Charcuterie is a French word for cooked meats usually served as an appetizer with cheeses and the tastes can be enhanced by smoking the meats and cheeses first.
Meaning of the Word 'Charcuterie'
The word charcuterie derives from two separate French words, chair, meaning flesh, and cuit, which means cooked. It's been around since at least the 15th century, and the word was originally chaircuiterie, but it's changed slightly over the years. It was a way of preserving meats before the days of refrigeration.
Back then a charcuterie usually meant a pork butcher's shop, as well as the cooked meats that you could buy there. The person who sold the meat was a charcutier. Pork was the main meat that was widely sold because beef was an expensive treat, and chickens were something that many peasants kept for themselves for both eggs and meat.
What is Charcuterie Today?
The most common cooked meats from the pig are ham, sausages, and bacon, although if serving or ordering a charcuterie it can also include patés and terrines, and these days it won't be confined to pork meat. You'll probably find things like chicken paté and cheeses served alongside the meats on a plate of charcuterie.
Charcuterie Around the World
Although the idea of charcuterie originated in France, the notion has spread around the world and has been adapted into different cultures. In France's neighbor, Italy, it has become antipasto or antipasti, both meaning 'before the pasta'. Antipasto is the singular, referring to the whole plate, and antipasti is the plural, meaning the dishes on the plate. As well as cooked meats, in Italy it's likely to include things like olives, sardines, anchovies, cheeses, and vegetables.
In the UK the meal has adapted into a ploughman's lunch, which is a movable feast. It will include cold meats but also cheeses, pies, a slice or two of bread, pickles, boiled eggs, salad, or any combination of these, along with appropriate condiments like mustard. The original idea was that it was whatever a farm worker like a ploughman could put in his bag and eat easily with his hands at lunchtime.
In the USA the dish is referred to as either charcuterie or just a simple meat and cheese plate, served with bread or crackers and condiments like mustard. You should also include some fruit and vegetables, for vegetarian and vegan guests.
What to Drink with Charcuterie
As charcuterie originated in France, the majority of people would have drunk the local wine. It's traditional to pair red wine with meats, and a merlot or pinot noir would certainly go well. However, charcuterie is very adaptable and because of the salty nature of some of the dishes, you can also try a crisp white wine or even a sparkling wine, like prosecco.
In the UK it's traditional to drink beer with your ploughman's lunch, as that's what workers would have drunk. It was common then for people, even children, to drink weak beer rather than water, as it was less likely to be contaminated. In the USA you can drink beer or wine, or anything else.
How to Serve Charcuterie
Charcuterie is a dish meant for sharing, so you'll need a large serving board to make sure there's enough for everyone. You can serve charcuterie up as individual dishes for people if you like, and these can look good, but it's much more fun to give people a small empty plate and for everyone to dip in and share from the main board.
You can use a plain and simple cheese board for your charcuterie, but if you enjoy entertaining or want to impress someone special, then use a special serving board. You can find wine-themed charcuterie boards, plain charcuterie boards, or even bourbon-themed boards. Yes, you can serve bourbon with charcuterie. A sweeter wheaty bourbon is the perfect match for salty hams and bacon. If you can casually mention that you made your own wheated bourbon, so much the better!
Two Great Ways to Improve Your Charcuterie Board
There are two more ways you can make your charcuterie stand out from the crowd, apart from only using the best of ingredients, of course. The first way is visual: the presentation. When you bring your board to the table you want your guests to say: 'Oh, that looks good!' To find some inspiration look at how other people have done it on somewhere like Pinterest.
The second way to improve your charcuterie board will have your guests asking for it next time they come, and that is by smoking some of the meats and cheeses. Who doesn't like smoked hams or smoked cheeses? And what could be more fun than to smoke your own using something like this Foghat Smoking Cloche Set?
The Foghat actually comes with a charcuterie board, which tells you what it's designed to do. With one of these devices, the sky's the limit with what you can do to improve the meats and cheeses you serve. You don't want to overdo it and smoke everything in sight, but put a couple of smoked cheeses and a couple of smoked meats on your board and you'll probably find they're the first to get finished.
The great thing about this is that you can do it ahead of time, and also you're only limited in what you can do by your imagination. Suppose, for example, you do have some bourbon-loving friends coming over for dinner, and you want to serve some shots of bourbon or a bourbon cocktail with your charcuterie. What better than to smoke some salami or Swiss cheese with some Bourbon Resurrection Smoking Fuel? Try taking a plain cheese like cheddar or mozzarella and give it the treatment with something like Sweet Texas Mesquite Smoking Fuel. Or make your own Hickory Smoked Cheddar.
So now you know not only what charcuterie is, but how to take your own charcuterie board to the next level.