The Joy of Charcuterie

By  0 Comments

“Less is more.” This phrase is more than a hundred years old, yet it is coming into its own as a cultural touchstone at a time when people are leaning toward a more minimal lifestyle.

We once collectively tried to “keep up with the Joneses.” When friends or relatives bought a new TV, or new appliance or new car, everyone had to have one. New homes were valued especially if they were bigger and better, with two living rooms, one formal and one informal, two dining rooms and large bedrooms with walk-in closets.

But the pendulum has begun to swing in the opposite direction. Young adults are less likely to want, or use, family heirlooms such as furniture or a set of china that their parents or grandparents acquired. Housing options have spurred an interest in tiny homes; there’s no need for a walk-in closet if you’ve signed up for Project 333. With a motto of Simple is the New Black, Project 333 challenges people to limit their wardrobe to 33 items for 3 months and box up the rest of their closet. The idea is to save space and time; the boxed-up items may well be donated to charity before the three months is up.

The minimalist aesthetic also applies to food. We’ve moved from buffet restaurants that offer all-you-can-eat, to fast-food dining that offers great deals if you super-size your order. Yet people are learning to read labels. Not everyone wants extra stuff in their food such as salt, sugar or preservatives. The mindfulness movement encourages people to take time to enjoy a snack or a meal, instead of mindlessly eating while doing something else, whether it’s working or watching TV.

Home cooks can achieve a minimalist balance, but it takes planning ahead. Making one meal in double portions, such as spaghetti sauce or chili, means you can freeze a batch to serve later. and if you stock your freezer and pantry with frozen entrees, veggies and pasta, it cuts down on prep time.

But when you’re entertaining guests, cutting down on prep time doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice variety or flavor. I’ve become a fan of foods that can be prepared a few days ahead and assembled right before guests arrive. My go-to meal begins with charcuterie. If you’re not familiar with that term, the term is French and translates to “cooked meat.” These meats were cooked and cured in order to preserve food for longer periods of time without refrigeration. The benefit of the process is that it works for casual and formal dining, whether at home or on a picnic.

Charcuterie is a platter of sliced cold meats, much like an antipasto platter. Technically, charcuterie consists of all French products, such as pâtés or rillettes, but I combine both French and Italian products. When I shop for a charcuterie platter, I look for a variety of high-quality meats, and supplement that with an assortment of cheese, crackers, pickled vegetables and fresh vegetables.

For a small dinner, less is definitely more. I’m happy with choosing two or three selections of each item. Salami choices might include sopressato, capicola or finocchiona, which is a Tuscan fennel salami, or prosciutto. For cheese, I like having one soft cheese such as Brie, a hard cheese, possibly pecorino, and a creative third choice of bleu cheese, goat cheese or smoked cheese.

Now it’s time to complete the platter. Add color and texture with your favorite fresh fruit. Wrap thin-sliced prosciutto around chunks of ripe cantaloupe to savor the combination of salty and sweet flavors. Scatter fresh strawberries and figs among small cubes of pecorino romano and drizzle a balsamic-honey-reduction sauce over it all. Separate slices of salami with bunches of green grapes or multicolor grape tomatoes. Add in small bowls of different kinds of olives, pickles, peppers and a variety of nuts—almonds, cashews, macadamia.

Round out the meal with a second platter filled with vegetables—a classic French Grand Aioli. This dish combines seasonal vegetables of your choice, such as small potatoes, green beans, asparagus or summer squash, all steamed or boiled until just crisp-tender, then chilled. Next, add crunchy fresh sliced radishes, carrots and cucumbers. Mounds of boiled shrimp and sliced hard-boiled eggs draped with white anchovies make a more substantial meal. The finishing touch is a bowl of tangy aioli sauce to spoon over your selections.

All of these items can be purchased and prepared ahead. The quantity and quality of ingredients can be adjusted to work as appetizers for cocktail parties, small plates for a light supper, or dining al fresco by the grill on your deck or patio. Just expand your selections and create several platters if needed. Then relax, enjoy a simple, elegant meal, and enjoy your guests. ■

Sources:, and