Traditionally, playing with food has a bad reputation, but the rising popularity of charcuterie boards is changing that by encouraging diners to get creative with endless mix-and-match options.
Part art project, part meal prep, charcuterie is typically a combination of cheeses, meats and crackers or bread, arranged on a shared plate, Chad Halbrook, general manager for Postino Winecafe on Broadway in Denver, said.
However, the growing love for charcuterie has also led to an expanded take on the term, with all sorts of spins offering a variety of finger foods and pairings, he noted.
Halbrook said charcuterie gained a lot of fans during the pandemic when restaurants were reduced to take-out and more people were cooking at home because it’s an option that’s quick, versatile and requires few kitchen skills.
“People wanted to spice up what they were snacking on at home, make it look good and not necessarily spend a lot of time cooking,” Halbrook said.
He said that charcuterie’s popularity also spikes during the holiday season for those same reasons.
“When we dine with friends, it’s a communal experience and there’s something that brings people together in conversation over a charcuterie board as opposed to individual entrees,” he said.
The demand for charcuterie resulted in the option popping up on restaurant menus all over the area, including several at Postino’s, as well as spawning classes on building boards and whole businesses dedicated to selling premade charcuterie for those not inclined to make their own.
In Castle Rock, one such business is Farmgirl Foods, a market that features local products, including charcuterie, and offers DIY classes. Owner Melissa Clement said she thinks the charcuterie boards and classes are so popular because it’s a fun and social activity, whether you’re making a spread or just eating it.
“People will get so excited when they learn how to make a prosciutto rose or taste something, whether it’s a combination of flavors or one particular product, that opens up their palate,” she said.
When Clement is putting together her charcuterie, she typically starts with opposing textures and flavors, like a savory creamy brie and candied walnuts. She likes to include a hard cheese, a soft cheese and a crumbly cheese alongside some dried or smoked meats, like salami, prosciutto or chorizo, as well as crackers, bread and toppings.
Toppings can range from fruits, veggies, nuts or chocolate to spreads like honey, jam, hummus or mustard, she said.
“You want all the flavors to play with each other,” Clement said. “I always like to do something smoky or spicy together with something sweet.”
Halbrook also noted that swapping out meat for more cheese or adding more alternative options makes charcuterie easy to alter for a variety of diets and allergies. Similarly, Halbrook suggested making seasonal changes, such as adding in herbs, cranberries and oranges for winter spreads.
“It doesn’t always have to be meat and cheese,” he said. “You can do all sorts of things to please every person attending your holiday event or party. You can do veggie board for your vegan friends, which allows you to really splash more color on the board.”
Both Halbrook and Clement recommend splurging on the cheese, since it’s the star of the spread, but noted charcuterie doesn’t have to be pricey. Clement suggests cutting down on the accouterments or using what’s already on hand.
For proportions, Clement said she plans around two ounces of each cheese and meat per person if serving as an appetizer, or up to 6 ounces of each food per person if it’s the main meal.
Halbrook added there’s no harm in starting with smaller amounts.
“There’s no shame in refilling or having a backup item,” he said.
As for styling the charcuterie in an Instagram-worthy way, Clement said she will start by laying out the bigger items so that she can design around them. One of her favorite tips is to top the board by sprinkling dried fruit or edible flowers on top.
Ultimately though, she said there are no set rules, and that’s what makes it fun.
“A lot of times I won’t do a flat board, I’ll do a tiered tray,” Clement said of the possibilities. “The No. 1 thing to remember is you can’t do it wrong, you really can’t.”
Still, for those that don’t want to spend the time to prep and build charcuterie, there are several businesses in the Denver metro area that offer pre-made charcuterie, including both Farmgirl Foods and Postino, which also has locations in Highlands Ranch, LoHi and at 9th and Colorado.