Charcuterie boards have become a popular appetizer for entertaining. The artfully arranged display of cured meats, cheeses, fruits, nuts, and other accompaniments makes for an elegant presentation. While simply laying slices of meat flat on the board is an option, properly folding and rolling select meats can add visual interest and new textures to the board. The technique helps prevent delicate meats from drying out, and allows you to wrap and bundle ingredients together.
With the right techniques, folding and rolling thin slices of cured meats isn’t difficult. The key steps include properly selecting and slicing the meats, understanding how to best handle each type of meat, arranging the folded meats for service, and pairing them with complementary ingredients. This guide will cover the ins and outs of folding a variety of meats to create eye-catching charcuterie boards.
Choosing the Best Cured Meats for Folding
Not all cured meats are well-suited for folding or rolling. The specific properties and textures determine whether they will hold their shape or simply fall apart when you try to manipulate them. Here are some of the most common types of meats used on charcuterie boards and how easy they are to fold:
The thin, silky slices of dry cured ham called prosciutto are a natural choice for folding. The tissue slices cleanly and the finished rolls or bundles hold their shape nicely. Just be sure not to fold the slices when they are overly dry or brittle.
Many types of salami can be rolled, folded into cones, or twisted into spirals. Slices should not be too thin or the oils may cause it to unwrap. Salami holds up better than many meats when folded ahead of time.
Bresaola has a tender texture so must be handled carefully when folding or rolling. Cut slices even thinner than prosciutto and make loose rolls rather than tight bundles. Use toothpicks sparingly to hold the shape.
The soft, meaty texture of pancetta allows it to be rolled easily. Simply cut into chunks or strips and then bundle into small rolls secured with toothpicks.
Similar to salami, soppressata can be handled relatively firmly when folding it into bundles, spirals, or cones as desired.
Speck or Coppa
These thicker, ham-like meats should be sliced very thinly on a bias before attempting to wrap or roll. The irregular shapes can add interest to your presentation.
In general, the more pliable and supple the meat, the better it will conform to rolls, bundles and other shapes without cracking. Shy away from meats that are very brittle or uneven when sliced thinly.
Other less common dried meats like bresaola, basturma, or cured beef tenderloin can also be folded, but handle them gently due to their delicate nature. Fresh meats like prosciutto and salami don’t fare as well when folding due to their higher moisture content.
Proper Slicing Maximizes Folding Success
Proper slicing of the cured meats is imperative for folded charcuterie boards. Uneven, thick slices will lead to cracking and crumbling when you try to manipulate them. Here are some key tips:
- Use a very sharp knife – a high quality slicer or carving knife ensures clean, thin, even slices. Serrated knives tend to shred meat rather than slicing cleanly.
- Slice meats slightly frozen – 30-60 minutes in the freezer firms meats up for easier, thinner slicing with less damage to the muscle fibers.
- Cut across the grain – slicing against the natural muscle direction allows for the most pliable slices that fold without cracking.
- Keep slices consistently thin – aim for around 1/16″ thickness or less for most meats. Thinner than deli sliced.
- Watch out for uneven edges – if some slices have ragged edges, use them for flat placement rather than folding to avoid tearing.
Take your time with slicing and don’t rush it. Precision is important when dealing with such delicate proteins. The goal is a consistent set of clean, thin slices ready for artful folding.
Folding and Rolling Techniques for Common Cured Meats
The meat has been perfectly sliced. Now it’s time to execute the all-important folds, rolls, and bundles that will give your charcuterie board its character. Approach this step thoughtfully, not haphazardly. Here are some specific techniques for handling various meats:
Elegant Prosciutto Roses
Prosciutto is ideal for forming into flower shapes or rolled bundles. To start:
- Lay one slice flat on your work surface.
- With the short end facing you, gently fold inward about 1/3 of the way.
- Take the bottom edge and fold upward toward the center.
- Continue rolling into a tight bundle.
- Place bundle-side down and arrange on board. The spiral pattern is revealed for an artful effect.
Vary the direction of your folds to create asymmetry and interest. For stronger roses, wrap thin slices of meat around cheese chunks before rolling up.
Salami’s firm texture allows you to play with different shapes. Form into loose spirals as follows:
- Take a long slice and roll it up starting at one short end.
- Leave it loose, not overly tight.
- Skewer the spiral to the board with toothpicks to hold its shape.
For variation, try rolling diagonally or only half scrolling a longer slice. Salami holds up well to time so spirals can be formed in advance.
The tender bresaola needs delicate handling as you create bundles:
- Lay bresaola slices stacked vertically.
- Tightly roll from one short end into a cigar shape.
- Wrap gently with cloth and chill to help hold the shape if needed.
Keep these petite bundles small and do not skewer. Arrange them randomly rather than precisely.
Fresh pancetta cuts easily into uniform pieces perfect for forming into pinwheels:
- Cut pancetta into 1-2 inch square chunks.
- Roll up diagonally into small cylinders.
- Use toothpicks sparingly to hold shape.
For variation, tightly wrap pieces of pear or fig in the pancetta before rolling. The sweet contrast is delicious.
