Meat

What Is a Charcuterie House? And Why Are(n't) You Making One?

From tiny to huge, the latest charcuterie trends will cure your appetizer rut

December 15, 2020
Photo by Mark Weinberg

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.


More Charcuterie On Food52

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Valerio is a freelance food writer, editor, researcher and cook. He grew up in his parent's Italian restaurants covered in pizza flour and drinking a Shirley Temple a day. Since, he's worked as a cheesemonger in New York City and a paella instructor in Barcelona. He now lives in Berlin, Germany where he's most likely to be found eating shawarma.

3 Comments

DianeKirkland January 2, 2021
Who thinks of these topics lately?

Dumb old me was thinking about charcuterie boards and how they could be individualized and what selections could be made so when properly distanced OUTSIDE they could be enjoyed by a guest or two knowing that they would have to take their own leftovers home or discard them.

But what a brilliant idea during a WORLDWIDE pandemic -- make little houses and handle the food as much as possible. Duh.
 
caz M. December 23, 2020
Here's a bit of food for thought.... food safety and health standards. Common sense dictates that I not store cheese and meat together in the fridge. I don't need a bout of gastroenteritis and the fallout that comes with time off work. How would you keep everything separate????? Think of the door, the windows, the walls, the roof shingles. It could work if it was all made in the fridge ---industrial shipping container size if constructed completely of meat or completely of cheese and only brought out at presentation of that particular course. But I wouldn't want to take a risk for a family affair.
 
Amelie December 18, 2020
What a funny and charming article! This made me laugh. Thank you!