Appetizers, tapas, small plates, charcuterie — it’s the new main dish for a no-fuss evening — tasty bites to spark your palette and conversation. A charcuterie board is a wonderful way to wind down a day in the Healdsburg Wine Country. Gather with friends and uncork a few bottles of wine. This easy way to entertain offers something for everyone, but it’s not just about eating.
Whether at your place or relaxing in a luxury vacation home, a charcuterie platter is super easy to put together. And everyone can have exactly what they like. Make a day of wine tasting in Sonoma or Napa valleys and bring home your favorite finds. Pick up gourmet treats at nearby wineries, stop at the local market or deli, or shop the neighborhood farmer’s market. From Healdsburg to Napa to St. Helena, spring and summer markets* hum with fresh produce, organics, and gourmet products.
Putting together a Wine Country charcuterie board is easy, but remember: variety is key. Mix up flavors and textures, including both mild and bold, familiar favorites and first-time dates. Artful presentation is part of the fun. Serve on wood cutting boards, marble slabs, or earthenware platters. Use colorful cloth napkins and different sized bowls, include serving knives and spoons, and don’t forget toothpicks. Here are some tips for what to choose.
Create the perfect charcuterie board
By its very name, meat is the top bill on your charcuterie board. (Charcuterie in France is where you buy deli-style meat.) If you’re making a night of it – eating and drinking for hours – figure on about 4oz per person. Pick out at the very least three different types of meat. Razor-thin slices of prosciutto are a must, but include another cured meat such as sopressata or coppa, or experiment with ones you may not be so familiar with. While loaded with flavor, cured meats are very salty, so mix it up with cooked meat, like ham or mortadella (bologna’s classy cousin). You may want to add a soft, spreadable pate and chunks of spicy sausage. The variety of textures and shapes make the platter look appealing.
The cheeses are my favorite part of the charcuterie board. To keep it interesting, choose an assortment of cheeses, each with its unique texture — creamy, firm, crumbly. Mix up the flavors with something tangy like an aged sharp cheddar and something sweet such as St. Andre. For interest — taste as well as visual — slice up hard cheeses and have a spreading knife for each soft one. You may want to try a goat or sheep milk variety. And there are plenty of Sonoma Valley cheesemakers, so have fun experimenting. But blue cheeses are a gamble. For most people it’s a love/hate thing. Same goes for some those smelly French cheeses. I’d avoid those because they tend to dominate everything else on the platter. Cheese is best served at room temperature, so I always remove cheeses from the fridge a half hour before serving, even sooner for soft cheeses.
Bread and Crackers
Bread is the vehicle for enjoying meats and cheeses — and everything else on your charcuterie plate. Keep it simple — baguette and mild crackers. There’s lots of flavor going on, so this time the bread is going to have to take a back seat. My favorite is crostini, thin slices of baguette brushed with olive oil and toasted. Cheese twists or bread sticks are fun because you can serve them upended in a cup, which adds height to the presentation. You can slice the bread in advance, or if you need extra room put out a baguette and bread knife on a wooden cutting board. I suggest including a gluten-free cracker, too.
Mildly sweet and naturally juicy, fresh fruit can be a welcome foil to this flavor extravaganza. A mound of grapes is a good choice, plus it looks pretty on the platter (include a few purple and green for visual interest). Put out some pear (Bosc or D’Anjou) or crisp apple (Fuji or Honeycrisp) slices. This works well to transport cheese for those who want to avoid bread. (Drizzle the slices with lemon juice to keep them from turning brown.) You may want to add a few dried figs or dates for an extra hit of sweetness and texture.
Olives are essential for me — love them with cheese and cured meats. There are so many interesting types available today. Mild, juicy Cerignolas are my first choice. I prefer the green ones, but include both black and green olives, stuffed or not, or maybe an olive tapenade. Pickled vegetables and peppers, spicy or mild, are fun. (Remember to include a tiny bowl for olive pits!) A small bowl of seedy Dijon mustard complements the charcuterie.
Jams, Dips, and Nuts
Include one or two jams or chutneys for some added flavor and to balance out the dry and salty meat and cheese. Fig spread plays nicely with many cheeses. You may way to include a bowl of hummus —a nice protein alternative for those who don’t want meat. A bowl of nuts is welcome. I especially love sweet, salty Marcona almonds.
By the way, if it’s just you and your partner, put together charcuterie for two. You could even pack a picnic basket — wineries welcome you to enjoy a bottle of their wine in the beautiful Sonoma Wine Country!
*Get details on all Sonoma County farmer’s markets here.