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Look, we know what you’re thinking: This is by far one of our worst pun-based ideas. But Greg gets real pissy if we don’t let him just go to town roasting something, both literally and figuratively, every thirty days or so. And so we present: cured meats.
A charcuterie plate is a lot of things. Literally, a big piece of wood covered in meat and cheese. Gastronomically, a lovely afternoon snack. Visually, a treat for the ‘gram, which means it’s also a way to flex. Functionally, it is all of those things, and also the most expensive way to spoil your appetite and make it so you end up eating dinner at 10pm. It’s also the easiest way to produce something that almost counts as a full meal. There’s no cooking involved, and the prep work consists of a little bit of knife work- always a treat – and opening packages, then upending everything onto a plate.
As with all things, I do this for my wife. I’m still reaching for the position of Ultimate Wife Guy, which has of course been held since 1995 by Gendo Ikari from Neon Genesis Evangelion, but I can hook up a righteous cheese plate for her, at least. She loves to host guests, and the typical workflow there is that I suggest that she should take it easy and not stress, and she does anyway, and then ends up being 100% correct, so I should just get on board with it at this point. The exigencies of “money” and “most people being aggressively trash” are all that’s keeping me from pitching that we should quit our jobs and run a Bed and Breakfast, but I do think we’d be good at it. When the revolution comes, if I’m not on fire and get to live in a Hippie Commune, I’m probably best suited to either “innkeeper” or “armed goon”, and the former has better odds of survival.
We don’t get to host people much these days, due to all of the Problems, but in more precedented times, we’d be lousy with cured meats and cheeses. We still get our hits in where and when we can: we had another couple over recently, and I got to do my favorite thing, which is explain something that everyone already knows because I love hearing myself talk. Specifically, I simply could not stop, was utterly unable to rein myself in from, doing the chefkiss fingers and saying the word gabagool over and over, so I went into how known meat product capicola became gabagool (it’s abbreviated to capicol, and then kind of mushed out New Jersey-style from there). This all backfired when our guests asked me if I actually ordered it as gabagool at the store, or if I pronounced it correctly, and I was forced to admit that I was a coward.
The last 18 months have been incredibly strange, being pinned in space but utterly adrift in time. It’s still not back to “normal”, and I don’t know when it will be, so maybe it’s time to stop hunkering down while waiting for that to happen, and try to get on with it as best we can in the new, slightly shittier, world as it is. It’s honestly worse now, psychologically speaking. Before, the first round of lockdowns and death-every-minute outbreaks, that was an aberration. Now it’s a pattern. One-off events happen, there’s no sense worrying about them because you can’t see randomness coming. But if something can happen twice, it can happen a third time. It’s not great, in large part because this could have been avoided if people had just gotten their goddamned shots. I don’t love the precariousness of this new reality, but having things to look forward to helps, and due to vaccination rates and readily-available home COVID tests, easier now than it was a year ago to see people face to face.
One of my favorite things about online is people getting nuclear pissed about insanely stupid things, and so I’d like to preface this with a quick note to fictional reader and real person Tony Gabagool, who thinks that these recommendations aren’t obscure or expensive enough. I know. I am keeping this “cheugy”, involving things you can find at your Friendly Local Grub Store. Much like John Madden hyper-explaining the fundamentals of a football game, I’m not doing this because I’m basic, but because everyone else is, and I have to teach to their level. It’s not my fault, Mr. Gabagool. Blame our audience for not living closer to a Wegman’s.
Weird decorative nonsense (edible)
You are going to be spending eighty dollars on the good meat and cheese, and your hunger will still be unsated even after housing the entire thing. That in mind, it’s a good idea to spruce it up a bit instead of just smearing everything on a plate, to maximize the amount of work your guests think you put in, and distract them from how hungry they still are.
