Instagram became a hotbed for charcuterie boards during the pandemic; currently, there are more than 1.5 million posts using the hashtag #charcuterieboard, with novice and professional chefs vying to outshine each other. Most center around meat-and-cheese combos, but some feature sweets, fruit, seafood and more, all artfully arranged.
With dine-in and catered events business on the way back, chefs are building on the popularity of charcuterie and its ease of execution and taking the traditional boards and platters to the next level.
“Chefs have had the gift of time during the pandemic; time to think outside the box,” said Thomas Horner, Complex Executive Chef at The Westin Bellevue and W Bellevue in Bellevue, Wash. He has found new ways to menu and present charcuterie at banquets, for in-room dining, at the restaurants’ bars and as part of an amenity program at the hotels.
“I try to incorporate ingredients that tell a great story,” said Horner. Many of the cured meats he uses come from the Pacific Northwest, sourced from woman-owned companies and producers that prioritize humanely raised animals and proprietary spice blends.
Typically, charcuterie meats are pork-based, but Horner also creates combos using a new product, Australian lamb charcuterie, that comes in pastrami and ham variations. Along with local smoked salmon and house-made duck prosciutto, lamb offers more options for halal and kosher guests.
As an amenity, the kitchen creates individual charcuterie plates or boards to offer guests in-room. A classic combination may include sopressata, a fennel-flavored salumi and a couple of artisan or farmstead cheeses. The assortment usually comes along with a condiment such as quince paste or local honey to balance the salt and spice from the meats with something sweet.
“People are looking to add small amounts of protein as a snack or addition to a meal, and charcuterie does the trick,” Horner said.
At the bar, the hotels do a happy hour plate that’s shareable. It features three meats, three cheeses and accoutrements such as condiments, nuts, pickled vegetables and/or dried and fresh fruits. “The ingredients all have a good shelf life and the preparation is very low labor,” said Horner. “We either buy the condiments or make them ahead in house. All we have to do is arrange the ingredients.”
Although banquets and catered parties are slowly coming back at the hotels, some guests are hesitant to share from a large charcuterie display. Horner has been doing more individual plates that are vacuum-sealed or wrapped in parchment so each customer opens their own. When he does serve shareable platters, he keeps the fruit, nuts and condiments separate so the meats and cheeses can be replenished without sending the whole presentation into disarray.
Jason Hernandez, chef-owner of Blade & Tine Culinary Consulting and Graze Street AMI on Anna Maria Island in Florida, creates charcuterie cones for catered events. “These are a more sanitary alternative to the full board and a way to serve charcuterie in a mobile capacity,” he said. “Guests can grab these cones, made from bamboo or palm leaves, as a server walks around to pass them.”
Hernandez recently served the cones to 1,000 people from his booth during a Christmas Walk on Anna Maria Island. “It’s better to use sliced meats and cheeses instead of the crumbly ones, and I often add nuts, dried fruits and a garnish of edible flowers,” he said. For a board, softer cheeses like mozzarella and brie or a spreadable herbed cheese can work.
Charcuterie boxes—what Hernandez calls “grazing boxes”—are also a hot item and allow for more flexibility. Goat cheese disks rolled in everything bagel seasoning, agave-rosemary lamb ham and mango habanero honey are some of the ingredients he recently tried. “People leave the creativity to us,” he said.
Sourcing is also a priority with Hernandez, and through his years in the business, he’s formed relationships with many artisan producers. His meats are small batch-aged and include prosciutto and capocollo—never the more commonplace pepperoni. A special mustard comes from Indianapolis and olive oil from California.
“I utilize elevated products from chef friends and partners and try to drive food trends here by staying ahead of everyone else,” he said.
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