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Photo: Colleen Thompson

A beautiful charcuterie display makes the ideal centrepiece for holiday sharing

East Coast Living has planned an all-local charcuterie and cheese board that’s perfect for your holiday gathering. By showcasing the best Maritime ingredients — including something a little salty, a little sweet, a little crunchy and a little creamy — everything can be displayed like little works of art. This board includes a selection of artisanal cured meats, handmade cheese, freshly toasted baguette, and an array of pickles, preserves, mustard and honey. It’s an interactive, elegant way of entertaining.

Choosing the right board is your first step. Consider the size of the servings. It’s always a good idea to lay out a practice board with items still in the wrappers. This will give you an idea of proportions and where to fill in any gaps. 

Plan on the following proportions per person: two to three ounces meat, two to three ounces cheese, four to six ounces bread or crackers, two to three ounces accompaniments like olives, fruit, etc. and three tablespoons of condiments. From there, scale up as necessary. 

The right board 

We chose a beautiful olive wood board from East Coast Specialty Hardwoods in Dartmouth that comfortably holds enough for eight people and makes a showstopping centrepiece.

East Coast Specialty Hardwoods, Halifax

Sarah Matheson is continuing her father’s legacy and passion for beautiful hardwoods. Bob Matheson launched the business by purchasing one load of lumber 36 years ago. Today, East Coast Specialty Hardwoods carries about 60 species of wood, including walnut, olive, rosewood and maple. The walk-in warehouse is a veritable feast for the eyes if you’re looking for a custom charcuterie board. 

With custom on-site milling, workers can cut, sand and oil your wood to any specifications. Our charcuterie board is custom-cut olive wood with a live edge. 

Olive trees can produce olives for up to 90 years, and the trees are only cut once they stop producing fruit. The wood is visually striking, with its twisted patterns, deep contrasting colours, and brown and yellow streaks. 

What every board needs

A focal point: Start in the middle of the board and build out from there. It could be a striking cheese, like the dramatic black wax Dragon’s Breath, or maybe it’s a beautifully textured pâté.

Something homemade: It doesn’t have to be complicated. A simple fruit compote or preserve is easy to prepare and will add something special to your board. In this case, it’s the fig and balsamic preserve: a quick and simple recipe of fresh figs combined with sugar, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice and rosemary, simmered for 20 minutes.

Make it pretty: Tuck in fresh herbs, scatter dried fruits and berries, and strategically place olives and pickles. Dollop and smear mustard and condiments directly on the board, adding a whimsical touch.

Photo: Colleen Thompson

The Cheese

Pick four to five cheeses with different textures and flavours, like blue, goat, cheddar and gouda. Make it easy for guests to grab a slice or chunk by prepping the cheese in advance. You can slice or crumble hard cheese and cut softer cheeses in half to make them more inviting.

That Dutchman’s Cheese Farm, Upper Economy, N.S.

Dragon’s Breath Blue is a worthy centrepiece on any board. Simply slice off the top and scoop out blobs of pungent deliciousness. This surface-ripened blue cheese has become cheesemaker Willem van den Hoek’s signature piece. Creamy, sweet and tangy; there’s nothing not to love. 

Knoydart Farm, Merigomish, N.S.

Knoydart is a family-owned dairy where Frazer Hunter makes cheese with organic milk from his grass-fed Holstein and Jersey cows. The cheese house overlooks the ruggedly beautiful coastline of the Northumberland Strait, and the cows transfer the unique terroir and salty quality from ocean breezes. It all translates into an outstanding range of organic curds and cheddar cheeses in various flavours.

White truffle cheddar: Sharp with hints of earthiness from truffle mushrooms

Wild herb cheddar: A savoury mix of wild herbs with a piquant cheddar

Cranberry cheddar: A sharp cheddar packed with tart-sweet cranberries 

Armadale Farm Cheese Shoppe, Roachville, N.B.

Owners Hetty and Ian Smyth are carrying on a multigenerational, artisan cheesemaking tradition using milk from their own dairy farm. Gouda is Armadale’s signature cheese. It has a rich, creamy texture to which they add various spices, from cumin and chili to peppercorns and stinging nettles. 

