Want to gather friends for an evening filled with food and fun, but don't want to prepare an elaborate menu or slave over the stove on a warm L.A. night? The perfect answer is a charcuterie and cheese tasting, a gourmet spin on deli platter parties that your guests won't soon forget.
The art of charcuterie is thousands of years old, with its origins dating back to Roman times. With a newly modern approach to meat making it possible to find cured meats that are well made, and even healthy, charcuterie has become increasingly popular. Look for artisanal charcuterie that uses high–quality and natural ingredients, preferably organic, and hormone–free meats with fine seasonings, salts and herbs from a place like Claro's Italian Market with locations throughout the L.A. area. There's much to choose from: cured meats, pâtés, terrines and gourmet sausages. Alberto Sollis, of The Rogers Collection, helped us narrow down our choices to Spanish charcuterie and cheese. For charcuterie, he suggests Jamón Ibérico, also called pata negra, a cured ham produced mostly in Spain; Serrano Ham, or mountain ham, is a dry–cured Spanish pork generally served raw sliced thinly or diced; and Cured Pork Tenderloin, from one of the leanest meats available.
To accompany the charcuterie, we've chosen the Spanish goat and sheep's milk cheeses Garrotxa, Zamorano, Manchego and Idiazabal. These are carefully aged cheeses, delicate and intensely flavored, each with their own particular piquancy. Alberto Sollis recommends, as accompaniment, serving Marcona almonds (imported from Spain, these almonds are roasted with olive oil and have a particularly sweet flavor) and fresh sliced pears with quince paste. We like Bartlett pears best for this tasting. They turn a golden yellow when ripe, and their delicate tart–sweetness goes perfectly with goat and sheep's milk cheeses; d'anjou and red pears will work nicely too. Grapes and apples are also flavorful accompaniments. Fruit will provide a sharp, bright contrast to the rich meats and cheese. Serve fresh sliced bread or crackers on the side. Set out bowls of olives. Sollis recommends arbequinas (a small olive with a buttery, slightly peppery taste) and manzanillas (the popular green olives stuffed with a pimento) as two of the most ideal olives to pair with Spanish charcuterie and cheese.
Our wine expert, Mark Oldman, suggests refreshingly light white wines and sweet, sparkling prosecco as the perfect partners for charcuterie and cheese. Be sure to watch our video where Mark gives the list of the perfect wines that are just right for to serve at this party — all under $20.
A few hours before the party, bring the meats and cheeses to room temperature. Sheep's milk and goat cheeses are dramatically more delicious when served room temperature, as is the charcuterie. Estimate about four ounces of cheese per person. Choose one cheese to accompany each meat, and present them together. In our video with Alberto Sollis, you'll learn more about how to make great meat and cheese pairings.
Half an hour before guests arrive, uncork the sauvignon blanc, pinot noir and concha to give them time to aerate and develop their full flavors and bouquets. Keep the Prosecco, Citra Montepulciano and voigner chilled in ice buckets. Set out wine glasses, making sure to wash and dry them if they smell musty from storage; be sure to have plenty of champagne flutes on hand to serve the Prosecco.
Don't limit your presentation to merely a buffet or a dining table, but consider setting up various tasting stations all around the dining and living rooms, on consoles and side tables. Make sure that each station has a pairing of meat and cheese plus a few sides, so that guests can help themselves to the full spectrum of the tasting without leaving their current conversations to get more food. Place everything out in the open, with wine and water on the main table, and dishware, and napkins on the buffet or a smaller table nearby where they can't be bumped or broken.
Since the focus is on the remarkable flavors of the food and wine, keep your presentation simple. Have plenty of serving platters on hand, lots of small plates plus small bowls for olive pits, and extra napkins.