Besides losing an hour of sleep, springing forward has its perks.
Warmer weather, flowers blooming and sunshine calls for more time outside. We all know food completes the perfect outdoor outing, and there’s no better way to snack than a beef and cheese board!
Done right, a charcuterie (fancy French name for cold meat tray) is a sight to behold for any carnivore, boasting an eye-popping assortment of aged meats, air-dried sausages, thinly sliced deli meats in a variety of cuts, cures, and flavors. Upgrade the experience even more with add-ons like farm-fresh fruits and veggies, an assortment of charmingly bold cheeses, rustic artisan breads and crackers, and other nibbles and noshes to make a balanced snack. . . or rather entire meal!
There are absolutely no rules when it comes to building your charcuterie “plus” tray, I always say “lead with what you love” — in my case that would be beef and beautiful produce. While the assembly process is totally freestyle and an expression of your individual taste, here are some good tips to keep in mind:
Meats: No meat is off limits, but going all-beef is a show-stopping, unique spin on a traditional charcuterie which typically features proteins from a variety of animals – pig, duck, and even eggs. An assortment of three to five meats is plenty, depending on the size of your party. For my charcuterie, I used thinly sliced Angus roast beef, dry-cured beef salami, beef bresaola, beef jerky sticks and even some sliced, smoked brisket because this is Texas, y’all. A beef pâté, mousse or terrine would make a nice addition but, sadly, I ran out of room!
Cheeses: Say “cheese” to complement your charcuterie picks, the combination of beef and aged cheese will maximize the umami taste experience. A few slices of well-aged cheddar, Havarti and smoky gouda along with hard cheese like Asiago or Parmesan that can be shaved off bit by bit make a tasty statement – or how about a bowl full of blue cheese crumbles?! Also, a good-quality pimento cheese, soft herb cheese spread or even queso dip are so unorthodox, but drool-worthy for your consideration.
Fruits & Vegetables: Play up color to make your tray pop and take advantage of Mother Nature being a true artist! Raspberries, blackberries, grapes, cherries, sliced melon all pair with beef and the assorted cheese served alongside. Asparagus, multi-colored carrots, traditional and watermelon radishes, cherry tomatoes, baby artichokes, green beans, onions, summer squashes, beets, mild and hot peppers and, of course, avocados, are all gorgeous vegetable choices. Use what is in season and you just can’t go wrong. I also like to fill in the open board spaces by arranging a bed of kale before piling on the produce. I’ve found that kale is sturdier and stays looking fresh much longer than delicate lettuces.
Breads & Such: Bread is not just the staff of life and it’s also the substance that helps hold all these charcuterie tray ingredients together! Set out a crusty baguette, sliced diagonally, as a little “plate” to hold piled up meats, cheeses, spreads and veggies. Sourdough bread, naan, tortillas, pita pockets, split rolls and such also work well for wrapping, stuffing and otherwise loading up ingredients. I also like to offer an assortment of crackers, large croutons, pretzels and whole grain, root chips or other crunchy bits for variety.
Condiments & Extras: Pull together the smorgasbord of with an array of condiments and extras. Set out fancy mustard, aioli, pesto, balsamic syrup, local honey and/or an assortment of jams (try tomato jam or bacon jam), preserves, chutneys, relishes, hummus and other spreadable or drizzly ingredients. Also nice, an olive assortment or pickled items such as dill pickles, chow-chow, pickled peppers of any persuasion, capers, and more. You don’t need all of these, just your favorites!
If you want to take your charcuterie and frolic off into a field or meadow for enjoyment on a picnic blanket, more power to you! One of the perks of a meat-cheese-veggie platter is that it translates well from cocktail party finger food to a no-utensils-needed, well-balanced picnic meal. Nothing needs cooking, only safe transport in a cooler with some ice to keep fresh and wilt-free. I package up my charcuterie tray ingredients in air-tight, food-storage containers by type using separate containers for meats, cheeses, delicate fruit and vegetables, hardier produce. Bread products are kept sealed in zip-top plastic bags to protect from staleness and intruding cooler ice.