Last night, I had an amazing platter at Sushi Sasa—all of the kitchen elements worked in harmony: the caliber of chefs; the freshness, temperature, and perfectly sliced fish; the quality of rice and simplicity in seasoning. . .
That sushi plate got me to thinking about meat and cheese plates, because the same components can make or break one: the caliber of chefs; the freshness, temperature, and thickness of each slice, the quality of bread and simplicity in seasoning . . .
I was recently victim of a bad cheese plate at a restaurant up the road: yesterday’s bread, ice cold and week-old Burrata, cappicola cut so thickly that I had to chew it like an oily, meaty, wad of gum, prosciutto as fat as Oscar Meyer bologna. Here are these beautiful (or once beautiful) products, made in the manner they were a hundred years ago with real attention and care, and yes, love, leaving the kitchen with anything but attention or care or love.
In truth, I’ve mostly given up on meat and cheese platters in restaurants because it can be such a disappointing way to start an evening out—-but it has that potential; it could be, should be a wonderful start to a night, whether it’s Friday dinner with the family or Thanksgiving for a throng. These little touches that enhance salumi, they are so small, so simple, that I can lay them out here for the home chef. In five simple steps.
First: Pick up your products from a trusted vendor (probably not the grocery store). In Denver we have Tony’s, Marczyk’s, Chef’s Mart, The Truffle, St. Killians—really, we’re lucky to have a nice assortment of butchers and cheese mongers–people who know what they’re talking about. (If you’re looking for something specific, shoot me an email and I’ll help if I can.)
Second: There’s a reason Berkel makes a slicer just for prosciutto—so that it can be cut to near sheer. You shouldn’t really have to chew it at all. The rich, salty-sweet texture should just melt on your tongue. A butcher has thousands of dollars’ worth equipment–let him use it to slice the cured meat to its appropriate thinness. (Once cut, use it within 24 hours, though, because room temperature meat —see next tip—will oxidize in short order and turn.)
Third: Most meats and cheeses should be served between 68 and 72 degrees–room temperature. Consider food (all food, really)the way you would wine: too cold or too hot, and you lose the slight variations in aroma and all of the nuances in the flavor profile
Fourth: Some cheeses do not improve with age. Burrata, for example, is defined by the Cheese Primer as “meant to be eaten the day they are made.” If in doubt, ask your monger, and serve accordingly.
Finally: Pay heed to the bread. Fresh, grilled, rubbed with garlic after grilling, drizzled with a good extra virgin olive oil. Well done bread will heighten every flavor on the plate.
Don’t make your guests, your date, yourself a salumi victim. It’s easy to be amazing instead.