Chef Provides Sweet and Savory Tips on Blending Charcuterie, Cheese and Fruit

When entertaining guests, a crowd-pleasing option remains the lovely charcuterie board, a great way for guests to enjoy its sweet and savory varieties, creating combinations as they please.

Abby Randall, chef and owner of The Tomato Vine Catering & Cafe in Eden Prairie, dishes out tips on how to build one of these delightful snacking or dining plates. “Go to the store for some inspiration,” Randall says, noting specialty food sections in any local grocery store offer great finds. While prosciutto and salami are charcuterie staples, the chef adds, “I’ve even done smoked duck breast on a meat plate, and it was absolutely delicious. You can think outside the box and go with a cured salmon, or even do poultry items with things like chicken confit.”

Assembling a charcuterie board doesn’t have to be expensive. “If you are a little bit creative, you can even get an inexpensive ring of kielbasa, throw it on the grill, slice that, and it would add a really great additional flavor,” Randall says.

The chef emphasizes adding color to any board. “People eat with their eyes. A big selling point of the charcuterie board is that it’s attractive,” Randall says. Plums, apricots or rich-colored blackberries or raspberries can add a pop of color. “Grapes are really easy,” she adds. “I always like to get some purple and some green.”
In addition to color, The Tomato Vine chef says fruits, vegetables and other accoutrements will lighten the flavor profile on your board. “Otherwise, it gets really heavy,” she says. “Dried fruits, apricots, even a simple jar of preserves, just adding that sweetness, color and texture, it goes a long way.”

Technically speaking, charcuterie means meat, but thanks to our Midwestern palates and friendly Wisconsin neighbor, Minnesotans enjoy adding a little cheese to the gathering. “I don’t feel like there are any rules, as long as you have a good blend of complementing flavors and textures,” Randall says. “Why not include a little cheese on your meat plate?”

When pairing cheeses, she recommends starting with fresh cheese, such as brie, mozzarella or feta, to create balance. “When you have fresh, you should also have something like aged cheddar or hard cheese. I also like doing something flavorful, like a cheese marinated in wine or in some oil and herbs.”

“Always serve baguette,” Randall says. “It’s a great vehicle for people to build their own little half-sandwich.” Consider offering gluten-free items, such as multigrain chips or multigrain bread.

Additions like almonds, shelled pistachios or pecans are all great options to include. “It’s a different texture,” Randall says. “It’s more protein, and you can also offer something like candied, marinated or seasoned mixed nuts.”

Lastly, don’t be afraid to add a unique option to add interest and a surprising, unexpected flavor. “Fermented vegetables are one of the biggest trends, and you can make (them) yourself,” Randall says. “My mom, for instance, does these amazing ginger-pickled carrots. They’re absolutely delicious.”  

Charcuterie Considerations

1.As far as meat and cheese varieties, Randall advises having “a minimum of two and three to four is probably enough.” As an appetizer, consider 1 oz. of meat per person. As a meal, 5 oz. of meat per person should do nicely.

2.“As a rule of thumb, slice the meat when cold and serve at room temperature. Same for the cheese,” she says.

3.As for presentation, “Slice on a bias, and try to slice everything very thin, because, typically, charcuterie meats are very rich,” she says.

Tray Tips

Plate charcuterie creations on
beautiful, locally-available boards.

Bring a little Napa Valley to your
home with granite charcuterie boards by Wine&Dine, which a local Minnesota
maker brought back from a wine-tasting trip and fashioned into these
one-of-a-kind items.

$35-$45; gather + grace, Chaska; 612.802.4607

Pick up a Nora Fleming rectangular serving
tray to display culinary crudités. The white ceramic backdrop will especially
make colorful fruits and veggies pop.

$38-$48; Kowalski’s, Eden Prairie.; 952.937.9585

Beautiful Acacia wood cutting boards
from Pacific Merchant also double as serving trays. The wide, spacious boards
are perfect for stacking up piles of delectable meats and cheeses.

Prices vary; Kowalski’s, Eden Prairie; 952.937.9585

Haskell’s offers wine pairings suggestions.

Red or white: Which wine should hosts pair with charcuterie?

“The broad consensus among most wine-drinking, food-loving people is to drink what you like,” says John Slattery from Haskell’s in Chanhassen. However, he offers his expertise on wine to make fabulous food pairings. “Charcuterie like coppa, prosciutto or salame Napoli that have salt, fat and savory spices need a wine that can cleanse the palate,” Slattery says. Try the Fableist Tempranillo ($19.99), or for prosciutto, coppa or salami try Cambiata Pinot Noir ($19.99). “For a spicier chorizo, you may enjoy a LAN Rioja Tempranillo,” he adds. “If your preference is a white wine, you may enjoy Ground Effect Gravity Check 100% Chenin Blanc ($19.99).”

“Cheeses vary in density and moisture content, so there’s a number of wines to choose from based on the cheese,” Slattery says. “With a Soft Blue Castello you can definitely do a Chenin Blanc like Field Recordings Chenin ($17.99). Brie will pair well with an unoaked chardonnay that has bright acidity and tropical fruit flavors like Dancing Coyote Unoaked Chardonnay ($12.98) or Jones of Washington Riesling ($12.99). Aged gouda is perfect with Katherine Goldschmidt Cabernet Sauvignon ($17.98) or the Piedmont Guy’s Oddero Barolo ($49.99).”

If wine is not your forte, try this bold, fruity red sangria that’s delicious, easy-drinking and will still capture the essence of a wine-and-food-pairing experience.

Ruby Red Spanish Sangria
1 750 ml. bottle of LAN Rioja (available at Haskell’s)
2 Tbsp. sugar
2 oz. brandy
1/3 cup orange juice
Sliced apples, oranges and limes
Maraschino cherries
Mix wine, brandy, orange juice and sugar in a large pitcher; add fruit. Chill overnight or several hours before serving. Serve in glasses over ice.