Holiday party season's just getting into full swing, which means it's time to equip yourself with a few seasonal staples and to take some basic measures to ready yourself for your nights out. If you're prepared, it'll be easier to relax and fully enjoy all those holiday parties, instead of scrambling at the last minute or feeling caught off guard. Make friends with your cheesemonger to get some standbys to bring or serve, perfect a cookie recipe to bake in a pinch, pick out an agreeable, affordable wine to give as gifts or help you get through the inevitable stress, and a pro-tip from HuffPost Taste? Brush up on your charcuterie knowledge so that you can put together a holiday party stunner.
Whether you're hosting or attending, your parties are bound to have the obligatory items: the punch bowl, the cheese plate and the Christmas cookies. If you're lucky, or making the right decision, there will also be a charcuterie plate. Nothing says "celebration" more than a fancy plate of meat -- at least according to us here at HuffPost Taste. Thin slices of prosciutto and salami, with some pâté and rillettes thrown in for good measure, are enough to motivate us off our couch and out into the cold to make it to our not-so-close-friend's Christmas party.
If you're looking to coax your crew to your party, building an awesome charcuterie plate is impressive as it is easy. We spoke to some butchers and charcuterie experts to learn what new items and techniques we could bring to the table this year. Here are 11 ideas to help you build a better charcuterie plate. We're so inspired we're already envisioning next season's charcuterie occasions. Once the holiday fervor has passed, we fully expect these ideas to accompany us through spring and into summer picnics, because it's always a good time for charcuterie.
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Scott Bridi, founder of Brooklyn Cured
, wants to see lots of diversity on a charcuterie plate. Bridi grew up in an Italian American household in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, where family gatherings often meant large platters of charcuterie. He looks for a lot color from things like pickled vegetables, whether they're store-bought or homemade. He also looks for variety in texture: There should be something spreadable, something thinly sliced and something you can cut yourself.
Make a lot of giardiniera
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Don't skimp on these wonderful Italian pickled vegetables. We repeat: Do NOT skimp on the giardiniera. Nothing is better then the snap of these crunchy vegetables and the tang of their vinegary taste for cleansing the palate to make way for MORE MEAT.
Serve some duck
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Hudson Valley Duck Farm
makes duck prosciutto, duck bacon, duck sausage and duck salami, among other duck products. Duck, duck, go get some. You'll be glad you did.
Get creative with your pickles
You can pretty much pickle anything
, and your charcuterie plate is the perfect place to showcase your creativity. Serve pickled mushrooms, cauliflower or cranberries, and watch them disappear faster than the meat they're accompanying. Seriously, you can pickle grapes
, so you probably should. You know they'd taste amazing with your sopressata.
Make good use of your holiday ham
Bridi of Brooklyn Cured
suggests slicing up a smoked maple bourbon ham that's marinated in small-batch bourbon and dark brown sugar. He had us at "smoky," "maple" and "bourbon."
"Get weird with it."
Ben Turley, the "Sausage Maestro," at Brooklyn's The Meat Hook
, wants you to get weird with your charcuterie plate. "Nine out of 10 boards are exactly alike and it's boring. Ditch the prosciutto for rillettes. Try making some of the stuff going on your board rather than buying it. Rillettes and rillons are two things that are fairly easy to make at home that are delicious and not many people have had them. Branch out into interesting flavors from different makers. Places like Olympic Provisions
in Portland are making world class charcuterie and they ship. Do 20 minutes of investigating and it'll be worth the while on your board." Read on to find out more about rillettes.
Rillettes, pronounced ree-yet, is shredded meat -- typically pork, duck or rabbit -- that has been cooked slowly in fat. It's served in a jar with a spoon or knife to spread over bread. You can make it at home or buy it from your butcher. In addition to making traditional duck and pork rillettes, Brooklyn's The Meat Hook
makes bacon rillettes, which, "unlike [their] fancy rillettes... is perfectly at home on a saltine cracker with some peanut butter and maybe a dab of jelly."
Serve fig salami
Vegetarians can enjoy your charcuterie plate too, and they needn't just be relegated to the giardiniera. Long Island City-based Carlito's Cocino
makes a fig salami, which is pulverized fig mixed with wine, bourbon, spices and salt and piped into tubes like sausage. Trust us, it tastes amazing. Don't believe us? Watch this video
to see how it's made and you'll be convinced to go try some yourself.
Serve good bread
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Bake your own bread or seek out a good loaf. Turley of Brooklyn's The Meat Hook
says, "just don't give people day old Italian loaves anymore. "
Better yet, grill the bread
Charles Wekselbaum of Charlito's Cocina
suggest grilling bread on a cast iron skillet. "If the bread isn't super fresh and delicious, grilling, or even toasting, will really turn it around. The warmth from the bread will really open up the multitudes of flavors in a tasty salami." We're sold. (Here's a foolproof recipe for grilled garlic toast
Let the meat do the talking
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Now throw away all the advice we've given you about stepping up your accoutrements and focus. A good charcuterie plate really comes down one thing: high quality, interesting meat. Ask your butcher questions and splurge if you must. It's the holidays after all, and this might be the best present you can give yourself... and all those other people you're supposed to be sharing with.
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