The best part of any charcuterie spread is the details, we expect to see the basics such as the meat and cheese but the things that catch our eye, what we maybe recognize and are curious about. The spreads and jams are your chance to get creative, add the best flair that you can think of and watch your friends or guests try and decide what they think. The key to your spreads is making sure the flavour and sweetness will balance the other tray components, such as dry cheese, salty meats and maybe fresh or dried fruit.
The first place to start is just there, knowing what the best pairings will be for your other varieties. It’s always best to play it safe and have one neutral of anything you add to charcuterie, a cheese that’s tasty on its own, a plain type of cracker or bread, a meat that anyone can recognize and maybe some fruit and nuts that can be nibbled on as well. Let’s face it, no one likes to have to ask what they’re about to eat and face avoiding a whole appetizer over it’s unsure components. When it comes to the spreads, the ratio should be if you have 3-4 types of cheese, then 1-2 options for a spread topping. If you have more than 4 types of cheese, then consider having at least 3 spreads.
Let’s take a pause- do you know the difference between jam, jelly and preserves? While they often get lumped together (no pun intended) the difference in texture can completely alter someones pallet and preference. Here’s a quick breakdown- jelly is the smoothest and is made with fruit juice before being heated to create its density. Jam is similar but has its fruit fibres often left in it, sometimes leaving tiny pieces of fruit or seeds throughout. Preserves is made the thickest as it is finely chopped fruit that is then mixed with sugar and folded until a paste texture is created. Hopefully this helps clear up any questions or confusion as we go on about spreads!
For some easy add ons to your board, we can go through the basics. Starting with fig jam being the most well rounded addition. Figs have so many hidden notes such as honey and fruit which brings any combination against it to life. If the thought of figs is too daunting, simplify it further by having honey and strawberry jelly on your tray, this allows for fresh and sweet variety that everyone can recognize and even combine for the ultimate creation. Sticking among fruit jellies, some other popular options are apricot, cranberry and cherry. While grape jelly is tasty, our suggestion is having fresh grapes right on the board to fill in space and as a pop of colour!
A rule of thumb to keep in mind is the sweeter the jelly the more mild the cheese should be that pairs with it. Cheese doesn’t have any sugar so by adding a spread to it, you instantly are creating a level of sweetness. If your board is filled with bold flavours and more mature cheeses, then step up the jelly with some spice to balance it all out. Softer flavours of cheese such as brie, mozzarella and feta pair with the classic jams like fig and strawberry. Sharp cheddar, smoked gouda and parmigiana can hold up against the stronger apple, black currant or pepper jellies. A classic pairing in desserts is lemon and ricotta, so if you have an extra soft cheese component on the board, having a tangy lemon jam will add a fun punch of flavour. The dry and crumbly cheeses can hardly pear and plum jam or orange marmalade.
The presentation matters and is what will draw guests into the charcuterie as a whole. It is important that each spread is labeled so guests know what they’re diving into. With this, each spread should have its own spoon or knife for spreading so there’s no room for mess or flavour mixing. A fun tip is to use unique bowls for each spread to create another texture and colour element to the board. This can also contrast nicely against the boards texture. This is all just edict to ensure you have the best charcuterie experience for your friends and guests.
Have fun with your spreads, throw some excitement at your guests and let them venture with how they combine things. The diversity of a tray will be the talk around the table and no one will ever complain about too much variety. Taste everything in advance so you have flavour notes to give at your party and let everyone know your the pro with spreads and jams!