On the song “Sociopath” Kanye West stops and asks a question most people want answered, “Yo, what, what is charcuteries?” To which Pusha T replies “Man, it’s, it’s when you go to your hotel room and they got the cheese and the pepperoni sliced on a little wood board, waiting on you.”
I always laugh at that moment in the song because though Pusha T’s explanation is spot on (in spirit) there’s so much more to charcuterie than cheese and pepperoni.
WHAT IS A CHARCUTERIE BOARD?
Charcuterie boards have long been a crowd pleasing fave—they topped Instagram searches in 2020 pre-pandemic. And with the last year relegating more folks to spending time at home, food has become a space to play, learn and indulge. Still, many people—ahem, particularly those who look like us—never seem to make these boards or platters quite their own.
Charcuterie may feel like your new match on Hinge, but, with a few tweaks, it can quickly become as tasty as your favorite old bae…after therapy, a new gig and a gym membership. Here’s a quick history lesson on charcuterie’s origin story. The term charcuterie finds its roots in 15th-century France, and was used to describe the deli-style shops that made and sold various cured meats. The word has since evolved to refer to an array of noshes that partygoers can easily graze on while balancing a beverage in hand.
THIS IS HOW YOU DO IT…
Some purists will tell you the spread must include pate’s, cornichons, and other items that nod to old-school, sophisticated elegance—I veto the hell outta that. Charcuterie is the perfect canvas to be expressive. Let’s face facts, traditional boards are boring and not always tasty. What they provide in convenience they lose in creativity. When I dream in charcuterie I envision decadence that’s aesthetically pleasing, playful and filled inner-sigh inducing goodness. There are only two rules. First, keep the composition balanced (salt, acid, fat and texture) with foods you love. Second begin with a theme and see it through.
An array of hard and soft cheeses, cured meats and fruit are the foundation of any board. Winnie Clark, one of my fave hostesses, suggests avoiding soft cheeses rolled in a sweet fruit concoction as they rob guests of the freedom to build their flavor combinations. I agree, and also recommend that you separate your sweet elements. Don’t skip on the sweets. Jams, chutneys or fruit preserves can hold their own place on the board and add dimension and dabs of color. But there are other ways to level it up.
My good friend Chef Malikah Shavonne and I once created a board while on set that featured elements of her southern heritage and the edginess of my personal taste. We added fried chicken tenders, vanilla wafers and cannabis infused maple syrup to a board laden with white cheddar, brie, smoked gouda, sliced fresh peaches, roasted pomelo, chardonnay grapes. It was delicious. Everyone on set couldn’t stop talking about the items on the platter that were new to them.
The best charcuterie boards are an opportunity to share something new and that will be enjoyable for your guests. Don’t be afraid to try out non traditional elements like kiwi, pomelo and dragonfruit…or chicken and cookies. Just remember to keep it balanced with salty, sweet and savory items that complement each other.
The next time you’re faced with the task of party planning and decide to roll with a charcuterie board remember to make it your own.
Malene Younglao is a food and wine expert, a sommelier and “baby winemaker” who’s claiming space for Black people in the foodie world. Her column highlights food & wine, professionals and tips. Follow her @myounglao.