Charcuterie dates back to 15th century France. The word is actually derived from the French word, charcutier, which is translated to “pork butcher.” The art of charcuterie, however, is the practice of serving preserved meats, including salted, smoked or brined meats. Later, it came to include what was called, “forced meats,” as they would be ground and forced through a plate, then smoked in a casing. Forced meats included pork, beef, venison, game birds and even fish. The Spanish culture later adapted this practice to add cheese and bread. They called it tapas, which means "to cover", as they would use the meat, cheese and bread to cover glasses of wine and sherry. They also added olives and tomatoes. This became a sampling of food provided at taverns. Today, we use this practice to feed guests we are entertaining. It can be created for anything from Super Bowl parties to potluck dinners at church. We have evolved this once necessary food into a smorgasbord of different meats, cheeses, and even fruits, vegetables and nuts. We choose from thousands of different breads and crackers, oils and herbs to place on a board.
My first experience with charcuterie was on the tailgate of a 1987 Ford pickup truck, in the middle of a hayfield. My Dad pulled out a block of Longhorn sharp cheddar cheese, a tube of summer sausage and a jar of pickles from the old cooler. Dad sliced the cheese and summer sausage with his Old Timer pocketknife and placed it on a saltine cracker. The pickles, he said were to keep us from getting cramps while working in the hot sun. I remember taking a bite of the cheese and summer sausage, piled high on that cracker. I then chased it with a bite of crisp dill pickle, and thought, “Where has this been all my life?” I can still smell the hay, feel the slow, warm wind blowing across my parched skin and taste that light summer lunch. It was prepared by a man who gave no thought to its origins, but who knew it would stave off a growling stomach and not be so heavy that we couldn’t continue our work. Looking back, I can see where a bone-weary traveler in southwestern Europe would long for a good charcuterie meal and a glass of wine before heading on their way.
Maybe it’s reminiscent of those hot summer hayfield and fishing meals with my Dad, but a charcuterie board is something I love to create. The Lady of the House and I eat cheese and smoked meats with crackers every chance we get. It’s not always a big production — it’s usually more along the lines of my Dad’s idea of a simple meal carved with the knife he pulled from the pocket of his jeans — but we love to try new and creative ways to pair different cheeses and meats with a variety of crackers and breads. We even make somewhat successful attempts to pair wines with the different flavors. It’s a wonderful eating experience that takes little time to prepare, but is perfect for a Christmas get-together.
If you’re going for something a little more fancy, you can create a culinary masterpiece atop a breadboard. For this, I pulled out all the proverbial stops. We invited a couple of friends over and set out to make the charcuterie board of a lifetime. The shopping for this endeavor alone was more fun than I would ever have imagined. Meeting up with Charm editor Melissa Crager, Charm staff photographer and Lady of the House Leslie Nemec, and director of catering at Brookshire Brothers’ 1921 Catering Kate Rudasill, we grabbed a couple of shopping carts at the Brookshire Brothers store on Gaslight and let our creativity run wild. Kate showed me some inspirational photos of her charcuterie, designed to feed 50 to 60 people, which gave me a new respect for the 1921 brand and their impeccable style. Kate gave me ideas on wine pairings with the cheeses and meats she had selected for us. She even chose a brand of crackers I would never have thought to pick from the store aisles. We selected several flavors of infused cheeses, all sorts of meats, various types of crackers, Naan bread, pickled okra, olives and tomatoes. Then we picked out a wide range of sweet snacks from cookies to nuts and fruit. Thank you Brookshire Brothers, for graciously providing all the food for the expansive board we created.
Because this was a Christmas charcuterie, I used lots of reds and greens and even added sweets into the mix. You, however, may be hosting a Thanksgiving or birthday celebration. You are limited only by your imagination and what your taste buds may be craving: smoked cheddar with rosemary crackers and garlic sausage or merlot infused cheese with sea salt crackers and elk summer sausage, sun-dried tomatoes, black or green olives, nuts, berries, even olive oils and vinegars. The combinations are endless. Just grab a knife, Old Timer or otherwise, and get to slicing.
Unfortunately, I can’t give you a recipe for something like this. I wouldn’t want to even if I could. Charcuterie is the creative fruit of your labor. It is your vision. So have fun with it.
I always love trying new recipes, so feel free to send suggestions. Email me at email@example.com. My mailing address is Lufkin Daily News, Attention: ETX Food Guy, 300 Ellis Avenue, Lufkin, TX 75904. Follow and tag me in photos of your charcuterie on Instagram @etxfoodguy or @charmeasttexas.