Explore European artisan foods through charcuterie board–dinners

Explore European artisan foods through charcuterie board–dinners

by Anna Leigh Bagiackas
Stripes Europe

Charcuterie boards have become very popular in the last couple of years. Food bloggers and home cooks make beautiful and elaborate spreads that are truly works of art. But I also love putting something small and simple together for one of the easiest and most dish-free Friday night dinners. And living in Europe has only upped my charcuterie game.

First, it’s important to go back to the roots of charcuterie. The French term refers to a spread of preserved meats, pork products in particular, and the individual who prepares the meat is called a “Charcutier.” Restaurants all around France offer either plates of local cheeses or charcuterie as an appetizer or snack.

Today, when people refer to charcuterie boards though, they usually include other non-meat products. This opens up a world of possibilities, both for the culinary curious as well as those catering to dietary restrictions or preferences.

You will also find dozens of artists and craftspeople making gorgeous and high-quality boards from different woods, stone and other materials. In fact, my father has made a collection of boards for our friends and family, choosing colors and types of wood based on their personalities. I gladly display our personalized board all year long!

We are a household of two and because of that, I stopped putting together spreads. I always associated meat and cheese boards with being a pre-dinner snack, but that was too much food with a lot going to waste since we didn’t eat all the components. But like many of my “rules” this year, this pre-dinner snack idea has gone out the window and I have rediscovered my charcuterie board.

I’ve been thrilled about this for two reasons. First, because we are cooking almost every meal at home these days, I am burnt out when it comes to meal planning and washing dishes. So once a week our dinner becomes a charcuterie board. Being able to create a spread of meats, cheeses, nuts, veggies and fruits is such a mental and physical break. Then with the leftovers I can put mini boards together for lunches or a snack.

Second, I come home from the grocery store just giddy with different products I found and want to try from all over Europe. Now, I recommend mixing up where you shop if you want to achieve said snack-giddiness, because it can get a little boring if you’re not discovering new things to try. But if you’re shopping off base in some of the different grocery stores, you can choose different themes for your spreads. Maybe you want to go German themed with different wursts and cheeses, or maybe you’re looking for more of a French spread or maybe even Italian. I recently found an oat-based tomato and basil cheese spread that I had to try just for the sake of it being different and we ended up really liking it!

Now, you don’t need to create Instagram-level creations, so don’t let that intimidate you. It can and should be simple. A satisfying board will contain a mix of flavors, textures and colors. To help you get started, here are some of the different components of our favorite spreads:

  • Meats, anything that is easy to slice and eat (German wursts, Spanish chorizo, Italian prosciutto and salami and French pâté)
  • Smoked fish
  • Cheeses, including a mix of soft and hard cheeses (think French Camembert or goat cheese, Gouda from Holland, cheddars from the U.K. and mozzarella from Italy)
  • Sliced veggies such as bell pepper, cucumber and carrots
  • Fruits, dried or fresh, such as raspberries, blueberries, sliced pears or apples, dried apricots or cranberries
  • Olives (I recommend getting the seasoned packages with a mix of olives)
  • Pickles
  • Seasoned nuts
  • Crackers, toasts, pretzels (or put your sourdough to use with bread or sourdough discard crackers)
  • Dips such as hummus, fruit preserves or jams, mustard (we recently ordered a box of different mustards from Historische Senfmühlen in Cochem and we love enjoying them this way!)

Whether you’re thinking of building a charcuterie board for a pre-holiday snack or replacing it for dinner, I’m leaning into this new tradition and all the possibilities it has to offer!

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