Fine dining when I was growing up meant a trip to Pellicci’s Restaurant. Pellicci’s was (and is) a family-run, red sauce, red and white tablecloth Italian place. We were allowed to order orange sodas, and we learned how to twirl spaghetti with forks in enormous soup spoons there. Sometimes, when my father was feeling flush, he would order an antipasto salad which we shared among us. He would eat the exotic rolled slices of pepperoni and salami, and the olives. My brother and I ate the radish roses and the celery sticks. My mother would sample the rolled cheeses and breadsticks. There was something for everyone; just a little taste to hone our appetites for the enormous plates of spaghetti to come.
These days charcuterie boards are like the old antipastos, except even bigger, with more types of foods. Your family could eat well while sharing one, without ever needing the bowl of steaming pasta and meatballs. I like doing a charcuterie board when I can find an excuse not to cook, which is often: too hot, too cold, too tired, too lazy, out of ideas, running late, ooops, you thought we’d be eating dinner, again? This is when it pays to plan, just a little bit, for any emergency. There is always a little stash of charcuterie treats in the fridge. Cheese, olives, pepperoni, celery, and radishes have long shelf lives. We don’t often have TV dinners, but this is a good one. Add some cheap white wine, a locally crafted beer, or even some orange soda- live large.
“Charcuterie” refers to the preparation of cured meats, like prosciutto, pancetta, speck, salami, summer sausage, chorizo or pepperoni. It is an all-encompassing term nowadays, meats, a variety of cheeses, pâté, crackers, nuts, fruits and vegetables, and mustards, hummus and dipping sauces. Some people prepare beautiful charcuterie boards. https://tastesbetterfromscratch.com/charcuterie-board/
There are guides you can find for pleasing arrangements of comestibles. Please promise me that you can figure this out for yourselves, that you don’t need to send $1.50 through PayPal for this: https://www.etsy.com/listing/1164392348/charcuterie-png-jpeg-file-charcuterie? I have even seen manufactured charcuterie boards with designated, labeled areas for each food type. Heavens to Betsy!
Do not spend your hard-earned money on that. If you need ideas, and you want to spend money, go to your favorite independent book store and buy a cookbook or two.
And decide what foods will appeal to your audience. The under-12 set will not notice your carefully-arranged-by-region array of imported meats and cheeses. They’ll be gobbling the pigs-in-blankets and grapes and Goldfish. Your book club might care if you have recreated a spread from Eat, Drink, Pray, Love, but they will be drinking your wine, too. Mr. Sanders likes fancy hams and sausages and nicely toasted rounds of garlic bread, good Kalamata olives and and shaved Parmesan, or maybe a little bruschetta, with crumbles of feta cheese falling to the floor to the absolute delight of Luke the wonder dog. I like rolls of pepperoni and Provelone cheese, with a little swipe of Colman’s mustard. Plus every variation on a cheese straw that I can find. Sometimes I take the time to make my own Parmesan crisps. Yumsters! https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/parmesan-crisps-recipe-3381387
You can add anything and everything to your charcuterie board. And you don’t even need a board. I’ve used cookie sheets, cutting boards, Thanksgiving turkey platters, and even an old pizza pan. Then rummage in the fridge, or take a slow walk through the deli department. I’ve noticed that Boar’s Head has an over-priced package of “Charcuterie”. https://boarshead.com/charcuteriepairing? Bosh. Get the deli to cut some fresh slices of meat and cheese for you. Buy a stick of pepperoni. Wander though the cheeses and buy some nice Parmesan or Jarlsberg. But I have had some very tasty chunks of domestic Cracker Barrel Cheddar on top of Triscuits, with pepperoni coins and have been perfectly happy. Throw in some peanuts, grapes, strawberries and maybe some chocolate. Oh, don’t forget veggies. They are not just for the children.
I do love using little bowls and dishes that I have collected over the years to hold the olives, radishes, chocolates, crackers, etc. Nothing speaks of a John Cheever WASPy cocktail party like a tiny silver bowl holding half a dozen potato chips.
Find an excuse not to cook tonight, and concoct a practically labor-free charcuterie board. Relax for a change of pace. It’s going to be a long summer.
“It’s so beautifully arranged on the plate, you know someone’s fingers have been all over it.”