With the summer season well under way, we’re finding literally every chance we can to take any meal al fresco. On one hand, you could keep it simple and sit on the sidewalk or patio outside of your favorite neighborhood restaurant, but there’s something to be said for hand-selecting meats and cheeses, finding a bottle of wine, and going on a good, old-fashioned picnic. Whether you’re going on a hike, planning a day in the park, or working on your tan at the beach, this is our perfect formula for a summer lunch on the go.
Quick Primer on Meats
It’s important to know a few basics things when selecting charcuterie. Salami functions as a blanket term for medium-sized sausage, typically made from pork. (Some higher-end brands will use “salame” as the more traditional Italian term). Sopressata is a larger meat block with a much coarser grind. If you’re into big chunks of pork and fat and really want to taste the difference, this is the direction to go. Lastly, there’s the popular prosciutto, which comes in crudo (raw) and cotto (cooked) forms. You’ll readily find crudo forms (luscious slices of cured pig’s leg that have been aged for at least of year) throughout the US.
As with any culinary art form, there are several other varieties of meat (and variations within the above), so it’s best to visit your local meat shop and have a professional walk you through some tasting to learn which you like best. Once you select your meats — or before, you do you — you’ll also want to pick out some cheeses to go with the proteins.
For expedience’s sake, though, here are our top picks for a well-rounded charcuterie picnic.
This French cultured cream is an unexpected, but light and flavorful addition to any charcuterie lineup. It has just enough tang to cut through the myriad strong spices and herbs that are surely happening with the other meats and cheeses on the tray. Plus, it’s produced by a small family farm in Northern California, so you can feel good about purchasing it, too.
No picnic is complete without a summer sausage and you’d be cheating yourself if you didn’t try Olympia Provisions’ version. Mildly spiced with mustard and garlic, it has a tangy flavor that’s perfect on its own or paired with a sharp white cheese.
Iberico ham is always a treat and perfect for a summer picnic. The Pata Negra pigs of Spain feast only on acorns for some of the most flavorful and well-marbled pork ever. Bring along a nice cheese and some crusty bread for the perfect European-style meal.
If you weren’t sure what type of cheese to pair with the jamon, manchego is always our go-to. This mildly-sharp raw sheep’s milk cheese was aged for six months and has a pleasant bite and wonderfully savory flavor.
These are the gold standard of the olive world. They’re easily available and have the perfect salty bite to accompany a large platter of various and sundry delicacies. They’re heavily cured, but come out tender and gorgeous. Just be wary of olives that look *too* green. Your olives should look naturally green — the hue which comes from spending time in a salt bath.
Almonds and cashews are great, but why not give this alternative a whirl? These nuts are seasoned with a variety of flavors including jalapeño, molasses, and onion, meaning they’ll stand up to the intense flavors of whatever meats and cheeses you have on your on the board.
You can never go wrong with the classics, and this tangy, grainy mustard is a testament to that. The French recipe blends mustard seeds with vinegar and red wine for a traditional flavor you can pair with anything. It’s perfect on sandwiches, in marinades, and alongside picnic platters like this.
These Spanish beauties are underutilized in the States and to us, that’s a damn shame. They’re packed in olive oil and are an essential part of the quintessential Spanish tapas plate. A squeeze of fresh lemon juice cuts through some of the saltiness, but pack a couple on a slice of bread and you’ll be whisking yourself any to the southern European coastline in no time.
Not only does this cooler look good, it’s tough enough to take on any tailgate, fishing trip, or whatever adventure you might have in mine. Foil insulation keeps the contents icy cold (or warm) and the navy polyester provides a great shell for all of your new charcuterie and fixins. The aluminum frame keeps everything in check during travel, too.