While many imagine a charcuterie plate to be littered with top self imported meats, cheeses and condiments, this doesn’t have to be the case. The simple fact is that charcuterie, despite being a French term, is created and consumed the world over with little regard for traditional French cuisine. From Chinese meat floss to sun-dried Brazilian beef, it all has place on your charcuterie plate.
And rightfully so. Charcuterie plates have an amazing ability to reflect the culture and region they are made without loosing any of its charm. Many traditional pairings that make their way onto French or Italian plates, like fresh, high quality olive oil or raw artichokes can be hard to come by in our corner of the world; luckily, by understanding a few basic principles of flavour pairings we can create our own pairings, using fresh, local ingredients, like cold-pressed canola and dried berries, that reflect our cultural heritage, our pride as Canadian producers and, of course, our personal taste.
Pairing contrasting flavours is all about balance; the balance between sweet and salty, fatty and lean, rich and sour. Through contrast, dominant flavours become more well-rounded and subtle flavours are enhanced.
Sweet and salty is a classic pairing. Think fresh or dried fruit paired with a salty goat cheese or cured meat. It’s diabolically delicious. In Canada, dried apricots, cranberries and prunes are all great options for a bit of sweet. Or use fresh seasonal fruit. Strawberries in spring, saskatoon berries and raspberries in summer, early winter pears and melons in the fall, apples in the winter. They all work to add that little bit of sweetness to dried or cured meats.
Lean and fatty is an often-overlooked pairing. Some dry, cured meats are very lean; these meats really benefit from having a rich accompaniment. Cured pork loin, prosciutto, and some lean salamis pair well with the richness of a higher fat product like cold pressed canola oil, white or green pesto, decadent cheese or our very own pepperoni butter.
Rich and sour is another classic pairing. Tart flavours nicely cut the richness of more fatty foods, while the savoury will help mellow out the sour – the perfect balance. Pickled vegetables, naturally fermented sauerkraut and handmade mustard are the perfect companions to fatty meats like our fennel sausage, pepperoni butter and Italian salami.
Mouthfeel, the term might sound strange but it’s an integral part of any culinary experience. A contrast of textures, smooth and rough, firm and soft, crunchy and creamy, adds an extra dimension to a dish that can’t be achieved through flavour alone.
When planning a charcuterie plate it’s important to have a variety textures. Pickles, mustards, crackers, cheeses, fresh and dried fruit are all easy ways to provide that vital textural contrast on your plate, but don’t forget that charcuterie meats come in a variety of textures as well. Firm cured loin cuts, soft spreadable salami, ground dried sausages and even smoked white fish can all add that extra dimension to your platter
When we eat, we drink; plan accordingly. For some, the sheer number of options can be overwhelming without a sommelier on hand. There is long history and complex science to matching the right dish with the right beverage. But it doesn’t have to be that complex.
Beers work particularly well with air dried meat, with many craft beers offering some form of complementary flavor profile. The darker beers like stouts, brown ales, or a German eisbock carry roasted chocolate, coffee and caramel flavors that pair well with smoked meats. Pale ales, IPAs and other hop forward beers carry floral notes with a little citrus kick which will better compliment richer meats like a fatty fennel sausage. Beers that carry a stronger yeast flavours, like the farmhouse ales of Belgium, pair particularly well with many whole muscle cuts because they share similar musky flavour profile.
Many barrel-aged red wines, like the Italian Primativo, carry notes of dried fruit, leather and tobacco flavors that are particularly good compliments for smoked meat. For a lighter option chardonnays express tart or fruity flavours which pair well with rich, fatty meats.
Carbonated beverages are excellent palate cleansers. Sparkling wine, tonic, soda or even kombucha work particularly well for any board that has rich meats and flavors that linger.
Honestly, the options are endless and only limited by the imagination. Dried, smoked and cured meats can be paired with many other beverages such as coffees, teas, and even sodas using the same flavor logic. Just remember, you’re matching your drink to your food, not the other way around.
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