So, you’ve got your plan down . . . flowers, candy, dinner reservations—not so fast! The COVID–19 pandemic is changing the way we celebrate holidays, and this one is no exception. Valentine’s Day is for lovers. And while there will be many restaurants open, many people will opt to stay home for safety. If there are kiddos in the house, the sweethearts this year are gonna be big and small. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways for the entire family to celebrate this love-filled day together. But don’t level down and order a pizza for this one. We’ve all heard the saying, “A family that cooks together, stays together.” And that’s great, but there’s an even easier and special way for the family to do a sweetheart dinner without wreckin’ the kitchen, or the wallet. Let’s call it “cutie charcuterie,” because everyone in the fam can help put together a board topped with tasty treats. I’ll show you how easy it actually is to put a lovely charc board together.
Yessss, that means chocolate, too.
First, let’s talk about these things called charcuterie boards. They’re pretty popular right now, but they’re not new. According to fine foods purveyor D’Artagnan, charcuterie—a French word which translates as “cooked flesh”—generally refers to cooked, cured, or smoked meats. As a culinary art, charcuterie goes back to the Middle Ages, but sausage making technically goes back at least another 1,500 years to Ancient Greece and Rome. European winters can be brutal, and with many food sources running scarce across the winter months, people developed innovative ways of preserving food. Salting, dry-aging, smoking, pressing, and curing meats, whether ground, pasted, or left whole, ensured the availability of meats for extended periods of time. Of course, natural accoutrements to these fantastically preserved proteins include cheeses (often prepared similarly to the aforementioned meats), nuts, fruits (dried and fresh), pickles, preserved vegetables, jams and jellies, mustards . . . and I’m gonna say chocolate.
Sounds expensive, doesn’t it?
Well, consider that baloney is technically a ground, sausage-like product. I know what some of you are thinking, so let me help you here . . . DO NOT cover your board with baloney (for goodness sake). The basics of charcuterie selection and presentation should emphasize a range of textures and flavors that complement the meats. So, I’m going to take some liberties and make some recommendations for you board below.
Cutie Charcuterie: The Meats
Dry-cured sausages (select one or two of these)
• Salami is quintessential, but salamis actually have great range. They can be a beef or a pork product, and all are squeezed into casing, hung and dried, during which time the sausages will ferment. The longer the hang time, the drier it gets, so the mouthfeel will vary from product to product. Saucisson is a French version of the Italian staple, and it often includes additional ingredients like cheese.
• Spanish chorizo—this is a pork sausage that is classified further into “sweet” or “spicy” versions. This is nothing like Mexican chorizo, as it is cured and able to be eaten as is.
• Pepperoni—interestingly, fresh pepperoni is edible as you buy it, but this one is noticeably softer than the others, and we are conditioned thanks to pizza to eat it hot and crispy. That’s honestly how I would serve it.
Dry-cured whole muscle (select one or two of these)
• Prosciutto, the salt-cured, air dried ham is king. Just get some of this, unless you don’t do pork.
• Jamón Serrano is similar, and can be made with different breeds of pig raised on a divergent range of diets, creating distinct flavors. I would forgive you if you passed on prosciutto and went for the Jamón.
• Coppa or cappocollo—similar to prosciutto, this is the cured neck muscle of a pig, prepared with wine, garlic and spices, and is often more melt-in-your-mouth fatty and spicy. My personal favorite.
• Bresaola—Italian style cured beef top round . . . a delicious option for you beef-lovin’ Texans.
• There’s even cured duck breast marketed as “prosciutto,” if you can find it. It is a suitable pork alternative.
For sausages and whole muscle cured meats, I strongly suggest asking your deli assistant to slice them as thin as possible; a “#1” setting on their slicer is the best option. They will often already know this. I think ¼-lb. of each meat is sufficient, considering all the other things you will be adding to the board, but that’s entirely up to you.
Pâté (select one of these)—These are forcemeat products (protein finely ground with fat) generally from the liver, and come from a range of animals, though pork is probably most recognized. They can be infused with additional ingredients like mushrooms, wine, and spices. Their creamy texture plays off the firmer textures of cured meats.
• Pâté de Campagne (country style pate) is commonly found in grocery stores, and often infused.
