A selection of cheeses and meats is a perfect appetizer option because of its almost universal appeal. The wide array of cheese choices ranging from soft and ripened to smoky and hard will whet just about any appetite. Savory slices of buttery thin meats or the chewy cured flavors of different types of sausages will stimulate the taste buds. But what cheeses pair best with what meats when putting together a cheese and charcuterie combination? Diversity and harmony are key.
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Categories of Cheese
Cheeses span a spectrum of consistency and flavor varieties. Cheese can be soft and ripe, hard, medium-soft or firm, among other consistencies. It can have a mild or strong flavor. Cheese and charcuterie pairings often come in selections of 3 or 5. When choosing cheeses to serve together aim for a representation of different consistencies and flavors, including a firm cheese like provolone, a soft and ripe cheese such as Camembert and a hard cheese like Parmigiano-Reggiano. You can also emphasize different flavors and choose a strong and pungent Roquefort, a mild mozzarella and a brie that is somewhere in between.
Meat Complements Cheese
Meats served in cheese and charcuterie selections tend to be cured. There are two types: whole muscle, which is salted, dried and often smoked; and encased, which is fermented in a moisture-rich environment. Prosciutto and other whole muscle meats often have a nutty and sweet flavor while encased meats like chorizo are more acidic and peppery.
Make cheese and meat pairings that create balance. This can be done by choosing cheeses and meats that contrast with each other to mellow out acidity and saltiness; or enhance one another with one selection bringing out the milder or subtler flavors of the other without overpowering it.
Serving cheeses in blocks with cheese knives gives guests the option of slicing the size of cheese they want. You should provide a separate cheese knife for each type of cheese you serve. This will keep the cheese flavors pure. You can also slice the cheeses before presenting them for guest convenience.
Prosciutto works well with mozzarella. The soft and buttery texture of the Italian ham blends with the mild and subtly sweet flavors of mozzarella. Meanwhile chorizo usually works with an aged Gouda. Gouda has a slightly smoky flavor that adds complexity to the salty and spicy flavors of the Spanish sausage.
Pair by Region
The major cheese-producing regions of Italy and Spain often offer an array of charcuterie choices that pair well with cheeses from the same regions. So when in doubt pair a sharp Spanish cheese with a mellow Spanish sausage. Or choose a delicate Italian sausage to complement a robust Italian cheese.
Wine and Cheese
A soft ripe cheese like brie will go well with a crisp sauvignon blanc or a fruit forward pinot noir. A hard cheese such as grana padano is at its best with a more oak-driven Chianti, Barolo or Brunello.