Charcuterie has long been a staple of French cuisine, but the widespread embrace of nose-to-tail eating has led to new popularity for high-quality cured meats. Platters of charcuterie now appear on menus everywhere from neighborhood sports bars to white tablecloth restaurants.
Lindy Wildsmith, author of the cookbook and preserving manual Cured, suggests that our passion for cured meat runs much deeper than current culinary trends. “Salt has been an essential part of our diets for thousands of years and was a valuable commodity,” she says. “We love salt, we love fat a little less, but [they are] now beginning to enjoy a revival. Honestly, I think the love of charcuterie is written in our DNA.”
While there are many methods used to cure and preserve meat and fish, the most popular options can be divided into three broad styles: dried and salted whole-muscle meats such as continental Europe’s hams; spicy and fatty cased sausages like chorizo; and creamy, fatty pâté and rillettes.
Arguably the king of the dried and salted category is prosciutto, dry-cured hind pork legs typically served in paper-thin slices. Prosciutto originated in Italy and premium varieties like Prosciutto di Parma have geographical protection. Wildsmith describes prosciutto as “very refined…sweet, with a silky mouthfeel,” one that pairs well with elegant single malts, particularly those matured in sherry casks, such as Glenrothes or Glengoyne 15 year old. These whiskies harmonize brilliantly with the salt and melt-in-the-mouth texture of the meats.
Spain’s jámon ibérico or rustic jámon serrano, each richer and chewier than Italy’s prosciutto, welcome a more robust and slightly smoky whisky, such as Highland Park 12 year old.
Spicy and fatty dried sausages, like salami, pepperoni, saucisson sec, and chorizo proliferated primarily in parts of Europe that have a stable and dry climate, according to Wildsmith.
The boldest members of these dry-cured, cased meats, like spicy chorizo, demand big-flavored whiskies, like Islay malts and brawny bourbons. Adding an ice cube to your dram will help tame the spice of the chorizo, as does the smokiness of the Islay malt. Lighter single malts, blended malts, or even blended whiskies pair well with more savory and mild pork-based sausage, while firmer and rounder American and Canadian whiskies like Woodford Reserve or Forty Creek Double Barrel marry more harmoniously with beef-based versions, often generically identified as kosher salami.
Finally, for pâté and rillettes, defined by their soft, spreadable consistency and flavorsome fattiness, the choice of whisky becomes a matter of complement or cut. To cut through the fat and bring out both the meatiness of the terrine and the sweetness of the spirit, try a peppery whiskey such as a straight rye or high-rye bourbon. On the flip side, a round and vanilla-accented whisky such as Collingwood will complement the rich creaminess of the preparation.
A typical charcuterie board will include a variety of styles of cured meats. So take consolation that your favorite whisky, with a glass of water on the side, will create some flavorful combinations with these whisky-friendly treats.
Three Whisky and Charcuterie Pairings to Try
Glenrothes Vintage Reserve + Prosciutto Ham
The honeyed sweetness and red berry fruit of a sherried malt harmonize brilliantly with the salt and silky texture of the ham.
Knob Creek Straight Bourbon + Kielbasa Czosnkowa (Garlicky Kielbasa)
The richness of the bourbon finds harmony in the garlic of the sausage, producing a rich flavor that brings out the best in both.
Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Straight Rye + Pork Rillettes
The fat of the rillettes mellows and rounds the spirit, while the whiskey adds spiciness to the rich and salty pork.