Secrets to the Best Spring Charcuterie Board with Dickson’s Farmstand

As Spring’s progression treats us to warmer days, we typically find ourselves planning get-togethers outdoors. Bring on the picnics, soirées, and garden parties! At these gatherings, we often see charcuterie spreads make an appearance as a delicious and much-loved option for light bites. But creating the ideal charcuterie board for your next Spring event doesn’t have to be daunting.

The Related Life caught up with Jacob Dickson, founder of the popular butcher shop Dickson’s Farmstand Meats, for a behind-the-scenes look at the elements of classic charcuterie, and to gather his advice on the perfect charcuterie board for your Spring entertaining needs. As part of its emphasis on community and education, Dickson’s hosts classes every Thursday on a variety of topics including butchery, sausage-making and charcuterie. You can consider what follows as your quick-start guide to mastering charcuterie. For a more nuanced take, consider one of Dickson’s classes, held in their gorgeous Chelsea Market space.


The Three Types of Charcuterie

“There are three different segments on any board, which are the main categories of charcuterie,” Jacob says. They are:


Salamis and Salumis

Salami is essentially "ground meat in a tube," notes Jacob. Salumi is salami in a larger-size format. In the process for making both, the meat is ground and then flavoring is added, as well as molds to stabilize and ferment the meat. "Essentially these molds eat sugar in the meat, creating acid that kills off any bacteria," he says. The final step to salami-making is hanging it for slow dehydration in a cave, which is a temperature- and humidity-controlled environment.

"Through dehydration, the acid works with lack of water to create something that is essentially sterile and doesn’t need to be refrigerated," says Jacob. "So we are slowly dehydrating that salami over time to create delicious concentrated flavors that people think of when they think of salami."


Whole Muscle Cures

Whole muscle cures are not ground. They can be made with different parts of the animal. One of the most common examples, pancetta, is made with pork belly. Another type, lomo, is made from the loin, also the part of the body that pork chops are made from. Prosciutto, another popular whole muscle cure, is either boneless leg or bone-in leg (there are two versions). Copa is one type of whole muscle cure made from the shoulder.

"We are not grinding it, but we cure it in salt and spices, and then we hang and slowly dehydrate it as well," Jacob says of the process.


Pâté and Rillettes

Pâté and rillettes are a cooked product, representing another form of charcuterie. "Think of them as fancy meatloafs, usually with higher fat content," says Jacob. "Some may have liver content, which adds to the richness."

Some styles of Pâté have a higher liver content, like Dickson's Pâté Maison, making it almost semi-spreadable. Others with a lower fat content will be a firmer style. "Think of it like a hard cheese vs. a soft cheese," he adds.

Since these are fully cooked products, they have to be refrigerated. That makes them great for meat boards at home, but Jacob does not recommend packing them for a picnic.


What about spices and flavorings?

The spices and flavorings used in making (and selecting) charcuterie are really a personal preference. The Dickson's team opts for clean flavors, and typically goes with just salt. "We go with really clean flavors so most of the time we just opt for salt, and it gives an accurate representation of the pork."

But there are plenty of examples of spiced salamis and whole muscle cures. Consider a spiced Copa: "Spicy capricola is a classic we do. We use different chili peppers, including Calabrian chili, and curing salt," he says. "And one of our highly flavorful salamis is called Maya, made with spices from Mexico City."

Continues Jacob, "Salt is the only necessary ingredient, everything else is up to the necessity of the charcutier. You can do whatever you want as long as you are following basic food safety."

Another flavoring style is to smoke the meat. "Speck would be a good example -- it's very similar to the process of making prosciutto, but is it cold-smoked first, before being hung for dehydration," he explains.

Other common examples of flavors used during the curing processes for these meats are rosemary and juniper.


Can Charcuterie be made with any meat?

Traditionally, charcuterie is made of pork, explains Jacob. There are examples of beef salami, but since it doesn't have as soft of a texture, it is less traditional. Beef salami can be on the firmer side, because beef fat doesn't cure as nicely as pork fat. Nonetheless, it is possible to create salami out of lamb or beef, or even chicken. However with chicken, there can be bacteria issues, because poultry has a higher water content and a higher bacteria content, Jacob cautions.


Jacob’s Perfect Spring Charcuterie Board

Keep reading for Jacob's charcuterie strategy!

Typically I like to do a mix of products; I like to have two salamis, maybe one spicy and one not, or one with a big flavor and one with a more basic flavor. For a lighter flavor, I like Finocchiona, a fennel salami that includes pollen and fennel seed. Then I'll include one of our spicy salamis like the tres chilis. 

After selecting a mild and a hot salami, I would use at least one whole muscle cure, like a prosciutto or a copa. They are thinly sliced and give your board a play of textures, with silky and hard. That would be my basic board.

After that, I like to add all the accoutrements. I would do at the very least, some cornichons, whole grain mustards and marcona almonds. If you like dried fruit, add that. You can also add cheese. We always diversify our boards, so we usually do a cheddar that is milder and creamier in texture, and then aged gouda which is more crumbly and pretty sharp. If you want just one cheese, I would recommend a clothbound cheddar style, which has some age and holds up to the salami flavors.


Thank you to Jacob Dickson and Dickson's Farmstand Meats for sharing this introduction to charcuterie!


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