• Foie gras—the infamous pâté, made from the livers of fattened geese, remains popular.
Cutie Charcuterie: The Cheeses
Now you need to add friends to the board. Generally, I like to add cheeses of different firmness, texture, aroma, and flavor. Kids love the softer cheeses, but a nice mix would include two or three cheese of various firmness, based on these these categories:
• Hard—includes Parmesan, Romano, and Manchego. I generally opt for softer cheeses, but these can be sliced and enjoyed. Parmesan is nutty, Romano is savory, and Manchego being a raw milk cheese is bright and briny.
• Semi-firm—includes Cheddar and Gouda have high protein percentages. Cheddars range in sharpness, and I’ve seen boards with only cheddars. Goudas can be toffee or caramel-like, and can be smoked . . . which I love.
• Semi-soft—includes Muenster, Provolone, and Butterkäse. These are easy to slice and often delicately flavored.
• Soft—includes Brie and Camembert. With a mold-based soft rind, Brie can be baked, and people often pour some preserves over the top of baked Brie and scoop it with crackers . . . more on this in a bit.
• Bleu vein—you either love bleu cheese or you don’t. Gorgonzola is generally the softest flavored Blue.
Cutie Charcuterie: Sweet, Salty, and Sour
With proteins chosen, I like to round my flavors out with a mix of sweet, salty, and sour yummies. Cornichons are sour little pickles. Gherkins are their sweet cousins. I prefer sour, given that fruits already provide sweetness.
Now you just have to have olives. They’re briny, meaty, and sometimes marinated. I love mincing garlic and adding it to lemon zest, sea salt, thyme and crushed black pepper, and tossing olives in that mix with a bit of olive oil. As far as olives, I like to add a selection of a briny green or kalamata olive, as well as a less briny and more meaty black or Castelvetrano (very mellow and emerald green in color) olive.
For nuts, diversion is key, as well. Smoked or salted almonds work great with all meats and cheese, and I like to play them against plain ol’ walnut halves. Walnuts go amazingly well with bleu cheese.
Let’s talk crackers. If you only place one kind on the board (or next to the board), a very mild, buttery cracker is perfect. I personally like plain wafer-like crackers if I serve a lot of soft, spreadable cheese and pâté; especially if they are infused with something. But, herbed and seasoned crackers add extra fun for the taste buds, so this is really up to your own tastes.
Dried fruits like figs and apricots are splendid, and their rich, concentrated flavors pair well to preserved meats and cheese. However, some fresh fruits that slice and bite well add a nice touch. I like to slice Granny Smith apples, and when in season peaches, nectarines, plums, and I’ve even dropped a mango on there once or twice. Grapes are so easy to add, and they look gorgeous on a board. Now, I love berries, especially strawberries, but I suggest leaving them with stems on and whole. Unless you’re allergic, everyone will love those “strawbabies,” adding color and sweetness to your cutie boards.
Okay, now on to the chocolate. You all probably know that there is a range goes from bitter west to semi-sweet, to milk, to white. There’s even a recent new chocolate variant introduced by the Belgian-Swiss chocolatier Barry Callebaut called “ruby” or RB1 that is pink, and has berry-like qualities, which I have found in finer grocery stores in town, and on Amazon. This is going to be up to you to decide based on your preference. But—I have a suggestion if you’re willing to search for them. In the pastry world, finer grocers often sell what are called callets, which are small wafers of these different chocolate types intended for melting into other creations, as opposed to baking them. Cook’s Illustrated has a good article on the difference between wafers and chocolate chips. But they work great on a board because they are about the size of grapes, flattened like coins, and provide just the right amount of chocolate in a bite. If you’re going to pair some wine to your board, remember that darker chocolates go great with bold reds, semi-sweet and milk go well with medium bodied red wines, and sweeter chocolates like milk, ruby, and white go well with sweet, desserts style wines. If you can’t find the little wafers, simply buy your favorite bars and break them into small shards of chocolate, and add them to the board.
During my chat with SA Charter Moms, I will actually put together a Texas-style “cutie charcuterie” board for you, with some added tips to elevate your selection and presentation. But if you want to prep along with me, I plan to build my cutie charcuterie with the following ingredients. We made a printable ingredient list to help you go shopping.