As you handle each type of meat, stay mindful of its texture and adapt your technique accordingly. Some trial and error will be needed to master the folds and rolls.
Arranging Folded Meats for an Eye-Catching Board
Once your cured meats are properly folded, it’s time for the fun part – artfully arranging them for presentation. Follow these tips when assembling for maximum visual impact:
- Use groupings – organize rolls and bundles into groupings by meat type. Contrasting colors and textures look appealing.
- Vary directions – play with placing rolls vertically, horizontally, and diagonally for lots of interest.
- Add height – prop up bundles and rolls on crackers, fruit slices, or nuts for dimension.
- Make bundles into shapes – for instance, form prosciutto roses into floral shapes and clusters.
- Wrap ingredients – tie the board together by wrapping meats around fruits, cheeses, nuts, etc.
- Skewer rolls – secure rolled salami, pancetta, and similar meats with toothpicks to hold shape.
- Sprinkle spices and herbs – a light dusting of paprika, thyme, rosemary or other aromatics adds flair.
Take time playing with the arrangements until you find a composition with varied textures, colors and shapes that excites your artistic eye. The meats are the crown jewel of your charcuterie masterpiece!
Pairing Folded Meats with Complementary Flavors
Of course, the cured meats can’t play the starring role alone. Part of the charm of a charcuterie board is the medley of tastes and ingredients provided alongside. Compile a spread that complements and contrasts with the meats:
- Cheeses – soft, hard, creamy, blue, aged, something for every palate. Parmesan, cheddar, goat, brie, gouda are all crowd-pleasers.
- Crackers – provide crunch in simple flavors like water crackers or seeded crisps. Baguette slices work too.
- Fruits – fresh strawberries, figs, grapes, pineapple lend sweetness and acidity. Dried fruits also pair well.
- Nuts – for crunch and richness, add walnuts, almonds, pecans, pistachios. Toasted or candied nuts are fun.
- Olives/Pickles – sliced green olives, cornichons, and other briny flavors cut the fats.
- Jams – a dab of fig jam, orange marmalade, chili paste or grainy mustard electrifies.
- Herbs – a sprinkle of fresh thyme, rosemary, oregano adds garden aromas.
- Honey – an artisanal honey drizzle provides sweetness.
The options for charcuterie accompaniments are nearly endless. Tweak and tailor to please the preferences of you and your guests.
Handling and Serving the Board
You’ve perfectly sliced, folded and arranged the meats, and surrounded them with delicious accompaniments. Now it’s time to finalize the charcuterie board for presentation. Follow these last tips:
- Cover tightly – keep folded meats in the refrigerator covered with plastic wrap to prevent drying out.
- Limit air exposure – cured meats degrade with too much contact with oxygen.
- Arrange just before serving – for optimal freshness and appearance, set up your board components at the last minute.
- Keep chilled – serve your board cool but not ice cold. Around 60 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal.
- Consider individual boards – for a special event, plating individual charcuterie on separates boards for each guest takes presentation to the next level.
- Provide serving utensils – small knives, tongs, and forks make it easy for guests to pick up and sample ingredients.
- Refresh periodically – depending on the size of your gathering, you may need to swap out emptied platters and replace.
Your gorgeous charcuterie board is sure to be the highlight of any occasion when you follow proper meat-folding techniques. Now go inspire some oohs and aahhs!
FAQ About Charcuterie Boards
What if the meat cracks or falls apart when I try to fold it?
This most likely means the meat slices are too dry, thick, or brittle. Try slices from a new piece of meat, and aim for thinner slices. Moisture content varies, so some trial and error is normal when learning to fold meats.
Do all cured meats work for folding, or are some better to just lay flat?
Dry cured meats like prosciutto, speck, bresaola tend to fold and roll the best. Wet cured or soft meats like mortadella, soppressata, and fresh sausage are better to lay flat than trying to fold. Know the properties of the meats you’re working with.
How far in advance can I wrap and fold the meats before serving?
For peak freshness and appearance, it’s best to slice, fold and arrange meats just before serving. However, salami, pancetta and similar firmer meats hold up better over time. In general, limit pre-folded meats to refrigeration for 2-3 hours maximum before serving.
What options do I have if I can’t find a specialty meat like bresaola to fold?
Don’t worry if you can’t source a specific type of cured meat. There are many excellent substitutes to use in folded charcuterie boards. Try speck, coppa, Serrano ham, or other common sliced deli meats in place of bresaola or similar rarities. Shop at ethnic markets for more variety.
For Beautiful Boards, Master the Meat Folding
A stunning charcuterie board offers an enticing presentation for guests, bringing together an artistic array of cured meats, savory flavors, and tactile arrangements. While simply laying sliced meats flat on the board provides ample taste, going the extra mile to properly fold and roll select meats can elevate the overall visual impact.
It does take practice and a delicate hand to neatly fold thin slices of cured meats without cracking or tearing. Allow the properties of each type of meat to guide you in handling them appropriately. With the right slicing, folding, and pairing techniques, you’ll be able to assemble jaw-dropping charcuterie boards fit for any special occasion.