Red hot chili pepper: Adding red hot chili peppers creates a vibrant and spicy gouda

Peppercorn Joop: The cheese combines green and red peppercorns, paprika and garlic, which imparts a spicy, sharp flavour

Photo: Colleen Thompson
Photo: Colleen Thompson

The meat

Charcuterie is an ancient craft based on curing, salting, smoking and preserving. The word comes from the French words “chair,” meaning “flesh,” and “cuit,” meaning “cooked.” It was traditionally only made from pork and offal and could only be sold in stores owned by charcutiers, who would showcase their products by hanging them in storefront windows. 

As with the cheeses, choose a selection of meats with different textures and flavours, like soft and spreadable pate, salty prosciutto, fatty ventreche and hard textured salami. Present each meat neatly by folding pieces in half, creating small nests, and make a trail of cut sausages or grouping in rows of paper-thin cuts.

Ratinaud, Halifax, N.S.

Artisanal charcuterie master Frederic Tandy creates a delectable array of French-style charcuterie meats, sausages, pates and rillettes from his shop in North End Halifax.

Duck prosciutto: Duck breast cured with salt and dry-aged for two weeks

Coppa: Pork shoulder cured with salt, juniper berries and nutmeg, and dried for two months

Ventreche: Pork belly cured with salt and fresh herbs, cold smoked, then dried for one month

Ratinaud pate: Terrine made with pork, liver, pistachio, port wine brandy, seasoning and then finished with a port wine jelly

Duck rillettes: Slow-cooked duck (until the meat falls apart), seasoned and finished with duck fat

Cavicchi’s Meats, Upper Tantallon, N.S. 

Owners Grant and Bev Cavicchi produce a wide variety of smoked products made from lean cuts of pork or beef — or a combination of both — that are mixed with a blend of spices from family recipes. All sausages are stuffed in natural casings and hot-smoked with hand-split hardwoods. 

The smoked ham and Montreal smoked meat are carefully trimmed, infused with a house brine and cured for seven days before hanging to hot smoke in an outdoor house smoker. 

Photo: Colleen Thompson
Photo: Colleen Thompson

The accompaniments

These are the elements that pull the board together. They add contrast and complement the rich, fatty cheese and meats. They can also add sweetness like honey, preserves or dried fruit. For something briny, add pickles and olives. Finally, a little heat in the form of mustard is a must.

Photo: Colleen Thompson

Atlantic Mustard Mill, Murray Harbour North, P.E.I.

Owner and mustard-maker Sabine Schoenknecht mills fresh mustard seeds using a German stone mill. The mill enables seeds to be ground very slowly to maintain healthy mustard oil. 

Pear and fig: A fruity, mild mustard with the distinctive taste of pears and figs. The fruits are purée cooked and added to the milled seeds with cane sugar and sea salt. An excellent accompaniment to cheese and pork

The maple chili: Yellow and brown mustard seeds are combined with vinegar and maple syrup from New Brunswick’s MapleCure. The mustard gets heat from the seeds, homegrown cayenne and habanero peppers — delicious with sausages, cheese and smoked meat

Fortune Bridge Brinery, Souris, P.E.I

Owners Jerry and Marguerite Sentes produce small-batch gourmet pickles. Their signature brine features white and apple cider vinegar, to which they add dill, garlic and spices. Add tangy heat to your board with the spicy spears and chips flavoured with habanero peppers, or add the red pickled onions flavoured with black peppercorns and just a hint of sweetness.

Stingin‘ Hot Honey, Halifax, N.S. 

Halifax Honey Company co-owners Jake Mahoney and Jesse Abbass created Stingin‘ Hot Honey, infusing raw, unpasteurized, local wildflower honey with pickled chilies. It’s sweet at first, then five seconds later your palate catches up and the heat kicks in. Perfect for drizzling all over cheese and charcuterie. 

Photo: Colleen Thompson
East Coast Living