Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

The danse of charcuterie

Explore how an appetizer platter is more than just food

Charcuterie boards have been a hit in recent years. People talk about the best cheeses, the best pairings on a board or having “board nights,” a night where everyone brings in their own twist on a charcuterie board for a get-together.

Even my girlfriend sent me an Instagram post about a restaurant dedicated solely to charcuterie boards. Perhaps, the social media algorithm has learned the inner workings of my mind, but I see charcuterie boards all over the internet nowadays.

Deriving from France, back in the 15th century, the word charcuterie comes from two French words: chair, which means flesh, and cuit, which means cooked. It was used when talking about cured meats, mostly pork. Food needed to be preserved and in the 15th century, the French started to experiment with different techniques of curing so that none of the meat was wasted and everyone was able to eat.

Charcuterie has always been a special part of my family gatherings. The main dinner table is covered with great appetizers made by my “Memere,” also known as Mem, a French term of endearment for my grandmother.

Mem always has great food at the table, including classic chips and salsa, oily and gooey pimento cheese baked on a toasted baguette. To top it all off, she displays the food on a beautiful charcuterie board with jewel-painted exquisite knives and cutlery.

The charcuterie board has all the finest cheeses, meats, nuts and pairings you could think of. What’s even better is the atmosphere around the board, a place where everyone gathers to snack. When you’re in the kitchen, chatter is common and laughter is abundant. The smell of Kendal Jackson and Geyser Peak wines are as poignant as a smoker’s car. The magic of the charcuterie board brings us together.

Today, we have better ways of preserving food, but it’s still the same concept with charcuterie; everyone gets to eat when it’s out. Go get yourself a little prosciutto and brie, or a fancy assortment of crackers. With everyone being able to come around and eat, it brings us together. Even my little cousins, who stay upstairs and hibernate with their video games, come down to get the occasional cheese and crackers.

It means a lot to me to be able to have a connection with my huge family. My mom is one of 11, so, it can be tough to connect. However, when the charcuterie board comes out, we are able to chat, laugh, see each other and strike up a real genuine conversation. We get to express our love for each other by being together and being present over a good plate of food.

In those moments, I get to see my Mem’s face, she’s stressed out the wazoo. All her hard work, all that painstaking time she spent making so many different foods like green beans, balsamic onions and the classic cherry-red prime rib. Behind the stress, I also see how happy she is when we can come together as a family because the food she makes strengthens our relationships. That’s what makes it worth it.

Ethan and his grandmother for New Years 2016. Charcuterie in the foreground. (Ethan)

Since high school, I’ve had the honor of working at a private fine dining club called Squantum Association.

I have had many chances to make cheese boards since working at Squantum. Before members dine, they always get to pick cheeses with a drink. I would throw cheddar, spreadable goat cheese, grapes, and nuts on a plate. Later, a chef named Paul Boucher was hired by Squantum after COVID-19 and that’s when my boards went up a notch.

Chef Paul and Ethan at the Providence television station WPRI-12. He had a cooking segment about his Surf & Turf a La Mama. (Ethan)

Chef Paul’s culinary art is inspiring. The level of detail with each and every dish makes it an insult to just call it food. You can see his detailed charcuterie boards in his Instagram posts. To give you some insight on his craftsmanship, he cut down and woodworked a tree into his own personal board for charcuterie.

Photo of a wedding charcuterie board at Squantum Association. (Ethan)

The presentation of all the rolled meats, the piles of vegetables and the symmetry on the side is awe-inspiring. This is like what Mem would make, but better; and I needed to replicate it.

I got passionate and asked for the best tips. How to make a meat rose. Fill the entire board with greens. Get experimental! Once I started learning from the best, it started coming naturally to me.

Ethan’s charcuterie board for his girlfriend and her family. (Ethan)

I started making boards for my family and friends. It’s great to see the “wow” on their faces and hear all the food moans while chewing. Best of all, like when I was a child, it’s the way that I can bring everyone together to eat and enjoy each other’s company.

Give charcuterie a try, it’s a real crowd pleaser. Go out there and get a block of cheese and cut it up or go wild with an elaborate arrangement, complete with mouthwatering pairings. Either way, beginner, intermediate or advanced, it doesn’t matter as long as your food brings laughs and love to the ones you care about.

Ethan can be reached at [email protected]

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    Hope clarkeOct 13, 2023 at 12:00 pm

    Great article ethan!!! So proud of you!!!?