By Case D. Fischer
Charcuterie and cheese boards are all the rage, it seems that most people nowadays are interested in knowing how to put one together. We get asked about it all the time since we have so many products that taste great with meat and cheese. The truth is, the concept of meats and cheese being served as a snack or meal here in Fredericksburg and Gillespie County is not a new one, am I right?
Usually, our Fredericksburg charcuterie consists of dried sausage and beef, or meat jerky from beef, venison and even turkey. I have eaten this all my life, and it continues to be a staple in our household. In fact, the only reason we hunt during deer season now is not for the trophy, it’s for the wonderful meat we can use to make sausage, jerky, chili and the like. Cheese is a little bit of a different matter. Most families in Fredericksburg had parents or grandparents who made Koch Kase or Cook Cheese. Koch Kase is an interesting cheese that has been made here for a very long time, but – cliff-hanger – I am going to leave that story and recipe for Mark to share. Another important ingredient of the “Gillespie County” style charcuterie and cheese board back in the day was lard! A little lard seasoned with salt and pepper was served alongside dried sausage and Koch Kase, and often made into lard sandwiches.
The idea of today’s popular charcuterie and cheese board is the same, but with a few different ingredients. Charcuterie is a French term for the art of preparing cured or smoked meat. Everything said in French sounds more elegant – even if it’s not. The French art of charcuterie includes weighing, slicing, and arranging meats for a brilliant presentation. You may not find lard on a French Charcuterie board, but you sure will in Germany. In France, you are more likely to find rillettes or pates as part of the offering.
There’s no secret list of ingredients for charcuterie boards, but the basics include dried or cured meats, cheese, fruits, nuts, condiments and bread or crackers. The key to a good charcuterie and cheese board is variety and flavor. It’s a good idea to offer a variety of meats and some soft and hard cheese, these items take care of the savory side of things. Fruits like grapes or dried apricots add a nice compliment of sweetness. Use condiments to round out your board. Mustard will complement the meats, and preserves, honey or chutney will complement the cheeses. Don’t forget about color. The fresh or dried fruits you choose, as well as the condiments will add pleasing color to your board.
I’ve put together a sample board to make it easy for you, but remember to add in things that you enjoy, there are no boundaries here. Also, if you’d like to try some of the old-fashioned Gillespie County items, visit Opa’s Smoked Meats or Dutchman’s Market. They will have dried sausage, all kinds of jerky and maybe even Koch Kase for you!
The condiments featured on today’s board are Smokey Mustard Seeds, Whole Lemon Fig preserves, Seville Orange Marmalade and Champagne Honey Mustard. Some good wines to pair are light to medium bodied red wines, and semi dry white wines. The acidity of the wine works to cut through fatty offerings and creamy textures. Lighter hams like Serrano and Prosciutto have a sweet & salty balance, so they blend best with wines that are sweeter. A Dry Riesling pairs well with the meat selection below but try a few different wines when you are enjoying your board. You may be surprised to see that you can pick up notes of the meats, cheeses and condiments in the wines. Pairing wine with meat and cheese is not all that difficult, and in the end, go with what you like.
Charcuterie and Cheese Ingredients:
Wooden Cutting Board or Platter and small knives for slicing or spreading
Crackers or artisan bread
1. Grab a wooden board (or any base platter you decide to use)
2. For condiments, spoon them into small cups or bowls, or just spoon them directly onto the board – this makes it easy for spreading.
3. Arrange the cheeses, meats and crackers on the board using the condiments as separation.
4. Layer in the fruits and nuts in the spaces in between.
Some cheese board tips:
* If using sliced cheese, layer slices on top of each other. Group cubed cheese together
* Meats are best if rolled, stacked, or layered across the board
* Crackers can be layered, usually next to a selection of your cheese
* Nuts and fruits can be the last food item onto the platter. Any empty pockets of space on your board can be filled with nuts of your choice.