Entertaining Tips: Cheese and Charcuterie 101
Back in college, your idea of entertaining involved you providing a large enough keg and plenty of red cups. Now that you’re an “adult,” it’s time to graduate to a more elevated level of at-home entertaining. A fabulous place to start is with an iconic party staple: the charcuterie and cheese plate.
“The wonderful thing about a cheese plate is that it’s easy to assemble if you know what you’re looking for, and it’s perfect for entertaining,” says chef Andrea Montobbio from Asellina. “It provides just enough food for your guests for a light bite or before a larger meal. And, because there is such a wide variety of a cheese, there is something for everyone.”
While it is fairly simple to pull together and present, if this is your first grown-up party rodeo, it doesn’t hurt to know which cheeses and meats will delight the whole party. Chef Andrea has just the tips to help you get started:
"When I choose the meats and cheeses for my charcuterie and cheese plate, I try showcasing different styles of curing, terroir, and cuts. I also try to stay as Italian as I can, using imported products. With the charcuterie, I prevalently use pork and different cuts of meat.”
—Speck: Smoked boneless leg from Trentino-Alto Adige.
—Culatello: From Zibello; also a delicacy from a small town next to Parma.
—Cacciatorini: A small salami from Piemonte; can be made with wild boar.
—Bresaola: The eye round of beef. I like it more for composed dishes, like salads.
—Prosciutto: Dry-cured ham from Parma; made from either a pig or wild boar’s hind leg or thigh.
—Capicola: Dry-cured cold cut from Calabria made using meat from the neck; it can sometimes be spicy.
—Guanciale: A strongly flavored cured meat made from pork jaws.
“Regarding cheeses, the selection is a lot bigger and very fun. There is a huge variety of aging, methods, and milks. I try to have hard, semi-hard, and soft cheeses, with cow, sheep and goat milk.”
—Typical Parmigiano-Reggiano: (Source: cow – Consistency: hard) You can never go wrong with this classic selection.
—Taleggio: (Source: cow – Consistency: soft) Another icon of the Italian tradition with amazing smell and flavor.
—Brunet: (Source: cow/goat/ sheep – Consistency: soft) From Piemonte.
—Fiore Sardo: (Source: sheep – Consistency: Hard) From Sardegna.
—Buffalo Blue: (Source: buffalo – Consistency: semisoft) If you’re incorporating wine, I would suggest pairing this with a great white like a chardonnay, or something not too overpowering, like a Dolcetto or a young Barbera.
And just to be sure that you add a little extra pizzazz to your party plate:
“I like to serve different toasted breads with my cheese plate as well, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano carasau bread or toasted raisin bread. I usually pair the cheese plate with honey and house made jams, like onion and balsamic or fig jam, or even spicy mustard. I use fruit as well: fresh figs and grapes, if they’re in season."