The art of charcuterie: finding the perfect pair

31 Jul 2017

The winter weather is a perfect excuse for indulging with a charcuterie and cheese board, hopefully by a roaring fire (or at least toasty heater).Traditionally, preparing/preserving meat for the long cold winter was done out of necessity. These days it’s all for the for the joy, and there are more options than ever in stores. So get out your best wooden board, and learn what to pair and why.

The meat

The two core categories or charcuterie are ‘whole muscle’ and ‘encased’. In creating a perfect charcuterie board, we’re also including pate, terrine, and rillette – welcome additions to any spread with their complex flavour profiles and textures. Poach Pear have a wonderful variety of each.

Whole muscle charcuterie includes meats such as Montecatini prosciutto (from a pig’s hind quarters), bresaola (the top, or round), and pancetta (cured pork belly). Preserved and aged under special conditions, whole muscle meats are often delicate and salty from the preservation process, with a hint of sweetness.

Encased meats are the sausage variety, such as Salumi Australia chorizo, salame casareccio, and sopressa. Usually made from ground pork (though Blue Cow has other options, including Kangaroo Salami), encased meats add the complexity of fermented acidity and tartness to the equation. The inclusion of spices like fennel, black pepper, and smoked paprika are are important to keep in mind when choosing your cheese (or wine) pairing.

How much? For light entertaining, about 60g of charcuterie per guest is right. For a more substantial grazing lunch, you could up that to 120g, both alongside cheeses and some crusty bread or crackers.

The cheese

With so many options, there’s no reason to stop at just one cheese for your charcuterie and cheese board. The main ones we’ll focus on here are your soft, semi-soft, and hard.

A rule of thumb: the more aged and firmer the cheese, the less sweet it becomes. A classic example would be Gennari Parmigiano Reggiano DOP, considered by some the king of cheeses. Sharp and firm, a prosciutto-cheese pairing is a classic marriage regularly enjoyed across Italy.

While a crumbly blue is a delight when matched with sweet fruit pastes, it’s fuller flavour will overpower whole muscle meats. Include it for sure, but perhaps closer to your fresh pear as a fruit and cheese pairing.

How to pair

There is no right and wrong when it comes to pairing your charcuterie board ingredients, but we do have some advice to get you in the mindset of a flavour artiste. The main considerations with a charcuterie board are texture, acidity and complementary or contrasting flavours.

Texture. Think: soft with firm. While crackers or crusty bread may be your choice of flavour vehicle, the passengers should get along, too. Exploring texture, a soft brie or camembert is an excellent offsider for a hard coin of salami, which also cools the peppery spice. In this pairing, you could even forfeit wheat-base altogether.

Acidity. More often than not, encased meats will have an element of acidity, and would take the lead in a soft or semi-soft cheese pairing. Not always, though. Some cheeses, such as the soft-ripened Alta Langa La Tur have sour notes making them a fine collaborator to a soft 18 Month Aged Italfine Parma Ham DOP. A decidedly Italian experience.

Complementary and contrasting flavours. Roasted red peppers play into the hints of paprika and pepper in chorizo, lending a slippery, soft sweetness to balance out the spice. Both cheeses and meats have a beautiful richness which is nicely contrasted by a balsamic reduction to cut through the fat/protein combo.

Which wine pairs well with charcuterie?

Our pick would be something fun and bubbly, such as cava or prosecco, which will help cleanse the palate between bites. However, another great option would be a delicate rosé with its light berry flavours.

The finishing touches

Winter is a time to relax, so keeping it simple is key. One or two additional ingredients beyond the meat and cheese can lift your charcuterie game to a new level. Cornichons are a delightful addition, as is a sweet onion jam. Or if you’ve chosen prosciutto, a few small squares of melon is a classic combination (in the warmer months). For a decadent charcuterie and cheese board, Blue Cow also offers pate and terrine options which are included in our Charcuterie Hamper.