Craft a Charcuterie Board

Delve into the details of using and presenting cured meats, including how to create the perfect charcuterie board and how to store your cured creations.

Photo by Shutterstock/Karen Culp

“When you use every part of the animal, I’m just amazed that it feeds so many people for such a long time!” This comment from a class participant at a two-day charcuterie intensive outside of Knoxville, Tennessee, rang out over the spread of food that our group had created throughout the weekend. Often, such an experience is the only way cooks are able to visualize the implications of curing and fermenting meat. For those who don’t have the opportunity to participate in such an immersive experience, my hope is that this article conveys the purpose, use, and presentation of charcuterie that has become so important to me throughout my career as a practitioner and teacher. These tips serve not only to inform readers about the deliciousness and longevity of homemade and store-bought charcuterie, but also to instill respect, deeper understanding, and a more practical incorporation of these foods within the home and in our culture at large.

Origins, Purpose, and Perspective

As you delve into the history and practice of meat preservation, it won’t take long to discover that the foods we associate with “charcuterie” (from French) or salumi (Italian) are not exclusively of European origin, nor are they by any means exclusively gourmet delicacies. The American adoption and presentation of cured meats is most often narrowly presented as such, with offerings based mostly in the Western European tradition, appearing on high-priced menus and in specialty groceries. The exception to this practice are so-called “lunch meats,” as represented by bologna, hot dogs, and various sausages. But cured meats, from prosciutto to bologna, are food for everyone. The many iterations of cured meats have versions in every corner of the globe, and they’re foods developed and kept alive by some of the most industrious people the world over.

Serving Size

Charcuterie is meant to be consumed in small portions. The flavors are generally quite complex, and the salt and other spices can be rather concentrated. Additionally, if any fat present can be served in such a way as to allow it to melt in the mouth rather than having to be chewed, the experience is much more palatable. It’s advisable to invest in a tool that allows you to slice cured meat as thinly as possible, which stretches its use over time and does justice to the complex flavors. A meat slicer is ideal; however, I know many people who are skilled in slicing with a very sharp knife, and there are several hand-powered slicers available for home enthusiasts.

In general, meat consumption in America is too high, and I truly believe that our adoption and proper presentation of charcuterie can help us learn to appreciate smaller portions of protein. A few thin slices of delicately salted ham with melt-in-your-mouth fat are often more satiating than a giant pork chop. Such experiences can reshape the way we regard meat consumption and help reduce food waste in both home and commercial kitchens.

Ends, Skins, and Bones

As you prepare, slice, and debone your cured meats, you’ll inevitably end up with a few byproducts. One of them is skin, particularly from pork products. When the product is finished, the skin or rind is removed, and although it’s generally very flavorful, the texture isn’t favorable for eating as is. However, it can be saved for flavoring beans or grains. Making homemade pet treats is a popular way to use dehydrated skins too.



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