It's hard to overstate the absolutely meteoric rise in popularity of charcuterie and snack boards this year.
Google trends show that searches for "charcuterie" spiked over the last 12 months, reaching the most popular point ever around Thanksgiving.
Millennials joke that growing up eating Lunchables led to a love of what my family referred to as a "snack out" meal. Or maybe it's just that during this weird year when many people are moving from their bedroom to the makeshift living room office, then to the couch at the end of their work-from-home routine, it's convenient to snack away. Who needs regular meals anymore?
Regardless of the roots of charcuterie's rising celebrity, as people get ready to ring in 2021, or rather ring out 2020, there's no denying that when it comes to sharing food with loved ones, this is the way. Here's how to get started.
THAT'S NOT MY NAME
First thing's first: Foodies and shop owners will point out that "charcuterie" really only refers to cured and salted meats and the stores that sell them. But we'll allow that term to represent the overall rising popularity of boards or tables filled with all kinds of meats, cheeses, fruits, jams, crackers, olives, pickles and more. A more accurate name for your platter might be a snack or "graze" board for polite company, or a pig-out platter, snack station or smorgasbord if you wanna get funky with it.
CHOOSE YOUR FIGHTER: CHEESE
The best platters feature a variety of cheeses based on animal — sheep, goat, cow — and type: soft, semisoft, semihard and hard, says Amber Park, owner of Wanderlust Delicato.
At her shop in downtown Spokane, Park often makes snack plates to order but she's also happy to help customers create their own, with a selection of jams, mustards, chocolates, olives, decorative boards and more, on top of the large selection of meat and cheese.
Don't know how a certain cheese tastes? Sample it.
"Everything in the case is available to sample, so you can come in and see what flavors you like," Park says. "It's all cut to order, so if you're trying to make a board for two people, I can guide you on how much you'd need, or if you're making for up to 100 people — not during COVID — we can do that, too."
Of course, if snack boards get their name from cured meats, you probably want to have a good variety on there.
Park recommends using something made from a whole muscle like prosciutto, alongside options like a salami or soppressata, and for the adventurous, maybe even a pâté.
Ricky Webster, owner of the recently opened Rind and Wheat on downtown Spokane's west end, says his shop even offers something called nduja, which he describes as kind of a spreadable meat butter.
"They take the scraps of the prosciutto leg and fortify it with a ton of spices and really finely mince it, and we sell it in a little log," Webster says. "You can spread it on bread or crackers."
CRUNCH: THE VEHICLE
While leaving cheese and meat to be the star is advised, offering crackers and/or bread to go with your spread can help deliver the tasty cheese, meat and extras to your mouth hole.
Webster says he's offering sourdough crackers and even seasonal savory shortbread and gingerbread.
"We're doing one here in the shop that's a dijon mustard gingerbread; it goes great with any cured and salted meat like a prosciutto or a salami," Webster says.
Park says bread and crackers are great to complement the platter, but she'll often leave them off to the side because there's no room on the board itself. If your family is large, laying out butcher paper on a table and setting out a larger spread works really well. With that method, you can even write labels for the types of cheese right on the table. Or, she says, customers have taken the labels she puts on their order and turned them into toothpick flags to help identify what everything is.
While rosemary, eucalyptus leaves, and even lots of vegetables and fruit can make a platter more decorative, Park says she hates when there are inedible things to fill out a plate or things that won't be eaten.
Know your audience and avoid too many vegetables that might add color but simply go to waste. That doesn't mean there isn't room for plenty of other items to balance out all the salty with some sweet, sour and even heat.
Try complementing with jam, olives, pickled vegetables, dried fruits, or even a condiment people may have never tried before. For instance, Webster says his shop currently has a spiced pear mostarda.
"Mostarda is this really unique condiment," he says. "It's sweet, spicy, salty, sour. It's any seasonal fruit cooked with vinegar, chili flakes and a little sugar, and it enhances all the senses and tends to cleanse your palette and refreshes you for the next bite." ♦
WHERE TO GET CREATIVE
In addition to Wanderlust Delicato and Rind and Wheat, here are some other places to find items for your board:
Egger's Meats North
902 W. Rosewood Ave., 328-7701
The Culinary Stone
2129 N. Main St., Coeur d'Alene, 208-446-9330
Gander and Ryegrass
404 W. Main Ave., 315-4613
My Fresh Basket
1030 W. Summit Pkwy, 558-2100
Sonnenberg's Market and Deli
1528 E. Sprague Ave., 535-4932
417 E. Third Ave., 455-5148
The Grain Shed
1026 E. Newark Ave., 241-3853
Huckleberry's Natural Market
926 S. Monroe St., 624-1349
LINC Foods (buy from local farms via their online market)