This past weekend we took a day trip up to the Santa Barbara wine country. While all the rain in Southern California may have been bad for beach days and hikes, it did wonders for the local flora. The Santa Rita hills area are known for two main grape varietals: pinot noir and chardonnay, while others like Syrah are beginning to become more prevalent. The interesting thing about the region is, because of the ocean being so close, there are two different climates for the grapes to grow, depending on which side of the hill. On one side, the soil is sandy and there is more wind, and on the other there is a higher clay content; this results in a lot of variation within each varietal, giving the wine makers more to choose from when constructing their wines.
Now the best part of taking a trip up to wine country, besides being exposed to some of the best wines offered here in the US, is the food pairing that goes hand-in-hand with the tastings! Nothing goes better with sipping a glass of wine is a beautiful meat and cheese board. Here are some of the “must haves” when making your own decadent, yet simple sampling platter.
See you at the dinner table,
You can't begin to create a charcuterie board without first selecting you meats. Make sure to provide a variety or textures and flavors that will compliment the notes of the wine and the other accoutrements.
When it comes to sausages, there are two types that are perfect for a charcuterie board: Smoked and Cured. Smoked sausages are made when sausages are hung in a smokehouse with a cool fire, creating a lot of smoke, preserving the sausage and adding that unique flavor. The reason these are so good for these boards, because they can be eaten cooked, but also as-is. We suggest grabbing a Kielbasa or Andouille and your friends will thank you. Cured sausages include the classic Copa, Genoa Salami, and Chorizo. Grabbing a few of these, and thinly slicing will add that a perfect compliment to your flavor pallet.
Whole Muscle Cut
Like with Sausage, Whole Muscle Cured Meats can be divided into two different categories, Salumis and Bacons. Salumi generally consists of salted and cured pork, however other cured and salted meats can be used. The most popular option for your board is Proscuitto, however if you are feeling adventurous, try an Italian Lardo or Salo. Bacons, as most know, should generally be cooked before serving. You may use a Pork Belly or Pancetta to bring distinctness and higher end quality.
Now people tend to be divided about eating paté however if you are a lover of it like us, this will add a new texture and creaminess to your meat tray, giving yourself a break from the salted options mentioned prior. Paté comes in many forms, from duck to sheep, so try a few out and decide which one you love the most.
It’s important to have different textures when adding cheese to a plate like this, as each type brings something different to your meal.
Creamy cheeses, such as Brie or Goat Cheeses are wildly popular and you can find them at almost every grocery store. If you are feeling like you want to change it up, grab fresh Burrata, creamy Bleu D Auvergne or Smoked Mozzarella to make a statement.
Medium to Medium-Hard
With a sharper flavor, Cheddar is the most familiar of the medium-hard cheeses. Others include Gruyere, Gouda and Jarlsberg. While these are great for melting over a cracker or bread, adding a block for slicing thin wedges will always be a crowd favorite.
While these cheeses aren’t going to be the most popular, it’s always nice to throw a Grana Padano, Pecorino or Parmesan on the board to give your guests other options. People find that many of these cheeses can be eaten by themselves, but we think that pairing them with the mentioned above will help round out the full experience.
Like the meat and cheeses, your bread and cracker decision should be presented with a wide variety. Soft breads, grilled pitas, crispy melba toasts, and classic cracker options will be the best vehicles to enjoy your meat and cheese options.
If you’re like me, you like to have some fruits and vegetables on your board in order to give yourself a break from the heavier items. Raw foods, grilled options, and pickled options (both fruits and vegetables), can really add a much needed relief during your tasting picnic. Don’t be afraid to think out of the box (if you haven’t tried pickled pineapple, you are truly missing out). Think of items like asparagus, grilled eggplant, or peppers that will compliment all your other items, while fresh grapes and refreshing melons will bring out flavors hidden in the wines.
Jams and Honeys are the last piece of the puzzle to consider. The meats, and even cheeses, can bring a lot of sodium to the forefront of your pallet. It is important to balance out the saltiness with something a little sweeter. By adding this small touch, you’ll be sure to enjoy the remainder of your wine tasting adventures!