It’s still too soon in our pandemic recovery to consider having an unmasked, indoor cocktail party, so it is a good thing that it is summer, and we want to be outdoors. It’s premature to want to pass finger food to one another standing in the living room. We are about to start entertaining a few folks in the back yard, staying upwind, keeping our distance. We are about to embrace the charcuterie trend.
“It’s so beautifully arranged on the plate – you know someone’s fingers have been all over it.”
― Julia Child
This is certainly true of a charcuterie platter, with all the rolled meats, fanned out cheese slices, radish rosettes, blossoming cherry tomatoes and crispy crackers, artfully deployed. You can serve carrots and julienned peppers, grapes and cherries, slices of cucumber and wee bowls of glistening Kalamata olives, just like a flashback of 1950s cocktail parties. You can add salted nuts, watermelon cubes, freshly torn baguettes and some creamy, spreadable cheeses. You can serve dinner and dessert on the same surface.
You need to start at the beginning and build your way up. We have a round wooden cutting board, which normally on a Friday night is the perfect place for cutting our homemade pizza. (If you dig into your stash as yet un-regifted gifts, I bet you will find something similar.) You can root around for a Thanksgiving platter, or a cutting board, either of which will serve nicely. I have seen online dedicated charcuterie board kits, with partitions and specific containers. I encourage the repurposing of household items. A sheet pan lined with parchment paper will do fine, because you are going to stun everyone with your precise and artistic food plating.
Then you need to consider your food items. The last time I assembled a charcuterie platter, back in the before times, Mr. Sanders joked that it was a good way to clean out the fridge. Perhaps I am stuck in the mid-20th century, like a regrettable, uncomfortable chair, or a split-level house.
I like sampling a few cured meats – such as pepperoni, Sopressata, salamis or Prosciutto. Next, there are the cheeses: soft, hard, sliced, cubed. A variety of spreads will always be appreciated: mustards, mayo, jams and relishes. Olives, gherkin pickles and pickled peppers harken back to a 1950s relish dish, which is always devoured. Nuts and berries! Almonds, cashews, pistachios, peanuts, cherries, grapes, strawberries, orange slices. Veggies: cherry tomatoes, slices of peppers, classic carrot sticks, celery, green beans, asparagus. Artfully, casually, add some decorative greens for a little color: a sprig or two of fresh rosemary, some conventional parsley, or visit your basil farm and pluck some verdant and fragrant leaves.
Bring the 21st century to your charcuterie platter. I found this hack fascinating. As revealed by an investigative TikToker, Ritz crackers have grooves along the edge of the cracker in case you ever find yourself in polite company, but without a knife to cut the cheese. The little ridges have been designed to cut through cheese! Amazing. See for yourself: https://www.tiktok.com/@therealnobody30/video/6839789845498318085 (I think this TikToker must have spent a little too much time indoors.) Sadly, I prefer to use Triscuits or some fancy Carr’s crackers.
This is a little fancy for me: https://food52.com/blog/24029-cheese-board-ideas-presentation-tips
Very thorough: https://picky-palate.com/make-the-perfect-charcuterie-board/
I can’t wait for the time to come when I will put on a cocktail dress again, and worry about what kind of wine to serve to our guests, and whether there are enough hand towels in the powder room. But we are inching toward normalcy, and seeing a few people outside in on a warm summer night, under the stars, laughing, swatting away mosquitoes and nibbling on some good and varied treats. And I can’t wait to clean the fridge out.
“In the morning you were never violently sorry– you made no resolutions, but if you had overdone it and your heart was slightly out of order, you went on the wagon for a few days without saying anything about it, and waited until an accumulation of nervous boredom projected you into another party.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald