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Charcuterie Magic

 

Charcuterie board built by Urban Farmer Denver Cheese Steward, Michele West. (Photo courtesy of Urban Farmer Denver)

Ah, charcuterie. Foodies have come to love the romance behind this word that can evoke picnics as much as the expertly prepared boards by chefs from our favorite gastropubs. ’Tis the season for wowing your friends and family with the best spread from now ’til New Year’s, and then again, we know it’s always an appropriate time for meat, cheese, and drink pairings.

If you’re preparing the perfect charcuterie board at home, you won’t be disappointed stopping by shops like St. Kilian’s, Elevation Meats, Il Porcellino, or even the ever-growing Murray’s display at the good ol’ King Soopers. If you can’t wait until the party, get a quick fix over at Masterpiece Deli that just found a new home inside Old Major.

Spots like Molly’s Spirits, Mondo Vino, and the infamous Argonaut will be well equipped with choice drink pairings—keeping in mind, more wine is consumed during the holiday season than any other time of the year. So in keeping it local, the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board has got you covered on some of the best exploration of Colorado wines, such as selections from this year’s Governor’s Cup winners.

If you want the best of both worlds, sip local libations while you visit the butcher shop (and so much more) at the new community-minded Leevers Locavore market on West 38th.

The Colorado Wine Industry Development Board boasts award-winning wines of our very own terroir. Any wine from Plum Creek Winery, Palisade will pair perfectly with a variety of meats and cheeses. With holiday turkeys and hams, try The Storm Cellar Dry Riesling, West Elks or the Cabernet Franc, Grand Valley with any other entrée. The Best in Show winner Qutori Wines Syrah, Peonia goes great with desserts, balancing the sweetness of fruit, cookies, or chocolate. (photo courtesy of CWIDB)

We at DiningOut decided to take our favorite route toward creating the perfect charcuterie pairing—asking the experts in the field. We had the pleasure of sitting down with masterminds from three food establishments who offered a most palatable and thoughtful insight on one of the most crowd-pleasing pastimes of a shared spread.

Experts like the longtime chefs over at Tony’s Market, who recently earned a special visit from a real-deal Prosciutto di Parma rep out of New York—that in turn earned our hearts, learning all things slicing, storing, and preparing this gold-prize slice of heaven paired with the best fruits, cheeses, breads, and even chocolates that Tony’s is known for.

Michele West comes to us from Urban Farmer, as the LoDo hotspot’s very own in-house cheese steward curating charcuterie boards tableside and tabletop with some of the most surprising pairings of not only wine, but also bright cocktails for a one-of-a-kind experience honed for the occasion.

Monica Dubar is responsible for moving ELWAY’S Downtown to the top of your restaurants-to-visit bucket list, as this sommelier in the spotlight just introduced a shiny new Le Cruvinet wine preservation system that allows guests to taste on wines previously unimaginable while “tapping” into storied vineyards over paired tastes, pun intended.

Whether you’re looking to try an unforgettable meet and cheese board hand-designed by the greats, or looking to impress your family with curated drink pairings for your gatherings, we’ve got the insider tips that will blow the minds of your holiday guests—and that’s a promise.

TONY’S MARKET
{7421 West Bowles Avenue, Littleton (multiple locations); 720.377.3680}

Prosciutto di Parma presentation by Francesco Lupo at Tony’s Market Littleton. (photo by Sarah Carpenter)

Anyone in the business of specialty meats and cheeses will offer a “charcuterie 101” standard that might go something like this: combine cheese textures of cream-base, soft, semi-soft or semi-hard, aged, and blue, while encompassing cow’s milk, sheep’s, and goat; pair with meats like salami, capicola, and prosciutto; along with accoutrements like fig spread, jams, whole grain mustard, cornichons, olives, and nuts; topped with crusted or soft breads and light crackers.

All of this and more can be found at Tony’s Market. Tony’s has been a neighborhood staple in Denver for nearly 42 years, expanding modestly across the Metro area as a specialty grocer with a resident butcher at each location and with founder Tony Rosacci still a focused member of the markets. Tony’s continually offers events from catering to barbecues, and this fall saw a very special visit from Francesco Lupo, an ambassador of Prosciutto di Parma.

Let’s face it, prosciutto is going to be a main ingredient on any of your platters (or downright should be), so let’s talk about it.

Lupo spent the greater part of his years in The Bronx, and has since globe-trotted across Italy, Canada, and all across the U.S. teaching classes and trainings on the integrity, preparation, and history of the crowned Prosciutto di Parma, schooling us all on why Parma is King.”

If you are one of the serious wine shoppers out there who will be looking for the DOP labels for your vino pairings, this one is for you. Prosciutto di Parma also carries a Protected Designation of Origin, or DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta in Italian), protecting its identity and terroir, and traditions passed down by generations forbidding the use of additives, preservatives, or hormones, and the unique air-curing method.

That might be a lot to swallow, but not to worry—Tony’s takes pride in having conversations about where your food comes from and how to best enjoy it. Even more, Lupo conducted extensive training with the chefs at each Tony’s location on everything from how to properly slice the product to how long you have to consume it (hint: best within 36 hours).

You’ll also find all the capicola, Genoa salami, and pepperoni galore, along with market favorites like Havarti, Jarlsberg, and fresh mozzarella to build your board. Lupo reminds, “sometimes less is more” in a spread. He says avoid balsamic vinegar, as it can overpower other flavors, and instead utilize olive oil to drizzle or dip, and cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano from Parma, Italy, which will pair perfectly with the king prosciutto of the same region.

Chef and Manager Mike Silvestri of Tony’s Littleton pulls all the stops on ingredients. His board might have a sharp aged cheddar, a briny blue, a sweet goat cheese, Manchego, and a brie. Toss in a Mediterranean mix of olives, dry apricots, fig spread, even chocolates, and especially almonds—Marcona almonds, “the queen of almonds.” Tony’s Marketing Manager Jessica Wolford mentioned, “You can even place your almonds in a wine glass for presentation.”

Executive Chef Mick Rosacci (and son of Tony) encourages little hesitation with creativity. “You really can’t build a wrong board. Do what you like, and match it to your meal,” he says. “If it interests you, excites you, is fun, then it’s the right board for you.” He even suggests setting out items individually and letting guests build their own boards.

Finish with just the right baguette or water cracker, where such items become “A blank canvas,” says Chef Silvestri, “the cracker is what I’m going to put my painting on.”

URBAN FARMER
{1600 17th Street, Denver; 303.262.6070}

Charcuterie board built by Michele West, in-house cheese steward for Urban Farmer Denver. (photo courtesy of Urban Farmer Denver)

Adjoined to The Oxford Hotel in LoDo, Urban Farmer is a modern steakhouse that knows how to make sustainable sourcing taste delicious (psst, #10. in this summer’s Things We Love.) And Urban Farmer’s Cheese Steward Michele West knows a thing or two about building the perfect charcuterie board.

This self-taught expert started as a host, then was recognized to man the famous cheese cart at Urban Farmer, to officially settling behind the “cheese bar,” complete with an antique wooden refrigerator, where crafting boards and educating guests is how she happily spends her time.

Our witness of West’s favorite pairings begins with the highly-acclaimed, American-made blue cheese, Caveman Blue, with Late Harvest, a Muscat from Royal Tokaji. While we are just as intrigued by the pairing of a pungent blue cheese with the light and sweet flavor of a Hungarian dessert wine, the two dance heavenly on the palate.

Note: when we say “highly acclaimed,” we’re talking about Rogue Creamery out of Oregon’s Rogue River Valley that just took first place in the World Cheese Awards in Italy for its Rogue River Blue; with Caveman Blue claiming its own series of national awards.

Other pairings include a light and creamy goat cheese, First Snow, out of our very own Jumpin’ Good Goat Dairy in Buena Vista, next to a Precendent Chenin-Blanc, which went down smooth the whole way. Urban Farmer’s signature cocktail, the Old Curmudgeon—Maker’s Mark Private Reserve, Rittenhouse Rye, Aperol, Cynar, lemon, and Urban Farmer pepper jelly—went with the Holland Beemster Gouda, and the result was a sophisticated play on orange zest in its finest.

“I love the combination of this rich cheese with an 80 or 90 proof bourbon; anything higher and you run the risk of numbing your tastebuds. As bourbon ages, it gets those cinnamon and vanilla notes, and both Gouda and bourbon have a nice sweetness that complement one another. When it comes to pairing wines, we often look for contrasting flavors, but when pairing cheese and spirits, I find complementary flavors work best,” West explains.

Featured for the holiday season is Urban Farmer’s selected “Christmas Cheese” Tomme de Croquants, a walnut liqueur-infused soft French cheese. West pairs this with G.D. Vajra Langhe Rosso, when combined, was reminiscent of nuts and cranberries.

But perhaps the most interesting taste-test was a thin slice of the Norwegian Gjetost (yay-toast), made from whey and a combination of goat’s and cow’s milk. This unique cheese doesn’t fall necessarily on either the sweet or savory side, but to some, provides flavors akin to peanut butter or caramel, and it truly does melt in the mouth.

It also wouldn’t be a proper cheese celebration without brie and bubbles. “My favorite cocktail is a French 75 (Champagne, gin, and lemon juice), which I find pairs well with high fat cheeses, such as a triple cream like Délice de Bourgogne. The acid and bubbles in the French 75 help cut the fat in a triple cream or brie, and the duo make a great combination for dessert,” says West.

Her expert tips for putting this all together include placing any liquids or spreadables on the board first (like mustards, jams, and soft cheeses), as they are hard to move later on. With a delicate flourish, West demonstrates by spreading a soft cheese and a rillette on each side of the board, then carefully folds slices like coppa and lonza in a rose-like pattern, placed in spirals facing upward. “When left at room temperature, the fats from the meats actually solidify to the board, holding the floral design upright.”

The design of a charcuterie board is one of West’s favorite aspects of her cheese monger profession. She emphasizes the importance of using different flavors and textures, even fresh honey (like the honeycomb from Urban Farmer Denver’s rooftop Langstroth beehives), and assembling it all into a carefully-thought, artistic fashion.

It’s a team effort at Urban Farmer Denver, with no employee left untouched in collaboration. Bar Manager Andy Owens is a wizard when it comes to selecting the right herbs with spirits and making the complementing flavors sing, partnering with West on selected pairings. General Manager Susan Wieser is a culinary artist in her own right, enhancing a Euro-style way of small-bite eating to the experience, allowing the simplicity and beauty of local products to shine.

ELWAY’S DOWNTOWN
{1881 Curtis Street, Denver; 303.312.3107}

The Gaja Pieve Santa Resituta Brunello di Montalcino “on tap” from the new Le Cruvinet system by Sommelier Monica Dubar at ELWAY’S Downtown, Ritz-Carlton Denver. (photo courtesy of ELWAY’S Downtown)

Now that we’ve made headway on meats, cheeses, and cocktails, let’s talk about wine.

Monica Dubar has been leading the wine scene in Denver lately, and is ELWAY’S Downtown very own in-house sommelier. We went “behind the bottle” with Dubar earlier this year—and since, she won an employee “Shark Tank” contest that brought a wine preservation system to the restaurant allowing guests to taste high profile wines at lesser costs and portions. The Le Cruvinet system was unveiled just in time for the holidays, and Dubar has some stories to pour.

If you really want to up the ante for your holiday guests, strut on in to the Ritz and meet up with Dubar to taste the likes of the giant of Napa, Opus One, perhaps a Beaune Clos de la Mousse from Burgundy in France, or a Renato Ratti Barolo from the Alps region of Piedmont in Italy.

You might be thinking, these wines are typically only by the bottle and priced in the $100s, right? Well, yes. But thanks to Le Cruvinet, these wines and about a dozen more curated by Dubar are available for the shorter end of single and double digits as “Sommelier Reserve Wines, Wine by the Glass” in 3- and 10-ounce pours, and full glass.

The Blueprint Sauvignon Blanc by Lail Vineyards is on tap, and also makes for a reasonably priced wine to shop and take home. “This is a wine I could drink every day,” says Dubar. Here, you won’t find the grassy characteristics of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, but rather, the tropical fruits and zesty citrus flavors made in the warm climate of the Rutherford valley just north of Napa. This wine sits close to Dubar’s heart, as she traced the family lineage of Robin Lail who made the vineyard legacy her own, even seeing the vines that produced the first grapes.

“Blueprint cleanses the palate,” Dubar says, “and makes for a lighter nuance of pairing. The key to pairing wine with food is to match flavor profiles. This is a light, young wine. You want to pair light, young wines with young, mild cheeses, like brie for example.” Similarly, Dubar takes the Brunello di Montalcino by Gaja on tap and pairs with a sharp cheddar. “It’s a big wine with rich, earthy notes, and no one flavor dominates another.”

Dubar will take you through Cali’s Russian River Valley, discovering the Hartford Court Arrendell Vineyard Pinot Noir. Cultivated in one of the coldest pockets of this region, vineyard managers wear snowshoes to prune vines, and put their “heart, sweat, and tears into this wine,” says Dubar, explaining that even the vines have to work harder to stretch for nutrients in such climates, resulting in a “complex, and savory, earthy, and peppery characteristic.”

Dubar will have you “traveling” across the best of Oregon’s coast, every region in Italy, and with the champions of France, and more. “These regions offer a sense of place, and it’s all about the origins. I want to take you somewhere with these wines.” With the help of people like marketing extraordinaire, Derek Kokinda, he further elevates your experience to a level of genuine hospitality while providing a space for the chef’s, sommelier’s, and purveyor’s stories to thrive.

So what might juicy traveling stories have to do with charcuterie boards, you might ask?

Well, we happen to think that when it comes to selecting high quality meats that embark from, say, Parma in Italy, discovering award-winning cheeses that are aged in local caves, or cocktails that are mixed with housemade pepper jelly, are all—already arriving with their own stories. You can get into foods that can be cleverly paired with wines of the same region, talk about the back story of the local dairy farm that makes the cheese, explore with the vineyard families, or better yet, tell your own story about where that tasting takes you down memory lane. The charcuterie is your story board, and the items will taste better paired with stories.

 

By Sarah Carpenter, Editor & Erica Buehler, Content Editor