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You find yourself in the following scenario: you are hosting a group a friends, family, or colleagues and want all of the “wow factor” of catered hors d’oeuvres without hiring catering staff or becoming the butler yourself.
Buffets are great for entertaining because they are low maintenance. However, buffets often fail to impress guests, and I will not allow D20 Theory readers to host lackluster events! Charcuterie is another low-maintenance entertaining option because it is grazable finger food. It is also price- and size-scalable, which allows you to customize the board to your exact needs.
Bonus: Charcuterie tasting at a local meat and cheese shop (also called a charcuterie—I know, it’s confusing terminology) is the most fun way to prepare for any event!
Charcuterie: Past and Present
What exactly is charcuterie? The French word traditionally refers to pork products. The definition has expanded to include a variety of cured meats, which is what is generally considered “traditional” charcuterie. More “modern” charcuterie includes meats, cheeses, and many accoutrements, which is the focus of this post.
A Personal History
My husband and I usually host a charcuterie party for his birthday each September. This year was his 30th birthday, so we decided to do something different and go out to Barcelona Wine Bar, a beautiful Spanish tapas restaurant serving traditional and modern dishes. I highly recommend it for small or large groups if you live near one of their locations—not just in the Philadelphia area, by the way!
Where to Start
If you are wondering where to begin your journey to charcuterie enlightenment, and you live in the Philadelphia area, the undisputed answer is DiBruno Brothers market. Not only do they have an insane selection of meats and cheeses, they have an equally impressive selection of specialty items. Limited produce options are available at some locations.
The following photos were taken at the Italian Market location in South Philly. I visit this location and the Rittenhouse location equally frequently. No matter the location, the products are high quality and the staff is friendly and knowledgeable. Service is always impressive, and they are generous with the samples when you have no idea what you want to buy.
What’s that, you say? You don’t live in the Philadelphia area? No worries, they will ship to you if you order online!
The Italian Market is a cultural experience in itself, and a trip to the Market would not be complete without a visit to Isgro’s Pastries for cannoli. It is less than a five-minute walk from DiBruno Brothers. I was personally never a fan of cannoli until I tried Isgro’s. They are a traditional Italian bakery, and they have been perfecting the art of cannoli making for generations.
Modern Charcuterie Essentials
I am about to make a number of suggestions based on what has been popular with my guests. However, there are no better experts than the knowledgeable employees at charcuteries. They are present to answer questions and help you create a cohesive charcuterie board.
Quantity: Three to four varieties, such as prosciutto, bresaola, soppressata, and spicy salami.
Tip: Diversify the textures, flavors, and meat sources to include thick and thin cuts; lean and fatty; sweet and savory; and spicy and mild.
Fan fave: San Danielle prosciutto (equal meat-fat balance, slightly more sweet than salty, best sliced paper thin)
Quantity: Three to four varieties. With so many options available, I encourage you to branch out from cheddar and swiss to try brie and manchego. Interesting varieties that have been popular in our house include cheeses with edible, herbed rinds or truffle marbling.
Tip: Diversify the textures, flavors, and dairy sources to include soft and hard; sharp, mild, and funky; and goat, sheep, cow, and milk. Soy cheese is also an option, although I do not believe it is difficult to find.
Fan fave: brie and camembert (the soft, gooey cheeses)
Crackers – featured: Firehook rosemary sea salt + Original Wheat Thins
Bread and Olive Oil – not shown: thin sliced French baguette + garlic-infused EVOO
Preserves and Spreads – featured: fig preserves and Brussels sprout relish (DiBruno has a large selection of preserves and spreads, and they are all delicious!)
Honey – featured: local truffle honey (creamed honey is a recommended alternative)
Pickles – featured: mini gherkins (also called cornichons; spicy dill chips are a recommended addition)
Olives – featured: pitted cerignola (green) + kalamata (purple)
Nuts and Seeds – featured: shelled pistachios (smoked almonds are a recommended addition; pumpkin seeds, also called pepitas, are a seasonal favorite for fall)
Fruit – not shown: grapes, blackberries, figs, dried dates, and apple slices
Vegetables – not shown: julienne-sliced, multicolored bell peppers
Don’t forget your tools! Purchasing tasty components for your charcuterie board does not get you very far as a host if you don’t have, say, a board to display and utensils to serve it all. The basics include boards, small bowls, and cheese knives. They can each be purchased at any home goods or kitchen supply store. The marble boards were a gift. The cheese knives were on clearance at Williams Sonoma. The glass nesting bowls were found at a second hand store several years ago.
The Next Day
A new scenario: the party is over, and everything is cleaned up from the previous evening. You find yourself with remnants of meat and cheese. Plan ahead by purchasing a loaf of sourdough, an apple, and a pear at DiBruno Brothers or other shops at the Italian Market. With these leftover ingredients and minimal effort, you can make a killer grilled cheese sandwich. Try brie and pear with a sprig of fresh thyme, apple and gruyere with a drizzle of honey, or a little bit of whatever you have left!
If you’re still hungry or excited to start planning the menu for your next event, try our mouth-watering crab cake recipe!
More “modern” charcuterie includes meats, cheeses, and many accoutrements…
What is your favorite part of a charcuterie board?
Hint: “Everything” is an acceptable answer. Share your thoughts in the comments!