To wit, it takes 10 seconds and a few slices of something to make a meat flower, but people lose their minds over them. “Meat flower” as a phrase might not have particularly good vibes, but they’re neat. Fold three or four slices of salami in half, overlap them a bit along the long edge, and roll it up from one end. Easiest thing in the world, but dumb flourishes are what earn Michelin stars. Incredible return on investment.
This is also a good opportunity to raid your fridge for those last little bits of fruit you might have. Two strawberries aren’t generally good for much, but as a decoration they’ll do fine. Throw them on there – if no one eats it because they can’t tell what’s a garnish and what’s a morsel, who cares, you were throwing it out one way or the other. I wouldn’t use such as a banana, but a pear or apple, sliced up and arranged, will elevate the presentation and take some of the edge off how bad I’m gonna feel after eating that many nitrites.
In general, I like to try and make fun piles of things instead of dumping food all over the place. Overlap the slices, or make a little log cabin out of manchego wedges. Figure out what the most blasphemous shape is, and put all your cheese in it. Nobody can stop you.
If you have any blank space on your board when you run out of cheese, fill it with nuts. I don’t care what kind. Almonds, pecans, olives, it’s all good.
Weird decorative nonsense (inedible)
All of the above remains true, and the only reason these are ranked lower is that they aren’t food, and sometimes aren’t even edible, but if you put a sprig of fresh herbs on here, it’ll do numbers. I don’t know why, it just works. If you don’t have herbs – why would you? – go outside and grab some grass clippings, or a weed growing through the cracks in your sidewalk, it’s pretty much the same thing.
A funky wooden board
This is somehow the most important thing. Remember, you’re serving guests a deconstructed panini, so staging and plating is a crucial component in not looking like a lazy, cheap, asshole. Use the largest cutting board or smallest door in your house. Think your board is big enough? Wrong, get a larger one.
It has to be made out of wood, even if that’s stupid and makes it harder to clean. Nobody wants to hog wild on some lunch meat from a glass bowl or a floor tile or whatever. Get yourself a dang wooden board, trust me.
The actual food
I don’t know why I bother, because everyone buys the same things every time: prosciutto, a couple types of salami, cheddar, manchego, and probably some kind of soft cheese like brie even though that’s a bad idea – it gets all over the place and looks like puke when it’s been sitting out. Save the camembert for later, it works better as its own thing.
All I’ll say here is if you have a good local meat shop, with a real deli counter, go there. If that seems unlikely to exist in your area, you’d be surprised. I recently left the bustling metropolis of Baltimore for a town of ten thousand that’s barely even an exurb, and even we have one, tucked away in the corner of a wine shop (there’s also two warhammer stores and a place that sells Gundams, which balances out the fact that I never want to know my neighbors’ opinions on literally any social issue). Worst-case it’s fine to buy the pre-sliced and plastic-wrapped Boar’s Head stuff, but we’re trying to stunt here, so if you do that remember to hide your shame, lest the stunter become the stunted upon.
I leave most of the Tiny Sandwich Assembly as an exercise to the eater, but if you have any particular pairings you want to showcase, pre-make a few and put them on the board. Nothing says “fine dining” like removing agency from the customer. That’s why the most expensive places don’t even have a menu – you get what the chef felt like making that day, and you can either deal with it or go to hell and arrive hungry. Good combinations to “encourage” here are wrapping prosciutto around melon or a good pear, or making little toasts with goat cheese and fig jam on them. It also cuts down on the number of butter knives and ramekins you have to set out. That is the only actual useful advice in this entire column.
Ain’t nobody eats these, they just grub on the meats and ignore the rest. You will always have too much crackers. Put some on there anyway. Better yet, slice up a baguette diagonally, it’s a better substrate to put a ton of meat on top of, and looks nicer.
I hope this has been helpful, or at least made anyone reading this at the office look at their lunch and get sad. I know it did for me.
Thanks for sticking around, and making this column what it is: a little-read corner of this website that exists solely for me to waste your time and get yelled at. If you have questions or comments, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org, or right here in the comments. Meatwatch is here to help.