¼-lb. spicy cappocollo sliced to #1 thickness
¼-lb. bresaola sliced to #1 thickness
3-oz. salami sausage sliced thin, but if you like thicker coins, go for it
4 oz. deli-sliced smoked turkey (in case the kids don’t like the other stuff)
1 4-oz. wheel smoked Gouda, sliced into ¼-inch slices
1 4-oz. brick sharp cheddar, sliced into ¼-inch slices
1 2–3 oz. tube goat cheese, and I will mix 1 minced garlic clove, 1 tablespoon crushed rosemary, and 2 tablespoons crushed pecans into it and reshape it into a ball
½ cup smoked almonds
½ cup walnut pieces (the larger the better)
½ cup dried apricots
1 each honeycrisp apple, sliced thin
½ cup cornichons (small pickles)
1 quart fresh strawberries
1 cup red seedless grapes
½ cup green olives stuffed with garlic
½ cup large black olives, pitted
1 3-oz. Lindt 70% chocolate bar with orange
1 3-oz. Cadbury Fruit and Nut Milk Chocolate Bar
20 each Table Water Crackers
2 each bolillo rolls, sliced thin and toasted (you could even make them garlic bread)
3 oz. olive oil
1 pack fresh thyme
1 small container honey
¼ cup stoneground mustard
Salt and black pepper
Charcuterie for Your Cuties
Placement of your ingredients is a matter of preference, as well. I like to start by placing the cheese down first, separated with equal distance from each other. I then layer down the sliced meats and forcemeats next to them with similar spacing. Next, I use small bowls for things like olives, cornichons, grapes (if you de-stemmed them), etc. I then fill the spaces with the fresh fruits, and finally the chocolate as close to the fruits as possible. You want to make sure you either pre-slice the cheese, or add small knives and spreaders to help serve them.
Hey, and if you want to have some extra fun, you can grab some cherry tomatoes, and reference the cheese, olive and tomato skewers I made during my Halloween chat with SA Charter Moms.
Char boards are really simple to make, and they really only depend on your tastes. You don’t have to get crazy with the applications, nor do you have to break the bank to celebrate with your cuties. You might enjoy it so much, that it becomes your new tradition for that sweetest day of the year!
Charter Moms Chats
Watch Chef Dave Terrazas, owner of Foodie Classroom, demonstrate how to make a Cutie Charcuterie board for Valentine’s Day with Inga Cotton on Charter Moms Chats on February 12, 2021 at 4 PM Central live on Facebook and YouTube.
For more ideas about at-home learning experiences you can do with your kids, visit the main page, Charter a Voyage of Learning. If your family enjoys cooking, look at these posts with Chef Dave: Cookin’ Smart in the Foodie Classroom With Chef Dave and . Find more kid-friendly recipes in the Whis-Kid Guidebook.
About the Author
Chef Dave Terrazas is the founder of Foodie Classroom. He is a Texas native, and formerly a defense and homeland security analyst researching precursors of social instability, including hunger and food insecurity. Cooking since he was a child, Dave’s global travels added to a growing interest in the culinary arts, culminating in the launch of a second career as a chef, horticulturalist, and food security activist. Dave holds degrees from American Military University, Wayland Baptist University, and Le Cordon Bleu. Beyond restaurant and institutional food service, Dave has been a private school chef and campus garden manager, a research associate at the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture at Texas A&M University supporting climate-based coffee resiliency research, the resident chef and Culinary and Wellness Program Manager of the San Antonio Botanical Garden, and a managing chef with Mercy Chefs, a humanitarian relief organization that provides food service immediately following emergencies and disasters. Dave is currently a partner of Edible San Antonio magazine, and is launching the magazine’s official podcast in July 2020. Dave also owns Foodie Classroom, an online learning resource that combines STEM standards of learning with agronomic, horticultural and culinary arts concepts, and uses farms, gardens, parks and kitchens as the classroom to create fun, immersive content for learning at home, or in the blended learning environment. Dave serves as education chair for the San Antonio chapter of the Texas Chefs Association (TCA), and additionally maintains a column in Edible San Antonio called Food for the Soul, where he provides a narrative of his work, and covers food security and local foodways-related topics. Dave also plays jazz.