Listen, meat and cheese (and sometimes olives and jams and dried fruits) arranged artfully across a surface is a good thing. I like charcuterie boards. They’re endlessly customizable, nice to look at when done right, generally crowd-pleasing and pretty low-maintenance.
In recent years, we’ve watched charcuterie boards soar in popularity. They’re on restaurant menus, at dinner parties, on Instagram (in a big, big way) and, like any trend, they’ve morphed with the times: they’ve gotten bigger and more elaborate. But two recent charcuterations (that’s charcuterie iterations, mind you) are giving me pause.
Last week I noticed a sudden outpouring of small houses made of sliced meat and cheese. The shingles are made of salami, pretzels form tiny windows on the house’s facade, prosciutto line a pathway to the front door. They looked like the gingerbread houses of my childhood but decorated by someone with a markedly more sophisticated palate (and bigger budget). And before I could really process what I was seeing things got….well, smaller. As if to mock me, the internet led me straight to what can only be described as miniature charcuteries. We’re talking spreads that fit on the size of a cracker or in the palm of their beholder. Don’t believe me? Check out some of these examples:
The art of displaying antipasti was straying so far from its original form—a spread became a shelter, an entire board suddenly bite-sized. I’m all for individual creative pursuits and having fun with food and presentation, but I couldn’t help but wonder, had we gone too far-cuterie?
I reached out to Marissa Mullen our resident cheese plater to see if this was a real issue or all, as the Cranberries once crooned, in my heeeeeeaaaad.
Charcuterie, according to Mullen, actually refers to “the art of preparing and assembling cured meats and other meat products.” Which is to say, we might be using the term a bit too willy-nilly. She tells me of a time she read a headline referring to an array of sweets as “Hot Chocolate Charcuterie,” which is not only incorrect but also kind of weird. I thought suddenly of hummus, another dish whose name a few too many people take a few too many liberties with (remember chocolate hummus?) “I fully support people having fun and expressing themselves through food,” she tells me, “but it’s helpful to take a minute to learn about the traditions and history behind cheeses and pairings.”
As for the chalet, it turns out Mullen actually tried her hand at the edible construction. She tells me that when she first encountered the trend online she was miffed, but after attempting her own aperitivo abode (complete with a cheesy snowman out front), she understood the hype. “With these trends, many people focus on making the most over-the-top creations for Instagram without considering how the items interact with each other,” Mullen tells me. She emphasizes investing in good-quality cheeses, budget permitting, because ultimately taste is of paramount importance. For Mullen, it’s also important to support independent cheesemakers and artisans, as their devotion to craft has serious implications for flavor.
So what’s there ultimately to say about all these flights of charcuterie fancy? Am I really one to critique how people arrange their snacks on a surface? Do I really want to be known as the charcuterie police? As Mullen explained, “These viral trends are helping increase sales and visibility for dairy farms and cheese shops especially throughout the holiday season. Even though they aren’t traditional plates, people are getting out there and expressing their creativity to bring people together. I think that’s great.” It’s lockdown, it’s been a long year, many of us will be spending the holidays apart from those we love. So, if you want to arrange salami in the form of a house, please, be my guest.
What are your go-to charcuterie choices? List them off in the comments below.