Before it gets a little weird, let's get something straight about charcuterie. It's a branch of cooking devoted to cooked meats including ham, sausage, terrines, bacon, galantines (not the holiday celebrating the love you have for your girlfriends, but a dish of white meat or fish bones, cooked, pressed in aspic and served cold), confit and pâté. Before refrigeration, charcuterie was a way to preserve meat. Modern charcuterie boards are more than meat and typically include cheese, crackers, fruit, nuts, pickled vegetables, preserves and more. They're popular fare for home parties; I can't think of the last get-together I attended without one.
If you love arranging your own charcuterie boards, I recommend following the Instagram account Cheese by Numbers or picking up the book, "That Cheese Plate Will Change Your Life" by Marissa Mullen for step-by-step inspiration. If you don't have time to make your own, order from the Board in Bend food cart, located in The Podski.
For $25 I ordered charcuterie for four people that included house made pork rillette, lamb and pistachio terrine, Calabrese, summer sausage, salami rosa, pepperoni, mustard, pickled red onions, nuts, dried fruit, grapes, tomato jam, Italian fontina, Spanish aged goat cheese, parmesan, Willamette Valley gouda, French brie, emmenthal and blue cheese arranged artfully on a wood board with a side selection of crackers, crisps and focaccia. It was a treat to have a wide range of flavors and textures to build all kinds of interesting bites. As much as I enjoy building my own boards, it's not affordable to include that many components.
Most people can't resist the combination of meat and cheese—but there is a movement, via Pinterest, to shift what ends up on the board, and it's pretty sweet. Dessert "charcuterie" is becoming a thing fueled by holidays as a way to put a kaleidoscope of sugary treats, such as chocolate dipped fruit, cookies, toffee, chocolate and candies, on full display. With Valentine's Day is just around the corner, it's a perfect opportunity to take this new trend for a spin. I found a color theme, such as pink and red, is a simple way to harmonize the plate while displaying a range of goodies. To add some visual interest, place a small cup on the board and fill it with something tall, like Pocky chocolate covered biscuit sticks, rock candy sticks, chocolate covered pretzels or rolled creme filled wafer cookies.
One more appealing trend may have you passing up the salami: French fry "charcuterie." We're talking a plate with a cornucopia of french fries, in all shapes and sizes: shoestring, curly, waffle, crinkle, wedge—and even though it's not a fry, tater tots. Served with a selection of dips, this starchy charcuterie is simply irresistible. It's also remarkably simple to make if you purchase frozen fries. It actually hurt me to write that; I'm usually an advocate of from scratch cooking, but in this instance, I can't see the benefit. It would be extremely time consuming to cut and prep several different shapes of potatoes and sweet potatoes, then batch fry them before your guests arrived. I've fried appetizers while guests were in my kitchen, and from experience if you get the temperature wrong the smell of burnt oil does not dissipate for a very, very long time.
For the sides, ditch the ketchup and get a little fancy by opting for spicy mayo (sriracha and mayonnaise). If you can't take the heat, traditional fry sauce (one part ketchup, two parts mayonnaise). When I made my own fry board, I also included horseradish dill dip and red bell ranch dip. You can make your own dips from scratch, but the dip packages from Savory Spice Shop are so delicious and all you have to do is add sour cream. An unexpected perk of this fry- based charcuterie is that it's easy to accommodate most dietary restrictions. It's gluten-free as long as the fries aren't coated in flour, and if you serve non-dairy dips, it's vegan.