The Art of Charcuterie

6 Simple Steps to Help Customers Entertain with Ease

Charcuterie — aka cured meats, and cheeses, once seen as a high-end European-type meal is gaining popularity in the United States. A 2017 Nielsen survey found that the meat department and deli counter represent a $9 billion industry in the US, with $200 million of that coming from the specialty deli meat segment.  The same growth can be seen in cheese. USDA stats show that consumption of cheese in the US has more than doubled from 14.3lbs in 1975 to 36.9lbs in 2017. In fact, according to Packaged Foods, projects that the natural and specialty cheese market will grow to exceed $18 billion by 2023.

The rise in specialty meats and cheese is attributed to customers’ love of the exotic, local, and in the case of meat products, heritage cuts, which are more sustainable. Whether it’s an intimate dinner or a large get-together, customers are looking to create special moments for guests through exceptional and unique food experiences. 

A charcuterie board requires more effort than simply slapping some meat and cheese on a platter. Charcuterie is actually an art. By knowing the different elements that go into a restaurant-grade spread, you can be a valuable resource for customers.  We break down the charcuterie ‘must-haves’ into 6 main categories.

Cured Meats & Meat Alternatives

That rolled-up selection of deli meats on a platter is so yesterday (thankfully). Customers appreciate higher end meats that are cured using more traditional, natural methods. They want a selection that is infused with unique flavors to pair with the other charcuterie board staples. Charcuterie boards are often served with wine, so we love this naturally cured, American crafted pinot grigio salami from Volpi.  The assortment of meats should have a variety of textures and flavors, so round out the offering with other Volpi meats like traditional prosciutto, and chorizo.  For international flare, offer an imported Italian black pepper salami from Bellentani or Spanish serrano ham from Solera which bring old world European flavors —no need to stamp the passport.   

Good to know: With meat alternatives gaining popularity, offering meat-free options alongside classics will earn you bonus points with customers.  Vegetable pates are a great way to start. Alexian offers a mixed vegetable  and wild forest mushroom pate with that signature creamy texture and rich flavor that customers will love.

Cheese

With so many cheese varieties on the market, how do you help guide customers to the best items for a well-rounded platter?  Here we looked to the quintessential entertaining expert, Martha Stewart for some advice. Martha’s rule of thumb: have a variety in the type of milk, age, and texture, as well as in shape and color

Let’s start with texture – for a charcuterie plate, you want at least one hard cheese and one soft. We like this Spanish Manchego cheese from Capruela which ticks the ‘hard’ texture box and is made with sheep’s milk, ticking the milk box as well.  Balance the firm Manchego with a soft, creamy French Brie from Manifique that is great for slicing and spreading. Cheddar is a tried and true favorite of Americans (and in some opinions a must for a meat and cheese platter), but we suggest you make a departure from the traditional with a version that is aged 18-24 months like Mainland New Zealand cheddar.  As Martha points out, pay attention to color. Besides the typical beige, and bright yellow or orange, color can come from veins of blue found in blue cheese like Cambozola blue cheese from Germany, or a creamy, bright white goat cheese.

Nuts & Olives

Nut mixes and olives add texture, color, and interest to the platter. They’re also an a great way for customers to stretch out their spreads to accommodate more guests.  Nassau Candy’s Dieter’s Delight mix offers a symphony of textures from roasted cashews, roasted almonds, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds (pepitas) with raisins. For those who would like a wider selection of fruit and nuts, Nassau Candy’s Antioxidant Mix with its roasted unsalted almonds, Brazil nuts, roasted unsalted cashews, raw hazelnuts (filberts), raw pistachios, blueberries, cherries, strawberries and golden raisins brings a collection of textures and tangy sweet flavors. A great way to promote various mixes – host a tasting event in store with cheese and nut pairings so customers can experience how different flavors enhance each other.

Olives offer the same break in texture like nuts but add a briny pop of flavor and bold colors. The large size and bright green color of Castella’s colossal Sicilian olives make a statement and are bursting with ‘buttery’ flavor.  A variety of green and black Kalamata olives in the Country Olive Mix from Bella Donna add even more color for visual interest that makes for an inviting and appetizing spread.

Chocolate

While added candy to a savory spread may seem unusual, it actually adds an important element with flavors and textures. From unique add-ins to the addition of new types like Ruby, chocolate is as artisan as cheese, with sweet and sometimes bitter notes that offer a balance to the salty or rich items on the board. Varieties that offer a sweet and savory spin offer a way to bridge the gap between the meats, cheeses and sweet elements. The smoky flavors in Vosges’ Moe’s Milk bacon milk chocolate bar and Smoke and Stout Dark Chocolate Bar offer deep notes that pair well with meats and cheeses.

Ruby is the latest chocolate on the scene, a little sweeter and fruitier than other chocolate varieties. To play up the fruit notes of the Ruby chocolate, many manufacturers like Chocolove offer Ruby chocolate with fills of pink grapefruit or passion fruit. The tart notes tastes divine, and help cut the richness of meat and cheese.  Charcuterie boards are a great way to go on a flavor adventure. From classically bitter notes like Green & Black’s organic dark chocolate to a sweeter mixture like Ritter Sport filled with Rum Raisins and Hazelnuts, a well rounded chocolate offering rounds out the board, too.

Fruit Spreads

Classic charcuterie boards offer seasonal fruits and fruit spreads. This touch of sweetness and acidity pairs well with the salty cheeses and meats, and helps bring out unexpected notes and flavors of the other offerings. Stick to brighter, more tangy fruit flavors like Fiordifutta pomegranate spread, Hero apricot spread, Dalmatia fig spread, or Sarahbeth’s mixed berry.

Crackers

Beyond adding a crisp texture to the mix, crackers are a great way to meld your charcuterie items together, and they are an important vehicle for delivering all the other flavors. The meats, cheeses, and spreads need to be the stars of the plate, so when offering crackers and bread, show customers simpler flavors. Chia seeds bring extra crunch to these Dolcetto Tuscan Crisps from Italy. Simplify for your customers by showcasing gourmet cracker assortments like those from Wellington that provide a variety of textures and flavors in one box. Ideally suited for charcuterie boards are classic water crackers and stone ground wheat crackers. For those keeping a gluten free diet, Mary’s Black Pepper Crackers offer a nutty flavor and crisp crunch.

Win-Win Across the Board

More and more customers are endeavoring to entertain at home and they are drawn to unique and adventurous meats and cheeses.  Expect to see more customer inquiring about charctuerie items during the holidays. According to a 2018 survey by the National Retailer Federation, 48% of consumers planned to spend the holiday making a festive meal or special treats as part of their holiday festivities.  We can expect more of the same this year. Amp up your stock of charcuterie board items to increase sales and customer loyalty.  Because most of these items have a long shelf life, you don’t have to worry about overstocking.

Final thoughts to help you drive the sale home: Present signage near your specialty meats and cheeses, providing recommended items for a rounded platter. No need for anything fancy – a photo of a complete board works wonderfully. You may want to include tips for how much to buy for the amount of people they expect at their gathering. In-store sampling events are another great way to get customers excited about out-of-the-box offerings and provide platter inspiration.  Position your shop as the expert resource to reinforce loyalty and boost sales. 

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