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At Christmas time, grazing platters are always a winner. As a centrepiece for a party, nibbles to satisfy guests before or after an indulgent Christmas meal, or a special treat thrown together for a date night at home, charcuterie boards can be as versatile as customers would like them to be.
Shoppers visiting speciality food stores in the run-up to Christmas are often looking for inspiration, and charcuterie boards offer an answer for retailers looking to promote the finest products across a range of categories, from cured meats to artisan cheese, and savoury or sweet accompaniments. Speciality Food spoke to charcuterie experts to find out what they enjoy on their cheese and meat boards over the Christmas season.
“A well-crafted charcuterie board is all about variety,” says Jessica Summer of Mouse & Grape. “Aim to incorporate a diverse selection of cheeses, meats, fruits, and accompaniments.”
As cheesemongers know, your pairing selection can make or break a sharing platter. “Pairing is an art in itself, where certain meats and cheeses can elevate another’s flavours. For instance, the saltiness of prosciutto beautifully complements the creaminess of brie.”
And as ever when choosing what to put on a charcuterie board, consider textures as well as taste. “By blending soft cheeses with hard cheeses, crunchy crackers, juicy fruits, and a variety of meat charcuteries, you create a sensory experience for your guests,” she adds.
While getting the flavours right is essential, we eat with our eyes, too. Looks are important, especially if you’re aiming to create a charcuterie board that will really wow customers. “Colour is another key element; a range of hues makes the board visually appealing and enticing,” Jessica says.
Andrew Shreeve of Cobble Lane Cured agrees that colourful ingredients will make your display pop – and here you can add some Christmas flair too. He suggests fresh rosemary, figs, dried apricots, pomegranate (for added Christmas colour) and chestnuts.
These accompaniments can help transform a board into something extraordinary. “Palate cleansers like olives, pickles or artichokes, as well as sweet additions like jams, honeys or chutneys, can provide that perfect balance of flavours,” Jessica says.
When it comes to your cured meats and artisan cheeses, advise customers to always prioritise quality. If in doubt, Andrew says you should avoid over-complicating your selection. “It’s better to go for fewer, but good-quality ingredients (high-quality charcuterie and cheese and accompaniments) than overloading it with cheaper ingredients.”
As well as festive-looking accompaniments, Christmas is the time to opt for indulgent meats and cheeses, as well as seasonal favourites.
“Introduce festive flavours by incorporating seasonal cheeses like Vacherin Mont D’or or truffle-infused cheeses,” Jessica says. “The meats can also be more luxurious or traditional, with options like duck pâté or foie gras. Seasonal accompaniments can be the perfect touch, so think along the lines of cranberry sauce, spiced apple jam, or dates and chocolate coated nuts. And don’t forget the fruits! Winter brings with it some delicious options such as pomegranates, figs and clementines that can enhance the festive vibe of your board,” she adds.
Andrew suggests going for “spicy winter warmer options” like nduja and soppressata, an Italian dry salami. “Not only are they warming, but the vibrant colours really work well,” he says.
When it comes time to arrange all your delicious ingredients, Jessica recommends starting with your cheeses, followed by meats, then fruits, nuts and other accompaniments to fill in the gaps and “create an inviting presentation”.
“Bread sticks wrapped with meat are always a winner!” Andrew adds.
He says to avoid rushing through the process. “Give yourself plenty of time to prepare the board and fold the meats into shapes.” Positioning is important, too. “Bear in mind to keep any wetter ingredients away from crackers.”
Then, don’t let all that hard work go to waste. “Once done, spray with a fine oil spray before wrapping to keep it bright,” Andrew says. “Keep the meats covered with greaseproof paper and cool (ideally in the fridge) to prevent them drying out, and then get them out about 30-60 minutes before serving to allow them to come up to room temperature.”
1. Lean into Christmas colours. “When it comes to styling, aim for a colour palette rich in deep reds, greens, and golds, reminiscent of the holiday spirit.”
2. Introduce edible décor. “For instance, sprigs of rosemary or thyme can mimic the look of mini Christmas trees or wreaths, and a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds can add a touch that’s reminiscent of holly berries.”
3. Play with shapes. “Cutting cheeses or other items into festive motifs using cookie cutters can be a fun touch.”
4. Make it 3D. “Adding depth and layers, like folding salami in quarters or stacking cheeses, can give your board a multi-dimensional look.”
5. Consider your focal point. “Perhaps a brie wheel or baked camembert, surrounded by other accompaniments.”
6. Set the scene. “And for that extra festive touch, adorn your table with small candles, fairy lights, or even pinecones placed around your board. Finally, a garnish of fresh herbs or edible flowers can add that final flourish, making your board not just a treat for the palate, but a feast for the eyes.”
Images courtesy of Cobble Lane Cured