Planning a party doesn't have to be difficult. Instead of agonizing over appetizers, opt for serving delicious wine with a charcuterie board – a variety of cured meats, cheeses and condiments that can range from simple to sophisticated.
Even a fairly basic spread can look elegant, while providing your guests with inviting, impressive flavor combinations.
Todd Knoll, executive chef at Jordan Vineyard & Winery, offers expert tips on combining select cured meats and cheeses with balanced wines to bring out the best in a charcuterie board.
Choose great wines. To keep it simple, offer one red and one white. Choose wines to complement a range of flavors and seasonings in meats and cheeses, so you can offer an interesting variety to tempt your guests.
Chardonnay is popular with wine lovers, and for good reason, with its crisp, fruity notes and vibrant acidity. Many traditional unoaked Chardonnays are lighter and so may not pair well with charcuterie, since salted and cured meats and aromatic cheeses have strong tastes that may overwhelm and diminish their delicate flavors. But some French oak-aged Chardonnays are created in a fruit-forward, elegant, lower-alcohol style, making them more robust and versatile than other varietals.
Select flavorful meats. For a charcuterie board that is as Instagrammable as it is edible, provide a variety of contrasting flavors and textures, Knoll advises. This means choosing harder, salty and spicy cured meats, such as salami. Then add softer salted meats, such as thinly sliced prosciutto, for textural and flavor contrast. Finally, provide a creamy pate, terrine or rillette that guests can spread on bread or crackers.
Choose delicious cheeses. Offer guests a choice of flavors and textures that also complement the wine. Sheep's milk cheeses, such as Roquefort, Manchego and Pecorino Romano, pair well with Cabernet Sauvignon, particularly cheeses that have been aged at least six months for complexity and nutty flavor. Firmer, more aged cow's milk cheeses, such as Gouda and cloth-bound Cheddar, will complement a variety of Cabernet Sauvignon styles.
A creamy Camembert is a good match with Chardonnay, as is Brie and other soft cheeses, according to Knoll. Chardonnay can also be paired successfully with creamy goat cheeses. Champagne complements washed rind cheeses such as Taleggio, Limburger and Epoisses, as its acidity cuts through the richness.
Add delectable condiments. A fabulous charcuterie board is not complete without an array of flavorful condiments. Source good mustard like whole grain Dijon, Knoll advises, plus quince paste or pear mostarda. Add olives, fresh or dried fruit, nuts or pickles to taste, plus fresh, warmed crusty bread or crackers.
Watch your temperature. The three essentials of a great charcuterie board – meat, cheese and wine – all shine when served at the proper temperature. Before guests arrive, chill white wines, which taste best when served at a temperature between 53 and 58 degrees. Serving Chardonnay too cold – a refrigerator is typically below 40 degrees – mutes the wine's fruit flavors and aromas. Cabernet Sauvignon should be served between 60 and 65 degrees – below room temperature – and is best decanted to allow the wine to breathe, enhancing the wine's aromas and flavors. Cheeses should warm to room temperature for best flavor, while meats should be cold.
Designing your platter. Slice different shapes and sizes of the cheeses and meats to provide visual interest, such as triangles, squares and rectangles for cheeses, and circles, rosettes and folded triangles for meats. Spend time arranging the elements in different areas, coupling colors and textures to create a fancy platter far superior to store-bought versions. Place condiments and nuts in small, colorful dishes atop the board for convenience and color contrast. Add fresh herbs or edible flowers for garnish.