With the weather warming and having been cut off from family and friends I am yearning for a biggish informal party some time soon. Well since this is Australia - a barbecue I guess. But when everybody arrives the first thing they look for, after the greetings and hugs - will we ever be allowed them again? - is a drink and something to nibble on. And this is where platters come in. I talked about a basket of herbs the other day. Today I'm talking about a meat platter.
To be honest this was inspired by the recent episode of Plat du Tour which concentrated on charcuterie. The above picture is of the board that Guillaume Brahimi presented on the program. What struck me about it was how very French it was. It was full of pâtés and terrines, with very little plain cured meats or salami. Not that the French don't do this. Indeed they do and in fact if you choose a charcuterie plate in a French restaurant, you would probably alo get some ham and some saucisson (French salami) as well. French saucisson is not the same as Italian or anybody else's salami which I guess is no surprise. And like all of the charcuterie kind of things, both here and elsewhere it tends to be a very local.
So here are some pretty superficial thoughts on differences between the countries I know best - England, France and Italy. And let's not forget Australia - home of the barbecue after all.
Charcuterie is a French word so let's start with the French. Saucisson - I love saucisson - it's powdery white on the outside and the inside has a slightly musty but pleasing taste. And the French in a most unhealthy way, since there is already a lot of fat in saucisson often eat it with a dab of butter. At least that was how I was introduced to it. They tend to cut it thicker than the Italians too - at least at home. Yes they have ham of course - what it will be like will depend on what part of the country you are in. Then there are the terrines, the rillettes - that we talked about before - and the pâtés, the crowning glory of which, of course, is páte de foie gras. But if you are served a charcuterie platter in France you would also get some olives, and cornichons and mustard and maybe some fruit. Not so sure about the cheese shown here.
Italy is for meat lovers though. Below are two meat platters we were served in Italy. On the left the platter we were greeted with at our beautiful rented home in Abruzzo. The manager of the house did not speak English, and so I think he asked for the help of the wife of the local mayor, and the co-owner of the village salumeria - she spoke English. The products on show here were all home-made and absolutely delicious. We tried to buy some more one day but the shop was shut. And I see there was a little cheese too, but not much. The second platter is the first course charcuterie plate - for one person - in a restaurant in Puglia. Just meat!
And what do the English do? Well these days they have trendy charcuterie makers and so you would probably get a selection of those things in French, Italian or maybe even Spanish style, but there is still the traditional Ploughman's lunch too and here you would find that glory of English cold foods - the pork pie, and also the Scotch egg - I've never been quite as big a fan of that. You might also get things like blood pudding, slices of ham or corned beef together with condiments such as pickled onions, mustard, chutney and piccalilli. Plus bread, some cheese and raw vegetables such as celery and radish.
I do miss pork pies. I have never made one - it seems a bit difficult to me. I mean the pastry is different and you need to make aspic. No - much better to buy one. Occasionally you can find one here but they haven't really caught on. I live in hope that some celebrity chef will promote them one day.
And what about we Australians? Well I think we would probably tend to have a bit from everywhere. Because that's what we are. Local fruit and cheese, middle-eastern inspired dips, sourdough bread or toast, locally made or imported cold meats and salamis, chutneys, mustards, pickles, olives, nuts. Oh and biscuits of all kinds from all over the world. And always served with a drink. It was amazing that almost all of the pictures that I saw of an Australian charcuterie platter had a drink at the side of it. So perhaps we are a nation of alcoholics after all.
We can do posh as well though. We have endless 'artisan' producers of the things you can put on a charcuterie board. Here is one from Philippe Mouchel for example. Somewhat more abstemious perhaps, but I am sure that every item on that board has been sourced and prepared with care.
I have no idea what the Germans would do but I saw this, I think it was English. But it struck me as a different approach - a simple sausage. Well I'm sure it's not simple, but it just shows it's all about the quality of the produce of course isn't it? And the presentation.
So much so that one article I found started with a lengthy discussion on the board you use. Aldi, K-Mart, Target et al. can help you out with that one. Or clean up a leftover slate or tile left over from your most recent renovation.