Building a beautiful and tasty charcuterie board fosters creativity and connections

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Definition of charcuterie: a delicatessen specializing in dressed meats and meat dishes; also: the products sold in such a shop

If you’re one of those who doesn’t want to mess with Valentine’s Day dinner reservations, there’s a simple solution that will still allow you to enjoy a delectable dinner in without all the hassle of prep time or monotony of take-out: a charcuterie board.

And, you might be surprised to know, it can taste just as cohesive as the most expensive charcuterie starter in town and be filling enough for a full meal with a little guidance from some local butchers.

One of those is Swamp Rabbit Butchery’s James Bryant. With his help, building a perfectly balanced selection of cured meats, cheeses, and fermented vegetables can be equally as simple as it is satisfying, and appropriately efficient because most of the items are available in one place.

Bryant, who moved to Greenville from Kansas City, Mo., to open the Swamp Rabbit Grocery and Café butchery, recently teamed up with Meredith Leigh, published writer, farmer, butcher, and cook from Asheville, N.C., for a charcuterie class in Swamp Rabbit’s new event space.

With the long community tables removed and replaced with cocktail tables, live music from the Greenville Jazz Collective, and perfectly paired wines and beers flowing, the event quickly became a festive party rather than a typical sit-down class.

“This is just two foodies coming together, bringing some ideas and some cool stuff together just to have a fun night,” Bryant said at the start. “It’s always nice just to come together as a group and talk and mingle — that’s why I have no chairs in here — because I want people to mingle and have a good time.”

One of the main benefits of dining this way that is often viewed as a European practice is that it is intended to be social and foster a connection between participants.

“Everybody is eating off the same plate,” he said.

While Bryant continued to explain some of the items he literally brought to the table — or butcher block, in this case — Leigh assembled a smaller board of locally sourced cured meats prepared by Bryant and herself, fermented vegetables both from the café and grocery, and two different cheeses as an example.

When both he and Leigh were done explaining their contributions, each group was invited to the butcher block to select and build their own boards for the table.

Leigh, who consulted on the Swamp Rabbit Butchery, gave these tips for building a balanced selection: Choose a variety of colors, textures, sweet, salty, acidic, bitter, and umami items. Practically, that means start with the meat items — some cooked and some fermented — and then add in other elements.

“Don’t be afraid,” she said. “Go get beautiful food.”

Bryant, who came from a restaurant in Kansas City where his job was to build the charcuterie boards for guests, advises choosing a variety of meats from pork to beef to rabbit.

“Try something you wouldn’t normally do,” he said. “Try it, taste it, spread it on a cracker, and it will blow your mind.”

Aesthetically speaking, Bryant said how the items are plated is just as important.

“Don’t put meats together,” he said. “View it as painting a picture rather than just putting food on a plate.”

He said to use lines, circles of sauces, and structures, and to be mindful of height as well.

“Make it look pretty,” he said. “Don’t be timid.”

The next Art of Charcuterie class at Swamp Rabbit Café and Grocery will likely be held this summer.

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