Charcuterie Boards for Whisky Lovers
March 23, 2023 –––––– Sally Kral
The French may have popularized charcuterie as we know it today—and gave it the name, which comes from their words for flesh (chair) and cooked (cuit)—but salting and smoking meats to preserve them dates back to at least ancient Rome. “Since there was only so much pork loin, beef rib eye, and tenderloin to go around, Romans would chop, mince, and grind all parts of the animal and stuff the innards with this meat, plus salt and spices, and then roast them over an open fire,” says Kevin Ouzts, owner, executive chef, and charcutier of The Spotted Trotter in Atlanta.
While wine and cheese make a natural pairing, whisky and charcuterie are just as delicious together. The flavors you’ll find on a charcuterie board are similar to those of many whiskies—including smoke, brine, fruit, and spice—and enjoying them together enhances the flavors of both. With so many different meats, cheeses, and other ingredients that make up a charcuterie board—and so many different whiskies that pair beautifully with these foods—the combinations are endless. “Have fun with it; there are no wrong ways to make a charcuterie board,” Ouzts says.
How to Make A Spring Charcuterie Board
During spring, Ouzts recommends meats that are lighter in texture and have some spice to pair with clean and bright cheeses, and be sure to include plenty of seasonal produce in the mix. Below is a sample of the type of charcuterie board Ouzts would make in spring.
• Pork peperoncini (pork loin marinated in garlic brine then covered in Calabrian chile peppers and cured for eight weeks)• Culatello ham• Calabrian salami with capers• Black pepper sorghum salami• Rabbit pâté• Alpine style cow’s milk cheese like Alp Blossom from Sennerei Huban• Sheep’s milk cheese like Tomme Saint Georges• Goat’s milk cheese like Humboldt Fog or Brunet • Other accoutrements: Italian tigelle bread with whipped butter, strawberry preserves, and pickled sunchoke relish; pickled spring vegetables (snap beans, carrots, kale, okra, turnips); Castelvetrano olives; any variety of dried fruits; candied or spiced pecans
Pair It With Whisky
Whether you’re a faithful scotch drinker or a bourbon fanatic, every type of whisky pairs well with charcuterie. Darron Foy, bar manager at The Flatiron Room in New York City, recommends these specific labels to match Ouzts’s spring charcuterie selections.
Ardbeg Corryvreckan The salt and smoke of this single malt would stand up to the bite of the pork peperoncini while amplifying its saltiness.
GlenDronach 12 year old Matured in Pedro Ximénez and oloroso casks, this scotch will heighten the creaminess of the ham while providing some spice to enhance its naturally rich flavor profile.
W.L. Weller Special Reserve This wheated bourbon will complement the wine notes of the Calabrian salami and allow the garlic and spiced meat to shine while providing a backbone of muted oak and honey to help temper some of the spice.
Hibiki Harmony This Japanese blend will tone down some of the spice of the black pepper sorghum salami while balancing the sour notes with honey and white chocolate.
Four Roses Single Barrel This high-rye bourbon will contrast the creaminess and richness of the pâté with anise and sourdough spice.
Glenmorangie Nectar D’orFinished in sauternes casks, this scotch will enhance the creaminess and lightness of the cheeses with citrus, vanilla, and dried fruit notes.
Redbreast 15 year old Aged in bourbon and sherry casks, the fruit-forwardness of this Irish whiskey will complement the cheeses by softening their flavors and adding more depth.
Slane Triple Casked Aged in virgin oak, refill, and sherry casks, this well-rounded Irish whiskey has light sherry and vanilla notes that will tone down the acidic notes of the cheeses.
Hillrock Estate Solera Aged Finished in 20 year old sherry casks, the full-bodied flavors of this bourbon will pair with just about everything on the board. Rich sherry notes and spices interplay with softer wood tones and herbal qualities.
Make Your Own Charcuterie Board
Have the Right Tools“Always have the right cheese knife for the cheese you’re serving. Nothing is more annoying than trying to cut a thick, soft ripened cheese with a butter knife and having it stick all over,” Ouzts says. This goes for all of the items on the board: Make sure the serving utensil—whether it’s a sharp knife for hard cheese, a small spoon for condiments, or tongs for pickles—are functional and up to the specific task. As for the board itself, that’s up to you: Wooden cutting boards are popular, but anything food-safe works.
Start Early You can put together your board several hours or even a day ahead of your gathering, but not before that; otherwise the items will all start to take on the flavors of one another. Keep it tightly wrapped and refrigerated, and make sure to pull it out of the fridge at least two hours before serving. “Good charcuterie is like fine wine or a good scotch: It needs time to open up,” Ouzts says. And be sure to wait to serve your bread or crackers until the last minute, since they’ll get stale if left out too long.
Be Prepared How much food to provide per person will depend on your guests. For heavy eaters, Ouzts recommends three ounces of meat and cheese per person, while for lighter eaters with several options of food at the table you might consider one to two ounces each.
Consider the Season “Food tastes best when you pull from the seasons when it’s most fresh,” Ouzts notes. Seasonality pertains most obviously to the produce items on your board, as meat and cheese are always in season, but you can aim for lighter meat and cheese in the spring and summer and heavier styles in the fall and winter.
Keep It Balanced For meat, Ouzts recommends including at least one “whole muscle” option, which is pieces of meat that are cured whole and then sliced; at least one salami; and, if room allows, a pâté. For cheese, include a variety of textures from soft to hard.
Quality Matters Seek out a trusted butcher or charcutier when shopping for your items—they’re the experts, after all. “Always choose charcuterie that is made right and with responsibility for the animals in mind,” Ouzts says. “Good meat makes great charcuterie!”
Add Extra Flair Include accoutrements that cover a range of flavors and textures, such as seasonal pickles, fresh bread, olives, nuts, fresh or dried fruits, and condiments such as jam, honey, or mustard.
Arranging the Board “We all eat with our eyes first, so make it look delicious and fun,” Ouzts advises. “I like to think of it as organized confusion, with textures, colors, and variety all over the board.” He recommends leaving no empty spaces on the board, enabling as much variety of items as possible.
Crate and Barrel Monogrammed Serving Board—$50 Composed of white marble and mango wood; 12.25”L x 6.75”W (pictured above on the right)
Lynn & Liana Designs Large Acacia—$105 Available in a variety of colors; 20”L x 10 W“
Williams Sonoma Olivewood Rectangular—$60-$140 Available in three sizes ranging from 20” to 28” long. (pictured above on the left)
Brooklyn Slate Board with Handles—$65 Comes with padded feet and soapstone chalk for labeling; 18”L x 12”W