A charcuterie board is a wonderful, casual, relaxing way to entertain friends and family. Set out a wonderful assortment of cheeses, meats, condiments, and finger foods and that’s it. No cooking, no more preparation. The idea of a charcuterie board and a bottle of fine wine for two is a perfect way to spend a leisurely Valentine’s Day evening watching a great movie or listening to music as we’ve suggested—or simply enjoying time together, preferably in one another’s arms.
The secret to a fantastic charcutierie board is not just your selections, but the way you present them. You want a substantial wooden board.
Have a selection of soft, spreadable cheeses, such as Boursin, Alouette, Pub Cheese, Kaukauna Port Wine balls or logs, and seafood cheese spreads. For your own special touch, add some finely diced raw broccoli, marinated red peppers, and fresh chives to Philadelphia Veggie Cream Cheese. These are best served in small crocks or stoneware pots.
Medium and Hard Cheeses
Serve the cheeses in wedges or rounds, however you buy them, and cut serving-size pieces as you go. There is a vast variety to choose from, any number of cheddars, Swiss, Emmentaler, Camembert, Havarti, Gouda, Gruyere, Manchego, and so much more. For a burst of flavor, put out a ball of smoked mozzarella or a wedge of smoked Gouda. A wedge or chunks of aged Parmesan or Asiago adds an intense, very salty edge to your selection.
One great favorite, which does require the oven, is baked Brie. Simply roll out a sheet of thawed puff pastry, put a round of Brie in the center. Wrap the Brie completely, pinch the edges, and trim off the excess pastry. Brush the top and sides with an egg white and bake at 350-degrees for 10-12 minutes or until the Brie is soft. You can top with blanched almond slivers, sauteed onion and garlic, or fruit compote.
As with cheeses, there are many types of salami and numerous regional Italian specialties, such as dry soppressata, which is a lean pork; Coppa, which has a delicate, spicy flavor, and Calabrese, known for its heat. Saucisson sec, a classic French salami, is heavily seasoned with sea salt, pepper, and garlic; and Spanish chorizo, whose name is derived from the Latin word, salsicia, which means salted. All salami should be sliced paper-thin. You can buy it pre-sliced or in logs, so make sure you have a small, sharp knife with your board.
Serve condiments such as pepper jelly, fig compote, thick-cut marmalade, honey, and chunky homemade jams in small ramakins to serve with demi-tasse spoons. Sweet pickles, pickled watermelon rind if you can find it (researchers say it’s a natural Viagra!), and a wonderfully chunky corn relish, make great additions.
Fruits & Vegetables
The sweet taste of fresh or dried fruit sets off the salty meats and cheeses. Green and/or red seedless grapes, slices of apple and pears, dried apricots, pineapple, figs, and pitted prunes—yes, prunes! An assortment of olives, stuffed with garlic, pimento, cheese and for a surprising treat, marinated garlic cloves is a classic addition. Ribbed “coins” of carrots, which you can buy, are a festive touch.
Breads and crackers
A loaf of fresh French baguette or Italian bread, sliced and gently heated in the oven, is your best overall choice to offset the flavors of your charcuterie board. You can serve crackers but whatever you choose, served unsalted as well as salted. A morsel of aged Parmesan fights with a salty cracker, whereas plain mozzarella gets an added zing from a salted one.
A small ramekin with shelled pistachios, whole almonds, and pecans adds texture to your board.
It’s Valentine’s Day so you’ll want to include some sweets on your board. Prepare a dessert board with chocolate-dipped strawberries, of course, mini-cannoli, lemon tartlets, bite-size brownies and, to honor the day, Greek wedding cookies.
There’s an art to a beautiful charcuterie board. Arrange your cheeses together, fanning out wedges from a round. Ramekins and very small bowls will keep condiments from running, and a bed of Italian parsley (remove the stems) is a colorful cushion for olives and bite-sized veggies.
Salami Rose: A wonderful way to serve prosciutto and thinly sliced salami is to form a rose. Take a wine glass. Arrange slices around the rim, then add another layer and another—five in all—arranging each layer closer to the center. You want to alternate the slices so they don’t line up with the layer below. Arrange a circle of whole bay leaves or small, perfect baby spinach leaves and in the middle, carefully turn over the wine glass, holding the salami against the rim with your free hand, then press gently into the board. Give the glass a little twist and the rose will come free. Voila!
Last but not least, serve a Petit Syrah or Pinot Noire for a red. After you open the bottle, while you allow it to air, uncork a bottle of Champagne and toast one another first, and celebrate your love.