It’s a crazy busy hectic time of year. Time to banish those super involved recipes with twenty-five ingredients and just as many steps. This is not to say you have to phone it in when guests arrive, though. A platter, tray or board chock full of cured meats, salami and accoutrements is always in style. We asked Raynold Mendizabal, owner and chef of the hip new butcher shop and restaurant Urban Butcher in Silver Spring, how to assemble the perfect display of carnivorous creations:
Forget about those fussy chalkboard markers you see on Pinterest. There is a much easier way to plate and display the selections on your charcuterie platter. “At Urban Butcher, we like to put it on parchment paper on the board and then we can label the different options so the guests know what everything is.” It also makes end-of-the-night cleanup a breeze.
So what exactly should you be putting on that board? Well, Mendizabal says it depends on the crowd and if the board is meant to be a pre-dinner appetizer or part of a larger spread of the main attraction. Generally, he advises around two ounces per person, especially if it’ll be followed by a big meal. He opts for a house ham, three cured meats (like lomo, prosciutto, coppa and bresaola), four salamis (like spicy Diablo and Chesapeake Saucisson, seasoned with Old Bay), three cheeses and a pâté. “This creates a great balance of flavors and textures. It can safely be set out for up to two hours or so; any longer and you’ll want to start wrapping things up and putting them back in the fridge, as meats and cheeses will also begin to dry out.
It’s tempting to buy every accoutrement you see at the gourmet shop, from quince jam to tomato chutney, but Mendizabal says less is more. “We keep it simple with just cornichons, pickled onions, mustard and grilled bread,” he says. “You could always make it more festive by adding things like marinated olives, a variety of nuts, or a preserve or jam.” The sugar in the latter will cut the saltiness of the meats and cheeses. If you have some vegetarian guests, ramp up the amount of cheese, and add some grapes and dried apricots.
Bubbles are Mendizabal’s first choice as they act like palate scrubbers and wash away the fat and richness of cured meats. Rosé and lighter style reds like Schiava, Beaujolais Villages and Barbera are also very versatile. Here are some bottles to try:
- Cantina di Sorbara NV Nicchia Lambrusco ($17): Never mind what you think you know about Lambrusco: they are not all treacly sweet, simple quaffers. Dry Lambrusco (a wine that hails from Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region), is one of the most food-friendly wines out there. This one is lighter in style, and bursting with red fruits, refreshing bubbles and just enough tannin to stand up next to the marbling in salumi and other meaty delights.
- Poema Cava Brut NV ($13): More so than Italian Prosecco, which tends to be on the sweeter, simpler side, Spanish Cava offers more complexity and those yeasty, bready notes that you get from Champagne. (It’s made in the same method, just with local Spanish grapes instead of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier.) This bottle has citrus, tart green apples and a medium weight that’ll go with everything on that platter--and you can afford to buy a case and keep popping bottles all night.
- 2016 Stemmari Rosé ($10): Who says it’s time to put the rosé away until next spring? What’s great about pink (versus white or red) is that it has the freshness and vibrant acidity of the former, with a little more weight and structure of the latter. This offering from Sicily is slightly more fuller-bodied than pale pink Provence versions, with notes of wild strawberries and a tinge of minerality.
- Malojer Gummerhof Schiava ($18): This funky grape from northern Italy’s Alto Adige region is also called Vernatsch or Trollinger. Ruby red in the glass, schiava is light-bodied, with moderate acidity and tannins and notes of strawberries and cherries that make it easy-drinking for standing around noshing on meat (maybe some speck, Alto Adige’s herb-coated answer to proscuitto). What’s more, it’s probably a grape that none of your guests have had before, so it’s also fun to introduce them to something new.