lunch, but a good charcuterie plate does have some variation. So here’s a rough guide to a well-balanced plate of meat that is also a simple, no-fuss dinner party appetiser.
How To Put Together a Charcuterie Plate
If you have a good deli or butcher nearby, go there. If a supermarket is your only option, you can still assemble a fine plate from the deli counter. This does not have to be an expensive exercise. You’re after about 2 ounces / 60 grams of meat per person when serving as an appetiser. A bit more for lunch.
- Choose an array of meats that represent a variety of charcuterie techniques.
- Dry-cured: prosciutto, coppa, bresaola if you feel like some beef, jamon serrano (though some consider serrano such a delicacy that the only accompaniment worthy of it is more serrano).
- Dry-cured sausage: soppressata, chorizo, any salami that entices you with its spiced, marbly goodness.
- Cooked sausage: a flavourful garlic sausage or a german frankfurt would be tasty.
- Pate, terrine or rillettes.
- Add something acidic to cut through the rich meat. I love cornichons, but any pickle will lend a pleasing sharp sourness.
- Lay out some fruit: a plump, luscious fig likes nothing more than to be wrapped in the salty embrace of a thin slice of prosciutto. Dried fruits also love a charcuterie plate, especially dried apricots when goats cheese is on offer, together they make a surprisingly meaty pairing.
- A bit of cheese pairs nicely with the meat. Some parmesan shavings are a favourite, as they are rarely seen on a cheese board and should be freed from the confines of pasta topping.
- Provide a platform for the flavours you’ve assembled with a sliced baguette.
To serve, find a nice piece of wood or slate. A chopping board will do nicely. Take the meat out of the fridge 20 minutes before serving to let it come to room temperature (if it’s too cold the flavour is lacking). Fold the meats neatly and lay out next to the small piles of accompaniments you’ve gathered. Serve with a bold red in Winter, a crisp white in Summer, or a glass of beer any time of year.