The charcuterie board-bringer is always the favourite person in the room — not all heroes wear capes, OK? If you're stumped on where to start, we've got the ultimate guide for how to build that perfect charcuterie board.
To teach us a thing or two about assembling a charcuterie board, we've recruited the help of maître fromager, Afrim Pristine of the Cheese Boutique. We chatted with the, ahem, big cheese to find out how to make a charcuterie board that will guarantee you a spot on the nice list this holiday season.
From how to organize your cheese to which cured meat to buy, Pristine tells us everything we need to know about making a charcuterie board that's sure to impress.
How to make the perfect charcuterie board
What is charcuterie?
"Charcuterie is essentially cured meat. For me, if it's cheese and charcuterie, one goes with the other, they contrast and complement each other. The cured meat imported to Canada from Europe is phenomenal quality and what we're making locally is also really, really good. Canada is easily becoming a cheese powerhouse worldwide. It's a very exciting time for cheese and cured meat. And then compiling a board, that's the fun part. I've made literally thousands of boards, it's what I do for a living and I still get excited."
How much cheese do we need?
"The best part about it is the variety. The different textures, flavours and aesthetics that cheese has is so crucial to portray when compiling a board. If I'm putting a board together, I like three or four types of meat and four to five types of cheese. As you build it, you want to think about it like you're travelling the world. It's a journey from start to finish."
What else should we consider?
"Textures are super important. I like odd numbers, I think with five you can hit a lot of different cheese styles and families: a soft creamy one; a goat or sheep's cheese; a semi-firm like a youthful, one-year gouda or an Oka; then a really firm, sharp aged cheddar or pecorino from Italy (something really salty with those little crystals); and a blue to finish."
How should we approach the cheese?
"Mildest to strongest, 100 per cent. I don't want to start off having a blue cheese and then going to a milder Gruyère or brie, you're not going to get the full beauty of those other cheeses. You want to end on a big, aromatic, robust cheese like that."
What about the meat?
"I wouldn't pair meat and cheese together. Pick the five types of cheese then pick your meat. They can totally be on the same board, but just like how we've picked our cheese with different varieties, consistencies and textures, you want to do the same here. I like a Spanish serrano ham, a Toscano salami with cracked fennel and duck pâté. You gotta treat yourself sometimes and getting high-quality cured meat without a ton of preservatives or nitrates is really special. The one guideline I would say is, I think a little heat is good but if you're eating fire it takes away from the rest of the board. I would add olives or pickled items because the acidity cuts into the cured meat and the fattiness."
Afrim's ultimate charcuterie
Need more charcuterie inspo? Try this board on for size.
Wildwood Firm Cheese from Stonetown Dairy
Le Bon Secret from Quality Cheese Inc.
Grey Owl goat cheese from Quebec
Aged sheep's milk pecorino from Tuscany
Cashel Blue from Ireland
Spanish serrano ham
Toscano salami with cracked fennel
Green, seedless grapes
Fruit and nut crackers
Red pepper jelly
What else makes up a good board?
"A classic, crusty French baguette is super important, then you can have another fun cracker. I also love honeycomb, it's sweet like honey and the texture is amazing. Honeycomb is phenomenal with bigger, saltier, more robust cheese. Fruits like grapes, apples and pears are my favourite because they're high in water and acid. So as you're travelling through your board, you'll have something to cleanse your palate. I try to stay away from berries and citrus on a board, I just find that they're too sugary and juicy."
How do we pair our charcuterie board with drinks?
"If I'm having a cheese and meat board I go straight to wine, it just goes so well. Wine has acid too which is so important. In boxing, a heavyweight fights another heavyweight, not a lightweight. So a big, bold red wine should be paired with a big bold cheese. A light-bodied red wine like a pinot noir can be paired with a light-bodied or a light-flavoured cheese. A sweet wine with a salty blue is one of the best wine pairings and an acidic white wine goes great with a creamy, lush, fatty goat cheese."
How should we serve our charcuterie board?
"Making a board should be enjoyable. I always recommend being open minded. I don't love hard-and-fast rules, food should be fun, a journey — it shouldn't be work. There are guidelines. It's really important to the integrity of the cheese to leave it at room temperature for an hour or two — like red wine, it needs to breathe. And when you're prepping your board, make your cheese look different. Finally, put your board in the middle of the table and people will flock to it."
Where to shop for your charcuterie board
45 Ripley Ave.
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You'll be saying cheese the entire time you're in this Bloor-West Village emporium that has over 500 varieties of the good stuff. Pristine's passion is apparent in every rind, every hanging Auricchio provolone and every dry-aged cured meat. You'll find Canadian cheese heavily represented here, too.
Grand Cru Deli
304 Richmond St. W.
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Look no further than Grand Cru Deli & Sips Toronto Wine Store for a partner in wine. This entertainment district deli has everything for your entertaining needs. They've got a long list of curated, "soul touching" (seriously, they say that) vino that you can't find at the LCBO. Even better, they have cheese and charcuterie boards to go.
714 Queen St. W.
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What the Cheese Boutique is to cheese, Cumbrae's is to meat. This custom butcher has top-quality cured meat, dry-aged in house; creamy, decadent pâtés; and terrines that are the queen of Queen West. They also have charcuterie board accoutrements like jars of candied pecans that you might just devour before they even make it onto your board. Did we mention they make some of Toronto's best pies, too?