Leave it to the French to have a special word for food that’s especially good. Charcuterie refers to the branch of cooking devoted to prepared meat products. These meat products include bacon, ham, sausages, terrines, galantines, ballotines, pâtés, and confit.
Some of the latter are a bit rarefied for this part of the world but Americans and especially Southerners can appreciate a store dedicated to the sale of bacon, ham and sausage. We don’t have a separate store for these particular goodies so the deli department of the grocery store will have to do.
Noble’s Grill in Winston-Salem offers a charcuterie and cheese platter on their menu and it has become the hands down favorite of Nicole Freeman, a Surry County teenager. Freeman even convinced her grandmother, Doris Petersham of Elkin, to create their own charcuterie and cheese platter at home. Petersham, one of the more notable home cooks in southwest Surry, is probably one of the few folks who can put together an impressive charcuterie and cheese platter just from the contents of her refrigerator and pantry but that shouldn’t stop other less well-stocked cooks from giving it a try.
Petersham serves her charcuterie and cheese platter with the meats, cheeses and accompaniments arrayed on a wooden board so that family members can help themselves. This method would also lend itself to entertaining, being perfect for everything from a small cocktail party to a large dinner and will also accommodate a wide range of cooking skills since almost everything can be purchased already prepared. Prepping up your own homemade pâté is completely optional.
Adventurous cooks can try The Fatted Calf Charcuterie Cookbook available online from Williams-Sonoma and Walmart and experiment with making their own homemade sausages, pastrami and bacon.
When planning a charcuterie board for your family or guests, by all means take a cue from Doris Petersham and expand your offerings to a charcuterie and cheese platter. Meats should be a mix of air-dried and cooked.
As far as quantities, it should come as no surprise that the more kinds of meat you have, the more people will eat. So, for a cocktail party, if you have only one choice of meat, figure an ounce per person. With two or three different meats, you’ll need two ounces total per person. More than three, three ounces. For a party that goes on longer than a couple of hours, or for a dinner party, double these amounts, recommends Ray Isle on Food and Wine.com. But since running out of food in the south is a fate worse than death, it might be best to go ahead and double all of Isle’s recommendations.
Don’t skimp on the air-dried meats since almost everyone loves those. Prosciutto is always a favorite. For a local flavor, buy American prosciutto which is nothing more than very thinly sliced country ham. Black Forest ham is always delicious and jambon de bayonne is a nice choice if you’re trying to keep things French.
Mainly though, buy what you like. Garlic sausage, soppressata, pepperoni, salami, turkey, all is fair game.
Vary your cheeses. A good rule is one hard, one soft and one blue but buy what you and your family and guests will like. Doris Petersham is particularly fond of the barrel aged feta sold at Greek Village Market on Healy Drive in Winston-Salem, one of her favorite new resources with the best regional selection of all things Greek, from cheeses and olives to herbs and spices.
When rounding out your charcuterie platter, include some acidic items to cut the richness of the meat. Mustard works well. Start with at least a Dijon and a stone ground mustard and feel free to add other specialty mustards to taste. Cornichons are a classic accompaniment to charcuterie; tiny pickles that look just like gherkins but are acidic instead of sweet and are the perfect counterpoint to pâté and other charcuterie.
Add other accompaniments to your taste. Artichoke hearts are perfect and an assortment of olives is almost mandatory. Let your tastes take you from there. Take your cue from antipasto. Most antipasto items would not be out of place. A bonus is that most everything comes in jars and will keep in the fridge for a while. Be creative. Buy your artichoke hearts plain, drain the juice and refill with your own marinade mixture for your own signature marinated artichoke hearts.
Finish up with some French bread, preferably a baguette and some hearty red wine. Be creative and have fun.
Simple Charcuterie platter
1 small head green leaf lettuce
1/3 pound thinly sliced prosciutto
1/3 pound thinly sliced soppressata (dried Italian salami)
1/3 pound thinly sliced turkey 6 ounces cheese (such as provolone, Asiago, or Parmesan)
1/4 cup jarred cocktail onions
1 cup gherkins or cornichons
4 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 12-ounce jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained
1 large baguette, sliced into rounds
Arrange the lettuce, prosciutto, soppressata, turkey, cheese, onions, gherkins, and mustard on a platter.
Serve with the artichoke hearts and baguette slices.
Chicken Liver Pâté
Only takes 15 minutes to prepare and 15 minutes to cook and serves 16 as an appetizer. Remember with chicken liver pâté, the uglier it is, the better it tastes.
If you want, you can soak the chicken livers in milk for an hour or so before proceeding with the recipe. Soaking the livers in milk will take a bit of the edge off the liver and make them taste more mild.
6 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
1/3 cup minced shallot
1 pound chicken livers
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp. capers
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. anchovy paste
1/4 cup brandy
1/4 cup cream
Trim any fat or connective tissue from the livers and discard. Heat 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large sauté pan on medium heat and let the butter brown, about 3-5 minutes. Do not let it burn. Add the shallots and sauté for 1 minute. Add the livers. Be sure to space them well in the pan so they can brown more easily. Sprinkle salt over the livers. Flip the livers when one side browns, about 2 minutes. Once the livers have browned, add the capers, thyme, garlic, and anchovy paste and sauté another minute. Take the pan off the heat and add the brandy. (Be careful when you return it to the heat, as it could flame up, especially if you are using a gas range. If it does, cover the pan for a moment.) Turn the heat to high and boil down the brandy to the consistency of syrup, about 1-2 minutes. Turn off heat and allow the mixture to cool. Put the mixture into a food processor or blender and pulse a few times to combine. Add the remaining butter and the cream and purée. The mixture will look a little loose, but it will firm up in the fridge. Pack the pâté into ramekins or a small bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour before using.
The pâté will last a week or so in the fridge. If you want to preserve it for up to a month, pour a little melted lard or clarified putter on top to seal. Each time you dip into the pâté, you will need to reseal the top to preserve it.
Marinated Artichoke Hearts
1 lemon, juiced
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp. salt, or to taste
1 tsp. ground black pepper, or to taste
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
2 cloves garlic, chopped (optional)
1 (14 ounce) can quartered artichoke hearts, drained
Combine lemon juice, extra-virgin olive oil, salt, black pepper, Italian seasoning, and garlic in a sealable plastic container. Seal the container and shake to emulsify the mixture. Remove the lid and add artichoke hearts. Reseal the lid and continue shaking the container until the artichoke hearts are completely coated.
Asparagus with Prosciutto
1 pound thin asparagus spears, washed and dried
1 lemon, juiced
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
1/2 pound thinly sliced prosciutto di Parma
For asparagus, snap off tough ends of spears where they naturally give when bent. Place spears into 1-inch of boiling water. Cover the pan and cook asparagus for 3 or 4 minutes, until spears are just tender but remain bright green in color, about 3 to 4 minutes. Drain and cold shock the spears in a colander under cool water. Return cooked asparagus to skillet and coat with lemon juice and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. Remove spears one at a time from the pan and wrap each with a slice of prosciutto. Pile prosciutto wrapped asparagus onto your charcuterie and cheese board.