Saturday, December 31, 2011

Christmas Charcuterie Plate

For my Christmas dinner, I started with a little cold antipasti to snack on- I originally intended this to be the the thing to keep everyone busy while I rested and carved the roast- but the guests decided to wait until everything was ready to sit down, which works just as well for me. My antipasto course consisted of a plate of charcuterie and cheese, a selection of crackers to go with it, and another plate of olives and pickles. While it's a nice way to start a meal, it isn't really all that interesting until you hear what and where about half the charcuterie came from...

So on the right you see slices of sweet Italian Sopressata - this is a dry sausage that is difficult to distinguish from a normal salami. The difference is subtle, but Sopressata is more akin to a traditional fresh Italian style sausage that is cured and dried. In this case, I did nothing special- I simply bought a nice piece of quality Sopressata and sliced it.

In the front left is a smoked mild cheddar. I picked out this cheese on a whim, and while it isn't exactly the best match for my mostly Italian cured meats, it was a nice surprise. It is a fairly mile white cheddar with a good amount of smoke flavor that was actually somewhat addicting. This cheese turned out to be a nice surprise.

In the back is another easy one- a simple decent quality Jarlsberg sliced into chunks. Again, this cheese isn't necessarily the best match for meats primarily from another part of Europe, but it's mild swiss-cheese like flavor and soft, springy texture is something my kids, and the majority of my guests would enjoy. Left alone, I would probably get the stinkiest, most ripe provolone I could find, and maybe a smoked scamorza or an aged asiago... but this isn't all about my tastes, so I went more kid-friendly.

The interesting stuff is in the middle of the plate. Here you have chunks of summer sausage, Italian pepper encrusted ham, and slivers of sweet capicola. Normally, these are fairly expensive deli items, but I purchased them for next to nothing. The secret is to shop at a store that is willing to sell it's deli ends at discount prices. In some stores or delicatessens, you'll need to ask at the deli counter, at others (like mine) the deli staff may prepackage selections of their throw-away ends. Either way, you're likely to find very good deli meats at a very deep discount. The package I picked up was about 1 1/4 pounds of mixed deli meats for only $1.27. When you consider that most of the meats in the package can run around $8 per pound or more, this is an awesome deal. The meats in the photo are not the entire package, there were also a few slices of prosciutto, and a slice of what appeared to be a premium Dilusso salami (I kept those for myself though), and a second large chunk of pepper ham.

The second piece of pepper ham was put to use in one of my side dishes- chopped into small cubes, the peppery added a little pork fat and back pepper kick to my collard greens. That's a large amount of value in that $1.27 package, that would normally either end up in the deli's antipasto salad or their trash bin. Not every deal is going to be as potentially rich as this find, but there are incredible deals to be found if you're willing to eat the ends of the deli meats who's only downfall is that they are too irregularly shaped to make pretty slices.

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