When it comes to hosting a great dinner party, there are many factors involved: great (quantities of) wine, excellent food, and the right blend of friends. Our absolute secret weapon to a delicious get together is one thing: a perfectly curated charcuterie board. Not only does it keep guests busy and stave off ravenous pre-dinner appetites, but it’s also chic, classy, and a total breeze to put together. We’ve already gone over the ideal cheese board, and the only thing better than various types of cheese is a meat and cheese board, heavy on the cured salami. To focus ourselves a bit, we’ve selected gorgeous Italia as the locale for this beautiful board, in order to celebrate the myriad salumi available. Get excited to meat your match.
A good salumi board needs a solid amount of choice, so we recommend a mixture of textures, some chewier, some softer, some drier, etc. We love pairing silky, decadent mortadella—a pork sausage studded with pistachios and sliced very thinly—with a chewy, hard salami like finocchiona, which hails from Tuscany and is flavored with fennel seeds. Prosciutto, which just means ham in Italian, comes in many forms—cotto (cooked) and crudo (raw), though you probably eat crudo more often. Prosciutto di Parma is considered the most authentic version, and we recommended balancing its dry saltiness with a softer cooked ham. And, to balance out all that chewing, add some spreadable sausage to the mix in the form of ‘nduja, which is made from different parts of the hog in addition to roasted peppers and spices. It’s got a soft texture and can have a seriously spicy kick to it, so be sure to serve with some crusty bread on the side.
Salty is good…to a point
Because salami is cured, it’s very, very salty, so let’s balance that out with milder flavors. Serve up a sweet compliment—we love the tangy, Italian side known as mostarda, which is made with candied fruits in a mustard syrup (we know, it sounds weird, but just try it). We’re also big fans of adding fresh or dried figs, grapes, and a sweet jam to the board. And, of course, adding some fresh cheeses with a lower salt content—fresh mozzarella buffala or burrata will help balance the saltiness of the salami and people can make a delicious little sandwiches.
Sweet, spicy, and everything in between
In addition to playing with condiments, mix up even more with spicy and sweet meats, too. Capocollo, which comes from the region between a pig’s head (capo) and shoulder (collo) can be found in both spicy and sweet versions, depending on the seasonings used. Pair these together, and guests can look for the similarities and differences in flavor. We’re big fans of culatello as well, which has a sweeter, more balanced flavor and is made from the leg of the pig—it plays nicely with the spicier varieties of soppressata, a dry salami made throughout Italy. With regards to adding more cheese, we love to include at least one hard and one soft, so go pecorino, mozzarella, and maybe a taleggio. For an unreal burst of flavor, throw a truffled cheese in there (try a boschetto al tartufo).
Shapes and sizes
Depending on whether this is the main event at a cocktail party or simply a pre-dinner snack, you’ll want to alter the amount of salumi you buy. (However, if you overbuy, it’s not the worst thing in the world.) We recommend between two and three ounces per person as an appetizer, which you should double if your board is the food focus. And, in terms of varieties, feel free to go basic or wild. A good rule of thumb, though, is 4–5 types of salumi, with a good balance of soft, hard, savory, and sweet.
Add-ons are a must
We’ve mentioned mostarda, fruit, and preserves, but we also love to add some savory notes to our board as well. Olives come in so many varieties, so put a few types out with your meats, balancing a mild Castelvetrano with a more pungent Liguria or Taggiasca. And bread, of course, is a must! If you’re feeling fancy, serve a couple of different breads with the offerings, one of stronger flavor (perhaps sourdough) alongside a simple ciabatta or country loaf.
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